Even as the FIFA World Cup is on the brink of beginning, the transfer rumour mill refuses to stop churning. After being stumped by Nabil Fekir’s failed medical, Liverpool it seems are in the market for another attacking wide midfielder. It has been a few days since it was reported that the Reds are interested in Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri and their failure to close the Fekir deal has made their link with Shaqiri that much stronger.
Liverpool’s lack of options especially in the wide areas hurt them this season. Their already overworked attackers had to put in even more minutes in this season. All three – Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mohamed Salah far exceeded their expected minutes played. Jurgen Klopp had to make makeshift arrangements – like playing Alexander Trent Arnold in the wider midfield – to ensure that his team could reach the top-four and the Champions League final. Thus, it is natural that the Reds are looking for backup options, especially in attacking midfield. But is Xherdan Shaqiri the player who can pitch in when Oxlade-Chamberlain or even Salah or Mane need to be rested next season? Let us take a look.
When Shaqiri moved to Stoke City from Bayern, after spending some time on loan with Inter, it was something of a coup for the Potters to have landed the Swiss winger. Shaqiri has the pedigree – 81 games for Bayern Munich, 20 for Inter, and 130 for Basel. He had played 34 games in Europe – 26 in Champions League and 8 in Europa League. He was on the bench for Bayern when they won the 2013 Champions League final against Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund. Clearly, big European clubs had seen promise in the Swiss youngster, who has 68 international caps and 20 international goals for Switzerland.
His stats are also quite good. He is just 26 years old but he has played for 22,163 minutes for clubs such as Basel, Bayern Munich, Inter, and Stoke City. In his career so far, he has scored or assisted a goal every 171 minutes, i.e. every other game. But when he has played with more potent attacks, he has performed even better. In his stint at Bayern, he scored or assisted a goal every 101 minutes.
For Stoke in the 2017-18 season, he put in 2.1 key passes per game, in addition to 1.9 shots per game. He also put in more crosses, long balls, and through-balls more successfully, as compared to Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Georginio Wijnaldum.
Shaqiri’s xG and other expected stats on understat.com indicate that he can do much better when he plays in a more potent attack as compared to Stoke’s attack in the 2017-18 season. In the 2014-15 season for Bayern, he played only 9 games but had both xG per 90 minutes and xAssist per 90 minutes of 0.42 and a xGChain per 90 minutes (total xG of all possessions in 90 minutes) of 1.01. These metrics have moved towards mediocrity as he continued to play for the Potters but it is possible that his attacking skills can flower in a team as attack-focused as Liverpool.
The player’s injury record is also encouraging as he has only missed 8 games for Stoke in three full seasons and none in the 2017-18 season. He did have his injury problems at Bayern, missing 42 games between 2012-13 and 2014-15 seasons, possibly due to which he was relegated to the bench and then sold. But his injury record has clearly improved now.
The Good and Bad for Liverpool
First the positives, should Liverpool indeed go for the Swiss. Stoke’s relegation has reportedly triggered a clause in Shaqiri’s contract that has reduced his release clause to only £12 million. In return, they would get a player experienced in the Premier League, not awed by the physicality and pace in England. Above stats also suggest that they would land a more than a decent player, who can possibly improve in a more attacking team.
On the other hand, it can be argued that at 26 years old, Shaqiri is a bit too old for a Klopp team. Jurgen Klopp prefers to recruit young players and then mould them in his style of play. That might be a challenge with Shaqiri. He is clearly not as good as Liverpool’s front three but still can possibly relieve them in cup games or easier league fixtures.
When a team like Stoke City get relegated, it is expected that their star players will move on and find clubs that match their ambitions. And since Shaqiri was Potters’ best attacker last season, it is natural that he has been linked with a move away from the Bet365 stadium. But would he want to move to a club, where he will clearly be a backup option? Would he not want to move to a team in the Premier League or on the continent, where he will be considered a first team player?
From Liverpool’s point-of-view, a deal for a 26-year old Swiss international for the price of less than £20 million is certainly a good one. Shaqiri may not be the marquee signing that Fekir would have been but he might be the best inexpensive backup the Reds can get as of now. It of course depends on Shaqiri’s performances in Group E of the World Cup. If he plays really well, Liverpool might need to fight a few other suitors to sign Xherdan Shaqiri.