Perceptions can change quickly in football, and that sentiment certainly rings true for Xherdan Shaqiri, who has gone from Liverpool outcast to impact sub in the space of less than a month.
Making only his third Premier League appearance of the calendar year, Shaqiri came on as a second-half replacement for Curtis Jones in Saturday’s tense match against West Ham, and combined brilliantly with fellow substitute Diogo Jota to sneak the winner in a 2-1 triumph.
The Hammers had defended resolutely up until that point, with a clumsy Arthur Masuaku challenge on Mohamed Salah the only blemish on an otherwise imperious showing at the back. But, the introduction of Shaqiri changed the complexion of the tie, with the forgotten man producing an assist worthy of winning any match.
Collecting the ball on the edge of the box, Shaqiri almost telepathically read the darting run of Jota and produced a incisive pass through the legs of Fabián Balbuena, putting his fellow impact sub through on goal to strike past a hapless Lukasz Fabianski.
Such was the elegance of the pass, Graeme Souness described Shaqiri as a “door opener”, heaping particular praise on his vision and timing. “He sees a pass and can deliver on it,” Souness said while covering the game for Sky Sports. “For me, it’s the weight on the pass as well. I want to involve Shaqiri in this because that is a great bit of technique there.”
The fluid exchange was a friendly reminder to Jurgen Klopp that Shaqiri can yet play a prominent role when called upon and still possesses the playmaker traits that were so enticing to the German when he prised the Swiss away from Stoke City in 2018.
Premier League title race selected odds from William Hill:
- Man City 5/4
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- Man Utd 25/1
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The decisive assist from Shaqiri was, in fact, his first in the competition since teeing up Divock Origi against Newcastle in May 2019, and the parallels are striking; both saw Shaqiri introduced around the 70-minute mark, and both produced 85th-minute winners.
Indeed the diminutive winger is now just starting to revitalise his reputation at Anfield, having fallen considerably down the pecking order, at one stage seeming almost destined to leave the club in the transfer window just gone.
Having been given an opportunity to impress in the League Cup earlier this season, Shaqiri started and scored in the 7-2 humbling of Lincoln City. And the expectation was that he would be given another chance to showcase his worth in the following round against Arsenal.
Xherdan Shaqiri has provided an assist in the Premier League for the first time in 547 days.
Off the mark just 15 minutes into his first PL app of the season. pic.twitter.com/uNkVQMlEJV
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 31, 2020
However, Shaqiri was omitted from the matchday squad altogether when the fixture came around, with fringe players Marko Grujic and Harry Wilson given a chance in the starting XI. It was reported by Goal that Liverpool had decided not to play Shaqiri to avoid an injury to a sellable asset.
But a move away from Merseyside failed to materialise and, since then, injuries to teammates have drawn Shaqiri away from the periphery. His superb through ball to Trent Alexander-Arnold for Liverpool’s opener against Midtjylland in the Champions League was another illustration of his passing ability, and he has now followed up in back-to-back games.
Strange then, that Shaqiri was often overlooked last season. In his maiden campaign a return of nine direct contributions in the Premier League (six goals, three assists) was an excellent outlay for a player who started just 11 games. His 2018/19 performances culminated in a late brace against Manchester United to secure a 3-1 win in December 2018, as well as a sumptuous assist in the famous 4-0 win over Barcelona.
However, a calf injury sustained in November last year (which kept him sidelined for around a month) saw him fall completely out of favour almost overnight. It is only now that he has started to regain some trust from his manager, going from the Liverpool fringes to near the forefront of Klopp’s thinking within 30 days.