It’s becoming increasingly difficult to get into a Liverpool team of exceptional quality and it appears an Anfield title winner will be departing
The omission was glaring.
As Liverpool’s teamsheet landed at around 6.30pm on Thursday evening, one name was missing.
Xherdan Shaqiri’s absence from the Reds’ matchday squad is not usually a surprise. Reds fans, sadly, have gotten used to being without their talented Swiss star over the past 18 months.
This, though, was different.
Shaqiri had been expected to start this game. Having shone in the third round of the Carabao Cup, the 28-year-old was set for another chance as Arsenal came to town for round four.
Instead, his impressive performance at Lincoln last week looks like it could be his last appearance for the club.
“Some were not involved. It is the time of the year when some things happen in the background and you have to react – that is what we did,” Jurgen Klopp told Sky Sports after.
Shaqiri, it soon emerged, had been left out of Liverpool’s squad amid growing transfer interest, with at least two clubs – as yet unspecified – contacting the Reds about a potential deal. With less than four days until the window closes, it was decided that including him against Arsenal was an unnecessary risk.
Liverpool hope to net around £20million (€22m/$26m) for a player who cost them £13m (€14m/$17m) when joining from Stoke two years ago.
Shaqiri, largely due to a series of fitness issues, has managed just 42 appearances at Anfield, but if he does depart before Monday evening he will leave plenty of fond memories.
His eight goals for the club include one against Everton in the Merseyside derby and two off the bench to beat Manchester United in front of the Kop. He also, of course, played a part in the famous Champions League comeback against Barcelona, setting up the third goal of Liverpool’s epic 4-0 victory.
It is somewhat fitting, then, that he may have signed off his Reds career with another moment of true class, his quite stunning free-kick setting his side on their way to that 7-2 victory at Lincoln.
On his day, there are few who can match him for technique, especially from a dead ball, but Shaqiri’s story perhaps speaks of something bigger: Liverpool’s rapid evolution as a team, and the standards required to be part of it.
Not so long ago, a player of his pedigree would have been an instant pick here. An experienced international with a wand of a left foot, and Premier League experience to go with it? Yes, please.
The same could apply to Marko Grujic. The Serbian was risked against Arsenal despite interest from a number of clubs, notably Borussia Moenchengladbach. Like Shaqiri, he is expected to leave the club soon. Like Shaqiri, he is a fine footballer – he was Liverpool’s best performer on the night – but is just below the required level for a Klopp team.
With the likes of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum, James Milner and new signing Thiago Alcantara, as well as emerging prospect Curtis Jones, midfield competition is as fierce now as it ever has been. Even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, sidelined through injury at present, looks like he may struggle.
Harry Wilson is another who will need to look elsewhere. The Welshman was a surprise starter, drafted in for Shaqiri in midfield. Three-and-a-half years after only previous Liverpool appearance, he did OK without ever looking like someone who will give Klopp serious food for thought as the season progresses.
He’s a Premier League player, for sure, as evidenced by the fact Burnley want to sign the 23-year-old winger.
Rhian Brewster, meanwhile, was absent entirely, the striker edging closer to a move to Sheffield United. Liverpool feel £20m is a good price for a player who is yet to play a Premier League game. Brewster’s talent is clear, but his pathway at Anfield is not. Takumi Minamino, Diogo Jota and Divock Origi, who all featured here, are ahead of him, and that’s before we even talk about the real front three.
In the end the night ended in disappointment, a much-changed Reds side beaten on penalties after a goalless draw in 90 minutes. It means an easing of their fixture list in the next month or so, even if Klopp would insist they wanted to progress. His use of Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk here suggests he wasn’t lying.
Attention now turns to Sunday’s trip to Aston Villa, as the champions look to maintain their flawless league start. No easy fixture, as last season showed.
Twenty-four hours later, the transfer window closes. Expect Shaqiri, Brewster and perhaps Grujic and Wilson all to have moved on when it does.