Welcome to Liverpool, Xherdan Shaqiri.
Anfield has had to wait for its first proper look at the Reds’ new £13million ($17m) signing, but they will have liked what they saw here.
'The Magnificent Seven' arrived with the minimum of fuss, with Mark Hughes’ sorry Southampton side brushed aside in the most routine of manners. Liverpool’s 3-0 victory was achieved without the need for third gear. Their best start to a season in 28 years shows no sign of slowing.
Having had just 34 minutes of competitive action so far, Shaqiri got just 45 here. With two assists, however, the Switzerland international sure made his presence felt, on a day which underlined the benefits of a well-stocked squad.
After using just 12 starters in Liverpool’s first five Premier League games, Jurgen Klopp was happy to turn to some of his replacements here. There were three changes from the midweek win over Paris Saint-Germain, with Shaqiri’s the headline inclusion.
It meant a change of shape, with Klopp opting for an attacking 4-2-3-1 formation. Shaqiri lined up in a roving central role – the No.10, if you will – behind Mohamed Salah, with Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane operating either side. In defence, Joel Matip stepped in for Joe Gomez, for his first start since March.
On a gloomy Merseyside day, Shaqiri’s brightness was there for all to see. Given license to move across the pitch in search of space, the 26-year-old saw plenty of the ball and showed a willingness to work which will have delighted his manager.
It was his intelligent run, smart check-back and right-foot shot which led to Liverpool taking the lead just 10 minutes in. A pair of deflections, one off Shane Long and another off the hapless Wesley Hoedt, meant Alex McCarthy’s scrambling effort on the goal-line was in vain, and the Reds had the early nerve-settler they craved.
Matip, the other replacement drafted in, ensured things got even better 11 minutes later, rising above Jannik Vestegaard – no mean feat, that – to head home Trent Alexander-Arnold’s right-wing corner. It was the Cameroonian’s first Anfield goal.
Shaqiri looked desperate to follow suit, though with four out-and-out attackers on the field Liverpool looked a little more open than Klopp might have liked. A better side than Southampton, who were passive and lacking in confidence, would have made life harder.
As it was, Shaqiri had one more trick up his sleeve before half-time. When Salah was fouled 25 yards out, he stepped up to whip a brilliant free-kick against the underside of the bar, the ball hovering invitingly until Salah arrived to bash it home.
The Egyptian’s micro-drought is over; he turned in a performance high on effort but low on luck, to that point at least. He can thank Shaqiri for his third goal of the season.
Having made two goals, there were a few murmurs when James Milner replaced Shaqiri for the second half, but with the result all-but-assured Klopp could be forgiven for a rare act of conservatism. Liverpool were able to play out the second half with a cigar in their mouths.
Of concern will be the sight of Virgil van Dijk being forced off 10 minutes after half-time with what appeared to be a rib injury. The Dutchman soon returned, showered and changed, to the dugout, suggesting his withdrawal was more precautionary than anything else.
Still, the good news is that, unlike in previous years, there are options beyond the first XI. Klopp did not need to call on Daniel Sturridge here, for example, nor Fabinho. Naby Keita got 20 minutes, while when Van Dijk went off it was Gomez, exceptional so far this season, who stepped in.
Dejan Lovren’s return from injury will further boost the numbers, while Adam Lallana should return to training before the end of the month too. Options wherever you look, which can only be a good thing.
In the meantime, Liverpool march on. Seven wins from seven without playing the kind of sparkling, unstoppable football we saw for so much of last season.
The functional Reds are doing their job, and doing it very well.