Liverpool's super-subs: Jota & Shaqiri prove Klopp now has game-changers in reserve

Diogo Jota Phillips Klopp Shaqiri Liverpool West Ham GFX
The Reds toiled during the first half of Saturday's hard-fought 2-1 win over West Ham but they showed off their strength in depth after the restart

The cast changes, but the story doesn’t.

Liverpool carry on as they always do, and there’s still no harder place to go in football than Fortress Anfield.

That’s 63 home league games unbeaten now for the Premier League champions, who equalled a club record with the hardest of hard-fought 2-1 wins over a spirited West Ham on Saturday evening. 

It took a couple of substitutes to do the business for Jurgen Klopp’s side, who were some way away from the best. But with one gorgeous Xherdan Shaqiri pass, and the calmest of finishes from Diogo Jota, what had gone before was washed away. Nothing soothes like victory.

They’re not sparkling, but this is what Liverpool have now – game-changers in reserve. If Mo Salah and Sadio Mane can’t break down the door, if Roberto Firmino doesn't fire and the full-backs aren't decisive, then Klopp can turn to his bench and know there is quality to come on.

He needed that quality here. Liverpool were toiling when Jota and Shaqiri were summoned, 20 minutes from time. They’d trailed to Pablo Fornals’ opener, levelling through Mohamed Salah, who won and converted a penalty just before half-time.

But with West Ham resolute and well-organised, and happy to sit off and play on the counter, something new was needed.

Firmino was struggling again, and 19-year-old Curtis Jones was not providing the kind of creativity we know he can from that advanced midfield spot. Mane and Salah were quiet, too, while even Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold were off the pace. 

Enter the Swiss and the Portuguese. 

Jota had already had one goal ruled out, following a VAR check, for a foul by Mane on Lukasz Fabianski, the West Ham keeper, but the £45 million ($58m) man was not to be denied his big moment. His fourth Liverpool goal arrived soon after, as he collected the cutest of passes from Shaqiri, right through the centre of a packed defence, to run clear and slot home.

What a happy knack the former Wolves man has of scoring goals when his side need him to. That’s four now for Jota, in just nine appearances. All of them have come at Anfield, and all of them have been significant. The 23-year-old looks like money well spent.

"We fought really hard to sign him," Klopp said. "He's much better than I thought he would be and that's really impressive."

Klopp may also breathe a sigh of relief that Liverpool failed to find a buyer for Shaqiri in the summer. The 28-year-old will be needed in the coming weeks, for sure. 

Having been one of the few players to rise above mediocre in the Champions League win over Midtjylland in midweek, he delivered another timely reminder of his guile and technique here. Few would have even seen the pass he found for the winner, let alone been able to execute it. It was a high-class moment from a high-class footballer.

With Firmino below-par too often at present, there must be a case for Liverpool bringing one or both of Jota and Shaqiri into their starting line-up, either for the trip to Atalanta on Tuesday, or perhaps even the visit to Manchester City next weekend.

Both fixtures will challenge Klopp’s side. They will need to play better than they did here, for sure. They would also love couple of extra players to be available. Their injury list is a concern, even if their results are not.

They can take encouragement from the performance of Nat Phillips, who excelled on his Premier League debut at centre-back. "He's not Messi, but who cares?" smiled Klopp. The 23-year-old was dominant in the air, composed on the ground and was named as Man of the Match by Sky's Jamie Carragher. "He was incredible," agreed Klopp.

Still, Joel Matip’s return would be welcome, especially for the trip to City. Liverpool have conceded 15 goals in seven league games this season – not since Sheffield Wednesday in 1928-29 has a side won the top-flight in England having started with such a record.

Liverpool would also quite like to see Thiago Alcantara and Naby Keita, their X-Factor midfielders, sooner rather than later. Neither was in the squad here, with Klopp still vague about their injury worries.

Those, though, are issues for another day. For today, the Reds can reflect on three more points, and points which were earned the hard way. 

Problems? Forget it. What was it Bill Shankly once said?

Article continues below

"Ay, here we are with problems at the top of the league."

Liverpool have a few problems these days, too, but there they are at the top of the league.

And all thanks to their super-subs.