Xherdan Shaqiri the epitome of the return of the supersub at Liverpool
Premier League leaders have scored 18 times in last half-hour of games with Shaqiri, Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi all bagging important goals after coming on as subs
Six points. It is the number Liverpool have dropped this season. It is also the total they gained in December alone after the introduction of influential replacements.
Xherdan Shaqiri’s match-winning double against Manchester United followed Divock Origi’s 96th-minute decider in the Merseyside derby while Roberto Firmino came on to score with his first touch as a looming draw at Burnley was turned into victory.
If the impact of Liverpool’s reserves is nothing new – Firmino got a winner against Paris Saint-Germain and Daniel Sturridge an equaliser at Chelsea in September – it has become more pronounced.
It reflects the way that Jurgen Klopp, belying his reputation as simply a high-energy motivator, has shown his astuteness at reading games and determining what Liverpool require.
It also highlights a greater strength in depth. Even without James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Klopp still had enviable options.
When Liverpool were top in November 2016, they looked over-reliant on their starting 11. They could sustain their challenge. The last three transfer windows have had a transformative effect. It is allowing them to lead Manchester City in the standings after 17 games of the 38-match campaign.
“Obviously I’d be lying if I said you are not disappointed when you are on the bench,” said Shaqiri.
If Klopp’s abilities as a man-manager are required to galvanise the backup players, an automatic choice noted the advantages of possessing such alternatives.
“There are probably a few people disappointed not to start. Rightly so, and that is the beauty of having a good squad,” said left-back Andrew Robertson. Jordan Henderson was demoted to the ranks of the back-ups, but Robertson singled out Liverpool’s captain for praise.
“Shaq comes on and shows everyone what he can do and scores the two goals but Hendo came on and shored up the midfield, won every tackle and never lost a header against [Marouane] Fellaini, which is always tough,” he explained. “They come on and make such a difference for us. It was a real all-round performance.”
It underlined the reality that football is a 14-man game nowadays. Liverpool have such firepower in reserve that Shaqiri, Sturridge and Origi have better goal-per-minute averages than the starters Sadio Mane and Firmino.
Yet it feels pertinent that the speed of Liverpool’s game can wear opponents down. The fact they have 18 league goals in the final half-hour of games shows what fresh legs can accomplish against tiring teams.
As Shaqiri suggested, fresh minds can help, too. The Swiss presented himself as a student of the game, observing to see how and where he could display his talents if called upon. “I prepared myself very [well],” he explained.
“I watched the game from outside and there were a lot of spaces between the lines. I am very good between the lines and try to stay there and pick the ball up to have an impact.”
Which, undeniably, he did. If joining a club where Mohamed Salah, Mane and Firmino scored a combined 91 goals last season suggested Shaqiri was always likely to be a substitute, he has still added another dimension.
“Shaq has hit the ground running and his stats this season are very good, so long may that continue,” said Robertson.
The winger is averaging a league goal every 127 minutes this season, a ratio bettered only by Sergio Aguero and Anthony Martial of those who have struck at least five times.
If the original "supersub", four decades ago, was Liverpool’s David Fairclough, more recently the definitive goalscoring replacement was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, another who used a watching brief to devise his strategy.
Late goals, often scored by substitutes, were hallmarks of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. Shaqiri’s brace is another indication of the shift in the balance of power between rivals.
Updated: December 18, 2018 01:50 PM