Xherdan Shaqiri’s absence from Liverpool’s starting eleven against Arsenal caused some commotion on social media. The Swiss was brilliant in an unusual role in the previous round of the Carabao Cup.
Shaqiri opened the scoring in the 7-2 win over League One side Lincoln City with a brilliant 25-yard free-kick and performed well as the most advanced of a midfield trio.
Previewing the fourth-round tie with Arsenal, Jurgen Klopp’s assistant Pep Lijnders hailed: “I think he had a superb game against Lincoln, in a different position to he’s used to playing, so that makes it even more recognisable and even more great.
“Also for himself, after such a long time, to start, to play, to play in this manner. If we expect one thing from Shaq it’s that he tries to dictate the game, that he always searches for attacking solutions, that he uses his technique to be involved in the build-up and in creating.
“So I’m really happy for him that he could start like this and show his desire on the ball, his drive, and especially without any injuries – it’s, of course, a very difficult period for him – coming through this game.”
And yet Shaqiri was nowhere to be seen against the Gunners, not even on the bench. It quickly emerged that the 28-year-old – whose time at Anfield has been ravaged by injury – is the subject of interest from two unnamed clubs.
The £20million-rated wide-man, it seems, is headed for the exit door. He was omitted against Arsenal to prevent him picking up a problem that could scupper a departure.
Despite how good a back-up he is, Shaqiri’s fitness woes have rendered him sparsely available to Klopp of late. The 28-year-old’s start at Lincoln was his first since December 2019 and he made just 11 appearances last term, just three of which were starts.
Overall, his £13.5m switch from Stoke City two years ago has been a successful move as he has contributed massively to league wins over Manchester United and Everton and the Champions League comeback against Barcelona.
But if Liverpool can make a profit on him, it is no surprise he could be headed for the exit door.
Liverpool need to bring cash in having agreed to pay £80m for Kostas Tsimikas, Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota – although they will only pay £9.5m of the £70m they owe Bayern Munich and Wolves for the latter pair in the first 12 months.
And Shaqiri’s unreliability means he is a sellable asset, despite his obvious quality when he is injury free. If their £20m valuation can be met, it makes sense to bid farewell to the former Stoke man.
The clash with Arsenal therefore hinted that Liverpool manager Klopp has got a plan in place should the Switzerland international indeed move on to pastures new.
Harry Wilson made just his second ever start for the Premier League champions, being deployed in the same midfield role as Shaqiri was at Lincoln in a 4-3-3 formation.
Having spent last season at Bournemouth, it was thought Wilson, 23, would leave Anfield this summer either on loan or permanently but with just days left of the window, no move has yet transpired.
Burnley are keen but The Athletic claim that progress in talks between Liverpool and the Clarets has been slow since their bid of £12million plus £4m was rejected last week.
The Merseyside club would want £20m for him and it is said any deal could go to the wire.
Yet could the fact Klopp used Wilson as a surprise starter instead indicate that he plans to hand the academy graduate his chance in the Liverpool first team this year?
The Welshman was not in the squad whatsoever at Lincoln which appeared to hint that he was on his way out, but perhaps circumstances have changed as Shaqiri heads towards an exit.
Selling Shaqiri would leave Liverpool with one less attacker able to deputise for the first-choice triumvirate of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, despite Jota’s arrival beefing up their numbers.
And Klopp may not want to lose two back-ups to the trio by selling both Shaqiri and Wilson.
Wilson did not necessarily send a message to Klopp against Arsenal and was largely uninvolved in the 90 minutes and also missed the decisive penalty that sent the Gunners into the quarter-finals, but he has shown his quality in loans with Derby County and Bournemouth over the past two seasons.
He scored seven Premier League goals last season and did not have any major injury issues, which Liverpool would hope means he could be called upon when needed.
And though Wilson does not have the experience of Shaqiri, he does have a similar skillset to be able to act as a playmaker in midfield – if that was where Klopp intended to use the latter.
Shaqiri dropped into that role with Klopp generally preferring more pace out wide and Wilson is similar to the Swiss in that he is a bit slower than Salah and Mane but has the skill, creativity and vision to create chances for his team-mates more centrally.
Liverpool do not play with a No 10 however and so it is as the No 8 in midfield where Wilson could be useful for Klopp.
Like Shaqiri, Wilson is also a huge threat on set pieces and has proven his prowess from long range in the past two campaigns out on loan.
Maybe, just maybe, Klopp could keep Wilson around as Liverpool plot attempts at glory in the FA Cup as well as the Premier League and Champions League.
But their Carabao Cup exit to Arsenal will not help his chances of game-time if he does stay.