It looks like being a summer of change for the Liverpool midfield, with Swiss playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri registering his desire to leave Merseyside before the start of the 2021/22 campaign in search of regular first team football.
Shaqiri spoke recently with Football Italia about his international and domestic ambitions, admitting that he felt “ready for a new challenge” having moved to Anfield from Stoke City in 2018. Shaqiri insisted he had plenty left in the tank and was not looking ahead to the “end of [his] career”. Italian Serie A side Lazio are rumoured to be very interested in taking the 29-year-old to Rome.
Liverpool are already a midfielder light following the departure of Gini Wijnaldum to French big-spenders Paris Saint-Germain at the end of his Anfield contract. The cold, harsh reality is that Shaqiri has managed just 45 competitive appearances in a Liverpool jersey over a three-year period. Contrast that with his three-year spell at Stoke City, where he played 84 times and scored 15 goals, it’s clear the Swiss international has been underused on Merseyside.
Is the Italian capital the next stop in Shaqiri’s nomadic career?
When pressed on potential transfer interest from Lazio and former Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri, Shaqiri told Football Italia that he was “honoured” to be in demand by Lazio. He also spoke of his respect for Lazio’s sporting director Igli Tare, adding that he has been “doing an excellent job” for them and described Lazio as “a top team”. Shaqiri described the prospect of teaming up with Sarri in Serie A as “intriguing”.
Shaqiri also revealed that he had already spoken with the Liverpool hierarchy regarding his wish to depart Anfield. He said that the club had “accepted [his] wish” and would “seriously consider” any formal offers for his services.
With Wijnaldum gone and Shaqiri on the verge of exiting stage left, there is a genuine sense that the Reds need more bodies in midfield to call upon. They looked a little jaded during the 2020/21 English Premier League (EPL) campaign, lacking the intensity to go again after their historic EPL title success in 2019/20. Klopp’s gegenpress style may well be suffocating for the opposition, but it’s also a punishing system for the Reds to adopt week in, week out. A joint academic study between British and German universities on the impact of fixture congestion on player performance revealed that player intensity is significantly reduced when players have less than four days to recover between matches. The congested 2020/21 EPL calendar will have worked against the Reds, but Klopp will be hoping his troops have sufficient downtime this summer to go again at full pelt in 2021/22.
Spanish newspaper AS believes Klopp and Liverpool are prepared to bid up to €50m for the services of Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez. This is a figure which is thought to be an agreeable fee in the eyes of Atletico. Liverpool will hope that transfer rivals Manchester United and Chelsea won’t have the capital to pay such a fee this summer. United are already locked in negotiations to sign Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane, while Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho is also set to become a big-money signing before the start of the new EPL campaign.
Unfortunately for Liverpool, last season’s Champions League winners Chelsea have been rather less active in this summer’s transfer market. Thomas Tuchel has kept his powder dry throughout the close season, so the Blues could certainly be in pole position to rival the Reds for Niguez.
Nevertheless, Niguez’ attributes would appear to marry well with Jurgen Klopp’s style of play. The Spaniard is famed for his athleticism, stamina and dynamism. As you’d expect from someone brought up under Diego Simeone’s regime at Atletico, Niguez’ work rate is up there with the very best midfielders in Europe. One could argue that Niguez is a better fit for Liverpool’s gegenpress than the recently departed Gini Wijnaldum.
Liverpool may have another ace up their sleeve when it comes to finalising a deal with Atletico for Niguez. There are several Reds players that Atletico and Simeone could be prepared to accept as a part-exchange deal to bring Niguez’ transfer fee down. Belgian forward Divock Origi could be the ideal pawn in this negotiation. Origi is deemed surplus to requirements at Anfield, but has proven an able deputy domestically and in the Champions League for Liverpool in the past. He could act as a reliable fourth-choice striker for Atletico, with Alvaro Morata seemingly set to make his switch to Juventus a permanent one. Keeper Loris Karius could also be a consideration, with the German likely to be happy working as understudy to Atletico’s undisputed number-one Jan Oblak.