There was never going to be a “Philippe Coutinho replacement.” In the same way that Xabi Alonso or Luiz Suarez were never replaced, some players possess such a unique set of footballing skills that they can only be “replaced” by getting that production out of several players.
Of course, fans like to make comparisons (Twitter has been awash with them recently). Some enjoy the fact that Coutinho, since getting his “dream move,” seems to be struggling. Some enjoy that Xherdan Shaqiri has seemingly “replaced” the Brazilian for a bargain basement fee of £13 million. Some enjoy all of these things.
It’s all nonsense, really. The arguments—and we’ve had them!—over whether this team would be better or worse without Coutinho are merely academic. Would we have gotten to a Champions League final? If so, would we have won it? Would we be leading the league? Would Bohemian Rhapsody be such a surprise box office hit in this alternate reality? Who’s to say?
What can be said, is that boss Jurgen Klopp has struggled to fit the talented Swiss international into the side, especially in last season’s preferred 4-3-3 formation.
“We did have to find a position for (Shaqiri),” Klopp said to Gary Neville in an interview for Sky Sports. “That’s a pretty good one, we tried it in a 4-3-3, he can’t play there yet as a half-space midfielder.
“You don’t want to force a player into a position, you want to show his strengths, not where he isn’t good.
“Xherdan’s main quality is obviously offensive - creating, shooting, finishes, being between the lines - and in a half-space position, there is a lot of defensive work.
“He can do that and he gets better day by day and maybe one day, he could play it like Phil could play it in the last half year he was here.”
Shaqiri, largely in a super sub role, has certainly shown enough end product to make superficial comparisons a thing.
We can save the “was Coutinho a good midfielder for the team” argument for another day. What is clear is that we haven’t needed Shaq to be that player for us this season. We have enough quality and depth in the midfield that Shaqiri can do his bits on the offensive side of the ball without having to worry as much about the defensive side of things further back.
Whether we see Klopp push Shaqiri further back (as he has shown with other offensively-minded players, including Coutinho, Wijnaldum, and Lallana), or continue deploying him as an attacking midfielder is yet to be seen.
For now, we should just enjoy the goals, especially against Manchester United (and, if given the chance, against City).