Liverpool omit Xherdan Shaqiri for Red Star Belgrade trip amid off-pitch concerns
Xherdan Shaqiri has not made the trip to Serbia for Liverpool's Champions League clash with Red Star Belgrade as Jurgen Klopp is keen to avoid off-the-pitch distractions.
Shaqiri would have been given an extremely hostile reception in Belgrade after the Kosovo-born player celebrated a goal scored for Switzerland against Serbia at the World Cup with a gesture imitating a double-headed eagle, the Albanian national symbol.
Shaqiri also wore the image of a Kosovo flag on his boot.
Kosovo is a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008, although Serbia does not recognise this.
"It's a situation where we will go to the fantastic city of Belgrade as a football team to play football, Klopp told Liverpool's website. "We have heard and read the speculation and talk about what kind of reception Shaq would receive and although we have no idea what would happen, we want to go there and be focused 100 percent on football and not have to think about anything else, that's all.
"We are Liverpool FC, a big club, a football team but we don't have any message further than that. We have no political message, absolutely not. We want the focus to be on a great game of football, free from anything else.
"We are keen to be respectful and keen to avoid any distractions that would take focus away from a 90-minute-plus contest that is important for football and only football. So for that reason, Shaq is not involved and he accepts and understands this. Shaq is our player, we love him, and he will play for us a lot of times, but not on Tuesday.
"I have heard so many wonderful things about the city of Belgrade, and the country of Serbia as a whole, from friends and colleagues who've visited before, so now I'm really looking forward to taking Liverpool there for a great game of Champions League football."
Asked at his pre-match news conference about the omission, Klopp added: "Look, I think my job and your job as well is not to, with questions which you answer, provoke when you answer.
"We have to cool the situation down because [we] cannot clarify that situation tonight -- and it's not our job. We are in Serbia and we respect that with 100 percent. No, it's not sad -- that's the world, that's how it is. Politics has always [had] an influence on life, on the planet I live at least. But we are not here for that, we are here for playing football.
"That's why we try to make sure that we can be focussed on football. I realised already tonight [that] -- I expected it differently -- mostly the English-speaking journalists were asking about it, to be honest. It could have been a story and we didn't want to have a story besides a football story. That's why we decided what we decided.
Shaqiri said he was not concerned about the reception that would await him in Belgrade.
"I'm just going there for a football game and it's not about politics -- it's about football," Shaqiri told reporters last month when asked about heading to Serbia.
"I go there to play football and to try to win. I had this already at the World Cup, so I know what I can handle."
Klopp said he expected a "special atmosphere" in Belgrade for the match and hoped his team would use it to their benefit.
"We've been watching videos of how the fans act and it's a special stadium. We've got the experience of playing in these stadiums before and we're just to focus on the game at hand.
"We need to use it to our advantage. Walking down that tunnel and with the noise, we've got to use that to our advantage and not let it affect us. I'm sure we'll do that. Once we're out on the pitch, it's 11 versus 11 and we'll be looking to win the game. If we can get in front and start the way we started the last game then we can hopefully quiet the crowd. Once the whistle goes, we'll be focussed on the game and not the stuff around about it."
Meanwhile, Naby Keita is part of the squad flying out to Belgrade later on Monday after recovering from his hamstring injury.
Keita has been sidelined for Liverpool's last four matches with the issue he sustained while away on international duty with Guinea.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson is also closing in on a return from a hamstring injury, but he will remain at Melwood for fitness sessions.
"He trained yesterday for the first time with the team, but when we played against Arsenal he was already at 100 percent training, only we were not there," Klopp said at the news conference. "So I have to see, make a decision tomorrow, not now.
"It's very good to have him back, absolutely, for the upcoming weeks. It's so important. Hendo is very close, I think he will train full when we are back. But that gives us a few options and opportunities. It's very good that he's back, but what I do with it I haven't decided."