Mark Hughes has backed Xherdan Shaqiri to go on to enjoy “great success” at Liverpool, saying he had “always seen himself as a player at a top-six club.”
The 26-year-old had previously played under Hughes at the bet365 Stadium, making 76 appearances for the Welshman—his second-most for any manager, behind only Basel’s Thorsten Fink (100).
In that time, Shaqiri scored 11 goals and assisted a further 13, with two goals and two assists coming directly from free-kicks—he also laid on four strikes from corners.
His set-piece prowess was on show against the Saints, setting up Mohamed Salah for Liverpool’s third goal in a routine win.
Prior to that, Shaqiri had already forced the opener as he danced into the box and fired an effort on goal that eventually went in off centre-back Wesley Hoedt.
And though he was substituted at half-time in a tactical switch from Jurgen Klopp, it was a statement display that Hughes believes vindicates the player’s self-belief.
“I had the benefit of Shaqiri’s free-kicks for a long time, unfortunately it went against me today,” he told reporters after the game.
“I’m pleased for him, he’s got a fantastic move. He’s always felt he was a top-six player.
“I’m sure he’ll be a great success. He’s a good guy and he’ll add to the character of the group as well I’m sure.”
The decision to replace Shaqiri with James Milner at the break was a bemusing one for many supporters, particularly after it became apparent that it wasn’t prompted by injury.
But explaining his move in his post-match press conference, Klopp insisted he merely wanted more structure in his midfield at 3-0 up.
“I said to Shaq at half-time that I had never brought a player off after such an influential time without an injury. He is not injured,” he said.
“But I wanted to control the game and go back to our normal formation. And that helped, we really controlled it.”
“It was not easy, to be honest. It’s my job to sometimes deliver news nobody wants to hear,” he later added.
“That’s how it was at half-time but he is a fantastic boy. I explained it to him so it’s no problem.
“Usually I don’t explain substitutions at half-time but I thought it made sense.”[embedded content]
The manager went on to praise Shaqiri for his influential performance, but alluded to an overly attacking approach in the first half that will require adaptation from the Swiss.
“It’s just good to have him; the free-kick was outstanding. That’s good. The whole team was not used to what we did today,” he said.
“As a new player, usually you struggle most but he didn’t—he tried everything.
“The only problem was defensively. Offensively, it was a good idea but, how I said, we have to work on that more often. But he was good and I liked it.”