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Shaqiri, best is yet to come

By August 13, 2016No Comments

Mark Hughes has challenged Xherdan Shaqiri to establish himself as a match-winner after seeing him snatch a 1-1 draw for Stoke at promoted Middlesbrough with a brilliant free-kick.

The 24-year-old Switzerland international rescued a point at the Riverside Stadium with a swerving 67th-minute effort as the Potters eventually found their feet to claim a point on the opening day of the new Premier League season.

Asked if a man of his talent should make more telling contributions, manager Hughes said: “It’s a big year for Shaq, I think he senses that, but he’s got the benefit of having a full season in the Premier League, and it’s more difficult for creative players in the Premier League.

“You can bring centre-halves, full-backs, midfield players from different countries and different leagues and it’s a little bit easier to integrate them. The pressure on them to produce and win games for you isn’t as high as it is for creative players like Shaq.

“This year, he will benefit immensely from the year he had last year, and we will reap the benefits. We are starting to see that now.”

Shaqiri’s free-kick cancelled out former Manchester City frontman Alvaro Negredo’s 11th-minute opener on his Middlesbrough debut.

Hughes said: “He’s a good player. He’s done it throughout his career and we’re grateful for the strike. He has that ability – he does that in training every single day, so he was due one.”

Hughes also stressed that Stoke’s absent goalkeeper Jack Butland has not suffered a recurrence of the ankle fracture he suffered on international duty in March.

England international Butland was hurt in training on Friday and was replaced by 40-year-old Shay Given on Teesside, but hopes to be back in action within weeks after initially fearing the worst.

Hughes said: “It’s better news. We were a little bit fearful yesterday, to be perfectly honest, but thankfully those fears have been allayed somewhat.

“He hasn’t re-damaged the ankle in terms of the fracture that the had – that’s sound, there’s no problem with that, that’s all been checked.

“He’s got more of an issue with just a bang on the front capsule of the ankle, by all accounts, but that’s something that should settle down in the next two or three weeks, hopefully.

“Thankfully it’s not as serious as we initially thought.”

Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka was satisfied with a point on a day when midfielder Gaston Ramirez hit both a post and the bar as the Teessiders carried forward the momentum from promotion.

Karanka said: “I can’t be disappointed, especially with the performance and with the attitude of the team.

“It’s true that maybe we should have won the game, but we can’t forget that three months ago we were playing in the Championship and they finished in the Premier League in ninth position for the third year consecutively, so for that reason, I am more than pleased.

“This is the way. I don’t know exactly, but we had six or seven players for whom it was their first game in the Premier League, so for that reason, it’s been really, really good for me to know that we are ready.”

Karanka admits that the season represents a steep learning curve for his players, and the difference between the Premier League and the Championship was clearly evident to him.

He said: “The quality, it’s easy. To play against players like Bojan, like Arnautovic or Shaqiri or Diouf, even Joselu, who was not even in the squad, is the difference.

“For us to play with all the pressure that we had today at home, the first game… the legs under pressure are not the same, so for that reason I am really, really pleased because we are confident.

“We know the league and I am really, really confident that we will get a lot of points.”

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