Mark Hughes has backed Liverpool to end their long wait for a Premier League title, but says Southampton won’t shut up shop at Anfield this afternoon.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have six wins in all competitions and a victory today would equal their best start to a season since 1961. Hughes was a Manchester United player when Liverpool last were last champions in 1990 and backed the current crop to win a 19th title.
‘When you look at them, they look really strong,’ he said. ‘The strength in depth that they have. You sense that they are very close. I would argue that they need to put trophies on the sideboard now.
‘I remember going up against the great Liverpool sides of the past. It was the expectation at the club that they won titles. Premier League titles haven’t been forthcoming. It’s part of the history of that club that they challenge and this year they could go very close.’
Hughes recalled United’s 26-year title drought and said it was a relief when he won the first of two Premier Leagues with the club in 1993.
‘It was a stick to beat us over the head with for many years,’ he said. ‘The longer it went the harder to overcome it became. I would imagine that’s a similar situation for Liverpool and people who have to take on the mantle of trying to overcome that. Once we had broken the glass ceiling, it became easier for the teams that followed.’
While Liverpool are famed for their strike power, they have not conceded at Anfield in the Premier League in seven games since February. Southampton will be without top scorer Danny Ings, who is ineligible to play against his parent club, while fellow striker Manolo Gabbiadini will have a fitness test on a hamstring injury.
‘We need to be positive in terms of where we are,’ Hughes added. ‘We feel we’re playing very well. We’ve performed for good periods in games against the opposition we’ve faced up to this point. I think we’re encouraged by that.’
Meanwhile, Xherdan Shaqiri could make his first Premier League start for Liverpool after Klopp admitted to making a mistake in how he has handled the midfielder. The Swiss was the surprise package in Liverpool’s summer transfer dealings with the club capitalising on a £12.5million release clause to take him from relegated Stoke. But despite impressing in training, Shaqiri has been limited to just 27 minutes of Premier League action this season.
Klopp considered starting him against Paris Saint- Germain last Tuesday — the idea, with Roberto Firmino injured, was to play Shaqiri out wide and move Mohamed Salah to the middle — but the time may now be right to introduce the 26-year-old.
Klopp has been thrilled with how Shaqiri has adjusted to his squad and if his opportunity does not come against Southampton today, it is almost certain he will start in Wednesday’s Carabao Cup clash with Chelsea.
‘He is very lively, very positive,’ Klopp said. ‘It’s not only from the performances but also as a guy in the dressing room. Everyone loves Shaq; that is how it is — without playing plenty of minutes. That is more my mistake than his. He has done everything to play, to be honest.
‘I made different decisions but his time will come, that is for sure. We are going to have to use the boys now. They are in good shape. You saw it with Daniel Sturridge but Daniel is not the only one scratching at the door. They all want to play.’
If Shaqiri does figure, it would be at the expense of one his front three of Firmino, Sadio Mane and Salah. The Egyptian attracted some scrutiny after the win against PSG, when he was caught on TV hurling a water bottle to the floor as Anfield celebrated Firmino’s winner. There is a feeling he is trying too hard to score at the same remarkable rate he managed last season, but Klopp has no concerns.
‘It’s too early to make something of it and talk to him constantly about stuff like that,’ said Klopp. ‘So long as he is working as he is in this moment, everything will be fine. Will it be 40 goals again at the end of the season? Nobody knows.’