Mark Hughes will have been left bitterly disappointed by the manner of Stoke’s defeat to Crystal Palace on Saturday. The visitors could only hold onto their lead for three minutes at Selhurst Park and then allowed the Eagles a last-second winner through Mamado Sakho with practically the last kick of the game.
Stoke now find themselves just three points above the relegation zone with only one win and five points taken from their last six games. But if there’s one positive for Hughes to take into what is traditionally the most chaotic and demanding period of the season, it’s that his side boast one of the Premier League’s most in-form players – Xherdan Shaqiri.
The Switzerland international has always been highly-rated as a top-class albeit mercurial talent, but there’s been a real consistency to his game throughout 2017/18, notching up three goals and five assists in 12 top flight outings already this season – which is one strike shy and three setups greater than his entire Premier League tally from last term.
That includes a frankly outrageous goal against Palace on Saturday, in which Shaqiri glided past a succession of defenders before powerfully curling a finish into the bottom of the Eagles’ net. Alongside the opening goal, the 64-cap international created two chances, completed four dribbles and won four fouls.
Of course, we’ve seen the attacking midfielder’s form peter out before, but this season feels different and there is a curious comparison to make. Marko Arnautovic took three seasons to hit top gear during his spell with Stoke, netting eleven times during 2015/16, and Shaqiri is now into his third term at the Bet365 Stadium as well.
Coincidence, perhaps. But either way, this is shaping up to be the season in which Shaqiri finally reaches his full potential in a Stoke jersey.