If you ask any Stoke City supporter what the most prevalent issue was with their team during the 2016/17 season they are likely to say “a lack of goals”.
The Potters struggled to find the back of the net on a regular basis last campaign and were among the lowest scorers in the Premier League (41 in 38 fixtures) with just one player managing to reach double figures.
Peter Crouch may have ended the season as the club’s leading scorer but he netted just seven times in the top flight and the departure of Mark Arnautovic, who found the net seven times in all competitions, will be further cause for concern.
So who will be solution to Stoke’s inefficiency in front of goal? The Boot Room looks at the four striker’s that Mark Hughes is relying on to fire The Potters to glory in the forthcoming campaign.
In January, Mark Hughes made a calculated gamble to spend £12 million on controversial West Bromwich Albion striker Saido Berahino in an attempt to strengthen his forward line.
The 23-year-old arrived with a poor reputation after almost eighteen months of off field issues at The Hawthorns that resulted in him being frozen out of the first team and being publicly criticised for his attitude and fitness levels – it was later revealed that the striker had also served an FA suspension after failing a drugs test, as BBC Sport reported.
Berahino is looking to put his chequered past behind him and make a fresh start in The Potteries, although his first six months at the club have hardly been impressive. The striker failed to score in any of his 13 appearances after joining Stoke and, although there were no qualms over his work ethic or application, he looked very much like a player who was short of form, fitness and needed to shake off some ring rust.
Stoke supporters will be hoping that a full pre-season will help the 23-year-old to find his feet again and his first goal for the club, in a friendly against AS Monaco, may be a sign of more positive things to come. The striker has certainly proven himself capable of scoring goals in the Premier League and his pace, power and movement has the potential to cause some serious problems for defenders up and down the country.
Berahino will not be lacking motivation for the year ahead and he has an awful lot to prove. He needs to hit the ground running this season if he is to avoid being written off as a £12m flop.
The lanky striker is now entering his seventh season with The Potters since joining from Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 2011 and, despite being 36 years old, he still has plenty to offer.
Few would disagree that Crouch has been an important component of Stoke’s success over the last decade and his 40 league goals bear testament to his invaluable contribution. Last season Crouch finished as the club’s leading goal scorer and was the only player to end the campaign with double figures, finding the net 10 times in all competitions despite spending most of the year among the substitutes.
Crouch’s style of play has never been based on mobility, but rather his height and aerial prowess, so there is little to suggest that the 6 foot 7 inch striker will be retiring any time soon or lose his goal scoring threat (unless he begins to shrink).
The issue for Mark Hughes is that the presence of the 36-year-old in the starting line-up often results in the team being drawn into hitting long, direct balls towards the striker’s lanky frame – which is often ineffective in the modern game. Supporters now expect a more aesthetically pleasing playing style and Crouch remains a reminder of the dull football that the side produced in Tony Pulis’ final season.
Whilst Crouch may be effective in certain scenarios – in the final ten minutes when Stoke are chasing a goal or against opposition that are vulnerable to aerial attacks – there are few around the Bet 365 Stadium who would agree that the 36-year-old is the long-term solution to the club’s goal scoring issues.
Mame Biram Diouf
The Senegal international joined Stoke in the summer of 2014 on a free transfer after his contract with Bundesliga side Hannover had expired. A former Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers striker, Diouf already possessed experience in the Premier League and he arrived with a reputation as a prolific goal scorer after he had averaged a goal every two games during his time in Germany.
The 29-year-old scored 14 times for The Potters in his debut campaign after cementing a place as Stoke’s first-choice central striker but has slowly seen a steady decline in his role at the club in subsequent seasons. Diouf found the net just once last year but was often played out of position and spent various stages of the season being deployed as a winger, a wing-back and even at full-back. He failed to earn a regular place in the starting line-up and had to be content either playing out of position or sitting among the substitutes.
The Senegalese striker may lack technical proficiency but his pace, power and strength have proven to be a dangerous threat for Premier League defences in the past. Mark Hughes’ unwillingness to utilise Diouf in his favoured position as a central striker, despite netting 14 times in his debut campaign, has seen the 29-tear-old revert to becoming almost a utility player and it is questionable whether this is the most effective use of his talents.
The Spanish striker was signed by The Potters in the summer of 2015 and he arrived with a reputation of being a powerful target man with good aerial prowess after a three year spell playing for various clubs in Germany.
Joselu struggled to break into the starting line-up at the Bet365 Stadium in his debut season in English football and scored just four goals in 27 appearances, the vast majority from the bench. Whilst he demonstrated moments of brilliance and technical ability, such as a stunning volley against Everton in December 2015, he failed to find any consistency and was never truly given a run of games in the side.
The 27-year-old was shipped out on loan last season to Spanish side Deportivo, where he scored six goals, despite missing the vast majority of the campaign with a serious knee injury. It was widely perceived that Joselu would be sold upon his return to The Potteries, but five goals in three pre-season friendlies, including back-to-back braces against Bolton Wanderers and St Pauli, have suddenly shot him back into consideration for a first team spot.
The striker’s pre-season form has seen him emerge as the leading candidate to spearhead Stoke’s attack when they face Everton on the opening day of the season and the Spaniard could be a surprise goal scoring package for The Potters this campaign if he is handed sufficient game time.