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Stoke City

Stoke City: Feeble and half-hearted at best, negligent at worst

Martyn Cooke

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Stoke City

On Saturday afternoon, twenty-seven minutes into the first half at the Etihad Stadium, Stoke City goalkeeper Jack Butland stood on the edge of his eighteen yard box with a mixed look of bemusement and frustration etched across his face.

The England international, who is being tipped by many to displace Joe Hart as Gareth Southgate’s first choice stopper before the summer, had just picked the ball up out of his net for the third time in ten minutes after David Silva had provided the finishing touch to another flowing passing move constructed by Manchester City.

He, like the ten Stoke outfield players positioned before him, appeared to be little more than helpless bystanders as Pep Guardiola’s team went about ruthlessly dismantling them.

Butland exemplified Stoke’s afternoon – frustrated, bemused and helpless to stop the tsunami of light blue attacking waves.

Manchester City were electric on Saturday and the eventual 7-2 score line could have easily have crept into double figures. Guardiola’s team produced some scintillating football, arguably the best that any side has produced so far this campaign, and Stoke simply had no answers.

Yet, whilst the national media are, quite rightly, eulogising over The Citizen’s stunning performance there will be a lot of questions being asked back in The Potteries.

How Mark Hughes has failed to correct the mistakes of last season

The Stoke City supporters that travelled to the Etihad Stadium on Saturday attended the contest more in hope than expectation. Manchester City are undoubtedly one of the superpowers of European football and are arguably the best team in the country right now – and by some distance.

The disparity between the two clubs is facilitated by Sheik Mansour’s almost limitless financial backing that has seen the Abu Dhabi Group pour almost one billion pounds into constructing a team of superstars that is being guided by one of the best coaches of the modern era.

To put Manchester City’s spending power into perspective, the purchase of Kyle Walker in the summer exceeds the amount of money that Stoke have spent on their last three most expensive signings combined (Giannelli Imbula, Saido Berahino and Kevin Wimmer).

However, that will be of little comfort to the Stoke supporters who witnessed the 7-2 demolition of their team on Saturday.

Yes, Manchester City were good – very good in fact – but the resistance offered by The Potters was feeble and half-hearted at best, negligent at worst. The defeat highlighted once more some of the large cracks in Mark Hughes’ team and approach that have undermined the club’s performance over the last eighteen months.

Defensively, Stoke were shambolic. Manchester City may possess a deluge of world-class players but the ease and simplicity in which they carved open the visitors time after time was horrifying for those stranded in the away end.

As a defender surely your job is to make things difficult, get tight and deny opponents space, hell – even bother to put a tackle in from time to time (Stoke picked up just one booking during the contest).

Heavy defeats are nothing new for The Potters. They had already been beaten 4-0 by Chelsea prior to the international break and, under Hughes, the team have conceded four or more goals nine times in their last 49 fixtures. That means that Stoke fans can expect their side to be on the receiving end of a thrashing once every four or five matches.

Quite simply under Hughes, Stoke have no idea how to defend.

There are also increasing concerns over Stoke’s recent transfer policy. Hughes has spent roughly £50 million in the last couple of years on Giannelli Imbula, Saido Berahino and Kevin Wimmer and yet all of the indicators appear to suggest that all three will be poor investments.

Imbula, who is the Potters’ record signing, has already been excluded to France on loan having been frozen out of the first team squad last season whilst Berahino, who was supposed to be the solution to the club’s goal scoring problem, has failed to find the back of the net in almost two years.

Even Wimmer, an £18 million purchase in the summer, was substituted at half time at the Etihad Stadium after being bamboozled by the Manchester City strike force – his early performances do not suggest that he is a player worth the hefty price tag.

Finally, there are Hughes’ team selections and tactical approach. The Welshman has deployed a 3-4-3 formation for the majority of the season despite the fact that the club have no actual wing-backs on the books.

Mame Biram Diouf, a striker, Geoff Cameron, a central defender, and Ramadam Sobhi, an out-and-out winger, have all been shoe-horned into playing at right wing-back despite having absolutely no previous experience operating in that position.

In addition to this, Hughes seems incapable of deciding which striker should spearhead his attack. He has been consistently playing either Berahino or Jese Rodriguez as the lone striker, despite neither of the duo possessing the physicality or approach to fit into that role.

Meanwhile, Peter Crouch, who continues to score from the bench, and Diouf, who is stranded at wing-back, two players that are suited to playing as an isolated front man, are not being utilised correctly.

No wonder some Stoke supporters are pulling their hair out with frustration.

Perspective – but a need for definitive improvement

It is important to retain some perspective regarding Stoke City’s 7-2 defeat at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, but yet the performance exemplified the continuing issues within the club that Mark Hughes has failed to provide a solution for or has created himself.

Towards the end of last season supporters were beginning to lose patience with the Welshman, some even going as far as to call for him to be replaced. However, the general consensus was that he should be given the summer to re-mould the squad and tackle some of the prominent issues that had seen Stoke stranded in the mediocrity of mid-table.

There has been little, if any, progress made.

The saving grace for Hughes is that there is a friendly-looking run of fixtures coming up that will provide the perfect opportunity to pick up points and placate the frustrated supporters in the stands. However, if Saturday’s performance is anything to go by, then he has an awful lot of work to do over the forthcoming weeks and a drastic improvement is required.

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

Stoke City

Stoke City should avoid re-signing Robert Huth and look to the future

Although a romantic idea, the Potters should avoid resigning the 34-year-old.

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Getty Images

On Wednesday morning, Leicester City announced that Robert Huth would be leaving the club at the end of the season after three-and-a-half years with the Foxes.

The German defender has made 93 appearances during that period, scoring six goals, and became a fans favourite at the King Power Stadium for the prominent role that he played in the club’s recent success.

He was a crucial facet of the Leicester team that were crowned Premier League champions in 2016 and was widely admired for his tough, no-nonsense style of defending.

However, Huth will go into the summer as a free agent after the Foxes decided not to renew his contract when it concludes at the end of the campaign.

The German has struggled to regain his place in the first team squad since suffering a string of injuries in the closing stages of last season and is behind the likes of Wes Morgan, Harry Maguire and Aleksander Dragovic in the pecking order for a starting role.

Huth remains a popular figure among Stoke supporters after his contributions helped to establish the club in the Premier League, reach an FA Cup final and progress to the latter stages of the Europa League.

His central defensive partnership with club captain Ryan Shawcross is widely perceived by fans as being the best in the club’s modern era.

With the Potters being relegated to the Sky Bet Championship and Huth set to leave Leicester in the summer, some Stoke supporters have been left wondering if the German is set for a dream homecoming.

The current Stoke squad will undoubtedly experience a dramatic overhaul during the summer as the club prepares for life in the second tier and the departure of Kurt Zouma, who returns to Chelsea when his loan expires next week, will mean that the Potters will be in the market for a defensive replacement.

However, the potential signing of Huth would not represent a positive move.

The central defender is now 34-years-old and has barely featured for Leicester over the last twelve months. In fact, the German has yet to make an appearance this season and has struggled with multiple consecutive injuries over the last year.

If The Potters are serious about reclaiming their place in the Premier League then they must avoid trying to relive the past and start to look to the future.

Regardless of the place that Huth has in the hearts of Stoke supporters, it makes little sense objectively to purchase an aging defender who has barely played in twelve months.

Attempting to recreate the glory days of half-a-decade ago is unlikely to solve the club’s current issues in the here and now.

(Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

A defensive partnership of Huth and Shawcross would have a combined age of 64 – you have to question how effective the pairing would be in the intense world of football in the Championship where the games come thick and fast with often two matches a week in a congested fixture list.

There is little to gain from trying to relive the past.

Instead, Stoke should be looking to bring together a young, hungry group of players that are developing towards the prime of their careers and still have everything to prove.

It should be about building with the future in mind, rather than reminiscing about creating an ‘old boys’ club.

A return for Huth to the Bet365 Stadium would be an idealistic and romanticised concept in the minds of some supporters, but is he truly the best option?

Huth will forever be remembered as a genuine Stoke City legend, but he represents the past and it is the future that the club need to be focusing on.

A return to ‘The Potteries’ may be a romantic notion for some supporters, yet it would not represent forward thinking or progress for a club that needs to rebuild after a period of regression.

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Newcastle United

Newcastle should swoop for Stoke’s Joe Allen in the summer window

The Welshman will be hot property as he seeks a return to the top flight.

Josh Kerr

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Photo: Getty Images

Newcastle United should make a move for Stoke City midfielder Joe Allen, who will be looking to stay in the Premier League after the Potters relegation to the Championship was confirmed on the weekend.

Earlier this month, The Sun reported that the likes of West Ham and the Magpies were interested in the £20 million-rated Welshman’s signature after Paul Lambert’s side became the first Premier League team to face the drop.

The former Liverpool midfielder is only 28 and may still feel his talents are best suited to the Premier League. Therefore, a move away from Staffordshire may be the best solution in order for him to stay at the highest level.

Allen has featured for the Potters in a more defensive role this season, one that has seen him grab two goals as well as six assists.

A player with significant Premier League experience, the Welshman would bring a lot to this Newcastle side, and a host of other top-flight clubs would no doubt love to have him in their engine room.

Lovingly referred to as the ‘the Welsh Xavi’, Allen is by no means the most prolific midfielder, but his work rate and experience are second-to-none. He is a real leader in the dressing room that the Magpies would be foolish to ignore.

The £20 million would be a club record signing for Newcastle, surpassing the fee spent on Michael Owen’s capture from Real Madrid back in 2005. However, Allen represents stability and Benitez will be searching for that if his side are to stay up again next season.

Allen’s relentless energy in the middle of the park will suit the Spaniard, and his experience will see him set the example for the young players around him to follow. He also looks real Rafa Benitez signing, a player whose work-rate and dedication matches his quality.

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English Premier League

Xherdan Shaqiri has progressed despite Stoke City relegation

The Swiss international has eight goals and six assists this season.

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Getty Images

Xherdan Shaqiri arrived in England with a big reputation after playing for both Bayern Munich and Inter Milan.

The Swiss international was regarded as one of the brightest talents to emerge from his homeland in several years, but his lack of consistency and selfish style prevented him from being a success at two of the biggest clubs on the continent.

Despite that, it was still seen as a huge surprise that he joined mid-table Premier League side Stoke City.

At the time, the attacker would have seen the club as a stepping stone to bigger things with a move to a top-six Premier League team in his future.

His first two seasons were underwhelming, as he managed to contribute only seven goals and eight assists in 48 matches.

He was involved in a goal every 249.9 minutes, which isn’t good enough for a player with his quality.

The environment at Stoke didn’t help him play to his potential, as there was little ambition at the club with the only focus being to stay in the division.

Although there were some nice moments from Shaqiri, he didn’t impact matches on a consistent basis and that stopped a bigger club from making a move for him.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Saturday was the day of Stoke City’s relegation from the Premier League and that has created doubt regarding the future for Shaqiri, but he is one of the few players in the squad to emerge from this season with credit.

In the match against Crystal Palace, the 26-year-old gave his side some hope with an excellent strike from a free-kick, but the Potters once again showed that they couldn’t hold on to a lead and that is one of the major reasons for their current position.

That goal took Shaqiri up to eight goals and six assists for the season.

He has nearly matched his contribution from the last two seasons combined and that shows the improved consistency that he has found, despite Stoke’s struggles. This has been helped by his playing time, as he has started all but two of the team’s matches.

As the season progressed to a climax, there was a lot of pressure on Shaqiri to produce the magic to save Stoke City.

The plan seemed to be ‘defend and give the ball to the winger’ to provide a match-winning moment.

It may not have worked, but it gave a platform to the Swiss international to show his ability and he has managed to do that with some impressive showings.

(Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

The relegation will hurt Shaqiri today, but his performances over the course of the season mean that he is unlikely to have to play Championship football.

He is far too good for that and he has the opportunity to leave this summer.

The World Cup will be his first priority, but he could use the tournament as a shop window and attract a club of the highest calibre possible.

A top-six club may be beyond him, despite his improvement. However, there will be a lot of Premier League interest and it would be a good decision to remain in England.

The style of football suits him and there is no telling how effective he could be in the right system.

Stoke never provided that, but there will clubs that will. It may not feel like it today, but this season has represented progression for Shaqiri.

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