Mark Hughes Stoke City side achieved their best ever Premier League finish last season capturing a comfortable ninth, earning a respectable fifty points in the process.
The former Manchester City boss had big shoes to fill after Tony Pulis’ departure, but Hughes’ implication of a new style of football to the Potters appealed to many.
Stoke fans will be optimistic of an even better finish this season, but will know all too well that it will not come easily.
Hughes, of course, knows this as well, and has therefore decided to bring in new faces and more quality. This article will be grading his new acquisitions from A-E, A being perfect and E being poor.
Phil Bardsley was brought in on a free from Sunderland and the right back may not be Stoke’s best signing of the summer, but he certainly is not shy of a tackle and he will undoubtedly add plenty of aggression to their back four.
The Scottish full back can offer something going forward as well. His delivery from the right wing is fairly good and he is not afraid of shooting from distance, possessing a menacing strike.
The signing of Bardsley is unlikely to excite fans very much, and he can be a liability with his aggression going into tackles at times, but, given that Stoke paid nothing for his services, Mark Hughes can be relatively pleased with his new right back. Grade – C.
Spanish forward Bojan was signed from Barcelona for a fee of £3 million and several pundits believe the 24 year old is something of a coup for Stoke City.
The former Barcelona star was once dubbed as the next Lionel Messi. Previous Barcelona and now Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola said, “There are only a few players who have a magic touch, and Bojan is one of them”.
Bojan failed to live up to the hype surrounding him, though, and a dismal time at Roma followed by poor loan spells at Milan and Ajax left many bemused, given his obvious talent.
Bojan is a tremendous dribbler, his first touch is excellent and he has the poise and balance of a ballerina. On the wing, he will dazzle fans with his flicks and tricks.
The 24 year old can also score goals, scoring 50 in 204 appearances in competitive club games.
Despite the Spaniard failing to live up to expectations, it has been said that, with the support and trust of his manager, he can offer so much to a team.
In Mark Hughes, Bojan will have the trust and arm around his shoulder he needs and I think he will flourish at Stoke. Given how little the Potter’s paid for the Barcelona graduate, and the quality of the player, this has to be graded as an A. A tremendous piece of business.
Former Manchester United striker Mame Diouf was brought in to the Britannia stadium for free from German side Hannover.
The 26 year old is another good addition to Mark Hughes’ side and has earned the reputation of an accomplished goalscorer during spells at Blackburn, Molde and most recently Hannover.
The Senegal international has scored a total of 64 goals in 145 league appearances, his most recent one being a wonderful 70 yard run from his own half, slotting through the legs of Joe Hart in Stoke’s 1-0 win against Manchester City at the Etihad.
Diouf is also a threat in the air, useful for a side like Stoke who like to utilise set pieces. The former Hannover man possesses a massive jump and even the tallest of defenders will have a hard time marking him.
Considering that Stoke’s only other strikers are Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters, Mame Diouf can expect a lot of game time and I think he will score goals for his new club, given the chance.
Diouf can be considered an A in terms of grading the deal. He will add goals to a Stoke team looking to beat their own record of best ever Premier League finish and will be a menace from set pieces. Not bad, considering he did not cost the Potter’s a penny of transfer budget.
Steve Sidwell was brought in as he longed to stay in the Premier League after his former side Fulham were relegated.
The English man is a solid defensive midfielder, with his strongest attributes being tackling, blocking shots and intercepting passes.
Stoke have signed a few attacking players this summer but not conceding goals is just as important as scoring them, Sidwell well offer cover to his central defenders, giving attacking players, such as Charlie Adam, the freedom to venture forward and win games.
Another free agent, Steve Sidwell can be considered a fairly good signing. A good, cheap, Premier League experienced defensive midfielder is not easy to get a hold of, but that is exactly what Hughes has done. Grade – C.
Oussama Assaidi played a key role in Stoke achieving their record finish in the league last season, his biggest contribution most notably his winner in the 3-2 comeback victory against eventual third placed Chelsea.
Like last season, Assaidi was brought in on a season long loan from Liverpool and the Moroccan winger has more than a few tricks up his sleeve.
Both skilful and quick, Assaidi can give any full back a tough game. His dribbling and agility combined with an arsenal of tricks performed at speed make him both unpredictable and dangerous.
The 26 year old’s crossing is also a strong point of his game, providing decent service from whichever wing he may find himself on.
Not only can Assaidi create goals, he can score them. Not afraid to shoot from long range, Assaidi possesses a good strike from distance and usually tests opposition goalkeepers.
Stoke City fans will surely have liked to welcome Assaidi back on a permanent basis but another loan season will develop his game while the Potter’s reap the rewards. Grade – B.
Victor Moses was a real hit at Wigan Athletic. Having signed for Chelsea in a £9 million deal at 21 years old, there was a real sense of promise from the Nigerian.
Lack of first team football, however, hampered his career progress considerably and, with the hope of getting regular first team football, he was shipped out to Liverpool on loan for last season.
It was an unsuccessful spell, impressing very little fans. So the now 23 year old will look to kick start his career at Stoke.
Moses has quality, he is a terrific dribbler, but his final ball is often lacking and he is unwilling to help out in defence, rarely, if ever, tracking back.
The former Wigan man may find himself playing a super sub role this year, with his flair, pace and dribbling qualities best utilised when others are tiring. Starts, however, may be fairly scarce.
I would grade this deal as a C. A good technical player with the ball at his feet but his final ball is left wanting and offers very little without it.
Overall, Stoke City fans should and probably will be happy with their clubs business over the summer, bringing in some good, quality acquisitions.
The prospect of a front three that includes Assaidi, Mame Diouf and Bojan is mouthwatering.
This season will no doubt be difficult, trying to match if not better last seasons feats. But Stoke City are a football club going places, and it is a very exciting time at the Britannia stadium.
It’s crunch time for Stoke City under Paul Lambert
The next two months are crucial for the future of Stoke City.
There are only eight games left of the Premier League season and with Manchester City running away with the Premier League title the attention now turns to the race for survival.
Stoke City began the season celebrating their tenth consecutive year as a top-flight club and yet the campaign could ultimately culminate in relegation to the Sky Bet Championship.
The warning signs were there in the summer when star winger Marko Arnautovic forced through a transfer to West Ham United and claimed that the Potters ‘lacked ambition’, something that the club hierarchy strenuously denied before forcing Mark Hughes to be reliant on free transfers and loan signings.
The further departure of club stalwarts such as Jonathan Walters and Glen Whelan was also a loss in the dressing room and behind the scenes, if not necessarily on the pitch.
The campaign actually got off to a promising start as Stoke secured four points from their opening two home fixtures against Arsenal and Manchester United, but the wheels quickly began to fall off.
Hughes had opted to deploy a new look 3-4-3 formation and, despite some early success, it soon became apparent that the Potters did not have the personnel or quality to make the system work.
The sight of Mame Biram Diouf, a striker by trade, stranded as a wingback pretty much summarises the tactical naivety of Hughes and his unwillingness to revert to a back four, despite poor results, saw the club slip into the relegation zone.
Ultimately, it has been Stoke’s inability to defend that has underpinned their demise this season.
At one stage, the Potters had the unenviable record of possessing the worst defensive record of any club in the top flight of European football, whilst only West Ham United have conceded more goals or kept fewer clean sheets in the Premier League this season.
Mark Hughes was dismissed in late January after Stoke City had been knocked out of the FA Cup by fourth-tier Coventry City and were stranded in the Premier League relegation zone.
There is little doubt that the Potters were correct to part ways with the Welshman, although in hindsight the club hierarchy had remained too loyal for too long.
Stoke’s attempt to hire a successor was chaotic, disorganised and became something of a soap opera.
Gary Rowett was the first manager to publically turn down the job after being approached and was swiftly followed by Quique Sánchez Flores, who conducted a swift U-turn within twenty-four hours of reportedly agreeing to leave Espanyol, and Martin O’Neil.
Stoke supporters were eventually left with the uninspiring appointment of Paul Lambert who, quite clearly, was nobodies first choice for the role.
The former Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers boss has certainly had a positive impact since arriving in the final weeks of January and has undoubtedly made the team more organised and harder to beat.
However, Lambert has overseen just one win in seven fixtures, at a time when the club are desperate for points, despite having been handed a favourable run of fixtures that included Huddersfield Town, Watford, Brighton, Bournemouth, Southampton and Leicester City.
The 48-year-old will need to stimulate a dramatic improvement in results of The Potters are going to have any hope of avoiding the drop.
On paper, the current Stoke City squad consists of a core contingent of proven international players that should have the quality and experience to pull away from the relegation zone.
Jack Butland, who is vying to be England’s first choice goalkeeper, Kurt Zouma, one of the most highly rated young defenders in Europe, Joe Allen, a central midfielder of undoubted quality, and Swiss superstar Xherdan Shaqiri make up the spine of the starting eleven, whilst Moritz Bauer and Badou Ndiaye arrived in January to add further quality.
However, there is an obvious lack of creativity in the current squad and the responsibility for facilitating goal scoring opportunities rests solely on the shoulders of Shaqiri.
In addition to this, Stoke lack a proven goal scorer with Mame Biram Diouf (inconsistent), Peter Crouch (one dimensional) and Saido Berahino (who has yet to score in over two years) the only options at Paul Lambert’s disposal.
This imbalance in the squad has been reflected in recent results. Since Lambert’s arrival in late-January Stoke have lost just once in seven games, against the champions-elect Manchester City, and have kept three clean sheets in the process.
However, in the same period, they have only won once, in Lambert’s first match against Huddersfield Town, and have found the net just five times – three of which were provided by Shaqiri.
It is the lack of creativity and goals that is undermining any shoots of recovery at the Bet365 Stadium.
Everton (H), Arsenal (A), Tottenham (H), West Ham United (A), Burnley (H), Liverpool (A), Crystal Palace (H) and Swansea City (A).
Stoke City have a semi-difficult run of fixtures but there are certainly opportunities to accumulate points over the closing weeks of the season.
Home games against Everton, Crystal Palace and Swansea City are ‘must win’ based on the fact that the Potters have the worst away record in England, having won just once on their travels this campaign, but trips to Olympic Stadium and the Liberty Stadium could provide a chance to rectify that.
Fundamentally, if Stoke can get to the final two games of the season and still be in with a chance of securing safety then they will be relatively pleased. It could all come down to the last day of the season with a mouth-watering fixture against Swansea.
Will They Survive?
Although Paul Lambert has certainly had a positive impact since being appointed in late-January, making the team more organised and harder to beat, it is difficult to see where Stoke City will secure the three or four wins required to guarantee safety.
The Potters have won just six games all season and the lack of creativity throughout the side and the absence of a proven striker leaves you wondering where the goals are going to come from.
There is certainly still hope for Stoke supporters, but Lambert will need to facilitate a dramatic improvement in performances if he is to guide the club to safety.
It will be an achievement if he can get the Potters to the final two games of the season, against Crystal Palace and Swansea City, and still be in with a chance of surviving.
Manchester City close in on title after brushing aside feeble Stoke City
Manchester City have one hand on the Premier League title after victory on Monday night.
So that answers that question then – Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City team can handle a dark, cold and wet mid-week fixture against Stoke City at the Bet365 Stadium.
Not that the result of this game was ever in doubt.
Manchester City are undoubtedly one of the best club sides in the world at this present moment in time and arrived in ‘The Potteries’ 13 points clear at the top of the Premier League table.
It was little surprise to see them nonchalantly brush aside Stoke on Monday evening courtesy of two goals from David Silva and, in the process, increase their lead over second-placed Manchester United to 16 points.
City now require just three more wins to confirm the title and are on course to break the 100-point mark.
Guardiola’s side were dominant at the Bet365 Stadium and continued to produce the breath-taking football that has characterised their season. It is the perfect mixture of pace, precision and technique and Stoke quite simply did not possess the quality, confidence or character to muster a challenge.
This was procession more than it was a contest and Manchester City were not required to get out of first gear.
A trip to ‘The Potteries’ used to spark fear into the hearts of opposing players – facing a Stoke team that was characterised by discipline, hard-work and an up-and-at-‘em approach that was backed by a passionate home crowd – but on Monday night all of the above were lacking. The players were lethargic on the pitch and the home supporters were apathetic in the stands.
Paul Lambert and his side appeared content to lose the game as long as the scoreline was kept respectable and it was clear from the first whistle that the Potters were in damage limitation mode.
Stoke failed to muster a shot on target in the entire game and there was no purpose, urgency or direction to their play. They offered little defensively either. There was no attempt to press the visitors or ruffle their feathers, demonstrated by the fact that only Joe Allen picked up a yellow card, and the sight of Manchester City stroking the ball around unopposed at walking pace will have been a demoralising sight for the locals.
Yes, you have to acknowledge that Manchester City are good, very good in fact, but the way that the hosts simply rolled over without a fight was indicative of a campaign that will possibly result in their relegation.
Wigan Athletic, Burnley and Basel have all demonstrated since Christmas that Guardiola’s side are far from invincible, yet the Potters opted to wave the white flag from the onset.
Lambert certainly has a task on his hands at the Bet365 Stadium if he is to guide the club to safety. A predictable loss to the champions-elect will not define their future, but the upcoming home fixture against Everton on Saturday certainly will. Stoke supporters can only hope that their team shows more character, fight and direction at the weekend than they did on Monday.
For Manchester City, the Pep Guardiola football revolution continues to roll on. The focus now for City will be to wrap up the Premier League title as soon as possible so that additional emphasis can be placed on progressing to the latter stages of the Champions League.
Beyond this season, the future continues to look bright.
Guardiola’s squad consist primarily of young starlets or players that are in their mid-late twenties and are at or just entering, the peak of their powers.
Raheem Sterling (23), Leroy Sane (22), Bernardo Silva (23), Gabriel Jesus (20), John Stones (23) and Ederson (24) are all under the age of 24 whilst Kevin De Bruyne (26), Kyle Walker (27) and Sergio Aguero (29) have yet to hit their thirties.
The Premier League must now face up to the prospect that the current crop of Manchester City players, under the guidance of one of the best coaches of the modern era, have the potential to dominate the domestic scene for the foreseeable future.
If the runaway train is to be stopped, teams will have to demonstrate a much more positive attitude and a desire to compete than that shown in the performance by Paul Lambert and his players on Monday evening.
Errors continue to cost Stoke City despite improvement under Paul Lambert
Stoke City have proved the makers of their own downfall under Paul Lambert in recent weeks.
When Stoke City kicked off the season back in August the club were celebrating the start of a tenth consecutive campaign in the top flight of English football.
Now, six months on, the Potters have just ten games left to clamber out of the relegation zone to ensure that their supporters will be travelling to Old Trafford, Anfield and Stamford Bridge next season rather than the Pirelli Stadium, Oakwell and New Meadow.
Relegation is now staring Stoke straight in the face and the threat of dropping into the Championship is now a very realistic possibility.
Saturday’s draw against Leicester City leaves the club stranded in the relegation zone, albeit only one point from safety as it currently stands, but time and ‘winnable’ games are beginning to run out at an alarming rate.
The appointment of Paul Lambert in January has stimulated a revival of sorts in the Potteries.
The Scotsman has made Stoke more organised, harder to beat and has been busy attempting to find solutions on the training ground with double sessions each week for the players.
However, the improvement in performances has not been reflected by results on the pitch as basic errors continue to undermine the club’s attempts to generate points and build momentum in the closing months of the season.
On Saturday, Stoke appeared to be grinding out an invaluable three points against Leicester at the King Power Stadium with Xherdan Shaqiri’s stunning long-range strike, his third in as many matches, giving the Potters an invaluable lead.
Defensively Lambert’s men appeared relatively comfortable, denying both Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez the time or space to have any meaningful impact on the game and the hosts were struggling to create clear-cut goal scoring opportunities.
However, Stoke have developed a dangerous habit of shooting themselves in the foot this season.
In their previous fixture, it was Charlie Adam’s late penalty miss that cost the Potters a win against Brighton whilst on Saturday it was Jack Butland’s failure to catch a low cross, instead deflecting it into his own net, that led to two more vital points being dropped.
Had Adam converted from the penalty spot and Butland caught a bread-and-butter cross then Stoke would have four additional points on the board and be well on their way to securing safety.
The reality is that the Potters now face a relegation six-pointer against Southampton at the weekend that they simply need to win. However, it may already be too late.
Since arriving at the Bet365 Stadium Lambert has won just one of his five fixtures, with all of the opposition coming against teams in the bottom half of the table.
Six points from matches against Brighton (home), Huddersfield (home), Watford (home), Bournemouth (away) and Leicester (away) may ultimately not be enough with the club facing a tough run of fixtures to close the season.
In their final ten matches, Stoke face Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool – with just one win in their previous nine games it is hard to see the Potters picking up any points from those four contests.
There are then away fixtures against Southampton, West Ham and Swansea City, which will undoubtedly be made more difficult by the fact that the club have the worst away record in the top four divisions of English football.
Then, there are crucial must-win home games against Crystal Palace, Everton and Burnley.
To say that there is no longer room for error is an understatement and Stoke can certainly not afford to make the same fundamental mistakes that have cost them vital points in both of their previous two fixtures. In truth, The Potters need a miraculous turn of form, particularly on the road, if they are to have any chance of survival.
There is still hope, though.
Lambert has made a positive impact since his arrival and there has been an improvement in performances.
Stoke are harder to beat and in Xherdan Shaqiri have someone who is capable of making something out of nothing – the diminutive winger is The Potters’ main creative focal point and his form will have a direct impact on results and, ultimately, the club’s future.
So, Stoke’s tenth consecutive campaign in the top flight of English football has basically come down to a ten-match season where their Premier League status is in need of saving.
All that the supporters can do now is buckle themselves in and get ready for what will undoubtedly be a rollercoaster end to the campaign.
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