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English Premier League

Mark Hughes Poised for Toughest Test Yet



Mark Hughes has done a magnificent job since taking over as Stoke City manager in May 2013. Some feared that the Potters would lose their ability to grind out results after Tony Pulis’ departure. Following 10 years at the Britannia, in two separate spells, the Stoke squad had become tailor-made to play Pulis’ direct and effective style of play. It is fair to say that some had their doubts over Hughes’ capabilities to alter that style of play, especially after he spent only £5 million in his first summer transfer window. However, a superb ninth placed finished displayed the grand job that Hughes had done, and he built on that with another ninth placed finish last season, and a further four points better off.

Last summer was another success story for the Potters, who shed some dead weight and the inspired signing of Bojan was built upon with the recruitment of solid players like Steve Sidwell and Mame Biram Diouf on free transfers. This summer, however, threatens to unravel all the tremendous work which has been carried out by the club over the last few years. For a long time now, Stoke have been seen as having one of the strongest team spirits and work ethics in the Premier League, they do not seem to put up with the so-called ‘big time Charlies’, and rarely seem to have one stand-out performer. It is for this reason, perhaps, that Stoke have been able to hang on to a number of their key players and avoid interest from the countries top teams season after season.

Yet in a markedly quiet June, Stoke seem to be one of the most active teams in the transfer market, concerning both incoming’s and outgoing’s. The first major hammer blow to the Potters is the news that Steven N’Zonzi looks set to reject any deal put in front of him by the club, with Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal all supposedly interested. The Frenchman, who joined Stoke from Blackburn for £3 million is criminally underrated, and was named Stoke’s Player of the Season for the season just gone by. N’Zonzi has handed in a transfer request in both of the last two summers, but with only a year left on his current deal and after his most impressive season to date, the ball is very much in his court on this occasion. The fee of £6 million being thrown about would prove a bargain for any potential suitors.

Further rumors surround the future of goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, who has been linked with both Manchester United and Chelsea in recent weeks. The Bosnian, like N’Zonzi, has only a single year left to run on his contract, although a move to Stamford Bridge would display a surprising willingness to sit on the bench. Between them, Begovic and N’Zonzi are crucial players for Stoke, and their departure would leave a serious gap to be plugged if the side is to maintain the progress that has been made in recent years.

In terms of recruitment, Stoke have finally completed the signing of Spanish striker Joselu. Given that Hughes generally only deploys one striker, it will be interesting to see if he can keep all four of his forward players contented over the entire season. Meanwhile, the ongoing situation with Yevhen Konoplyanka seems no closer to any kind of resolution. The Ukraine star has declared his intentions to play in the Premier League, following interest from Sevilla, but Stoke could still face competition from Spurs and Liverpool for the winger.

I have no doubt that Stoke will stay well-clear of relegation once more next season. In fact, they will most likely remain in mid-table, but the worry is that they will stagnate. Replacing Steven N’Zonzi and Asmir Begovic for reasonable fees would prove a challenge for any manager. The return of Bojan, who should be available come September, will be like a new signing for the Potters, if he can rediscover the form prior to his serious knee injury. As stated, Mark Hughes has done an exceptional job at Stoke City over the last two seasons but improving his points haul in the coming season will undoubtedly prove his toughest test yet.

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Manchester United

Why Jose Mourinho’s treatment of Luke Shaw has crossed the line

The Portuguese manager has been highly critical of Luke Shaw this season.

Rob Meech



Luke Shaw
Photo: Getty Images

The fractious relationship between Jose Mourinho and Luke Shaw plumbed new depths when the left-back was substituted at half-time in Manchester United’s FA Cup victory over Brighton & Hove Albion. The 22-year-old had been handed a rare opportunity to impress at Old Trafford but lasted only 45 minutes.

Speaking about Shaw in his post-match interview, Mourinho said: “Luke, in the first half, every time they came in his corridor, the cross came in and a dangerous situation was coming. I was not happy with his performance.”

The differences between the pair now appear to be irreconcilable. Shaw, who was signed by Louis van Gaal in the summer of 2014, has been used sparingly by Mourinho. The former Southampton starlet has made just 18 Premier League appearances under the Portuguese in a career that has been blighted by injuries.

Being substituted at half-time is almost as embarrassing as it gets for a player and Shaw’s mood will not have improved after being publicly criticised by his manager. It’s certainly not the first time Mourinho has chosen to talk candidly to the media about his concerns with the 22-year-old.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Some players require an arm around the shoulder to perform at their peak, while for others it takes a kick up the backside. Mourinho, opting for the latter, does nothing without reason and has clearly tried to spark a reaction from Shaw, without success.

From being one of English football’s brightest prospects after making his World Cup debut aged just 18, Shaw, who has seven England caps to his name, is in danger of not fulfilling the potential that convinced United to spend what was then a world-record fee for a teenager.

Mourinho’s tactic of singling out individuals who have not met his standards is in stark contrast to Sir Alex Ferguson, who never blamed his players in public. It has divided opinion among pundits, with Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier claiming the United manager is ‘destroying’ Shaw.

Mourinho is an expert at using smokescreens to distract from his side’s unconvincing performances. And this latest controversy has moved the narrative on from United’s shock Champions League exit at the hands of Sevilla.

(Photo by Lindsey Parnaby/Getty Images)

Tough love is one thing, but the sustained, public attack on Shaw is unacceptable. If Mourinho genuinely believes he is not good enough to represent United, then fair enough. But to continually vilify the youngster’s performances is a step too far and one that could irreparably damage Shaw’s confidence.

This is not to say that Shaw is a completely innocent bystander. Mourinho’s predecessor, Louis van Gaal, also questioned his desire and general conditioning when he joined United four years ago. Indeed, the Dutchman signed Shaw up to a tailored exercise regime in an effort to improve his fitness.

But while van Gaal’s treatment had the desired effect, Mourinho’s has done the opposite. Being publicly humiliated on a routine basis does neither party any favours.

In all likelihood, Shaw’s disappointing United career will come to an end this summer. A fresh start away from the toxicity under Mourinho is exactly what he needs.

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English Premier League

Keanan Bennetts has perfect opportunity to impress Mauricio Pochettino this week

The left-sided star has a chance to impress in first-team training during the international break.



Photo: Getty Images

With the international week in full flow, plenty of teams in the Premier League have seen their squads diminished by call-ups to national teams.

Tottenham Hotspur are one such side. Nonetheless, with most of the first-team squad away with their respective nations, work continues at Hotspur Way.

In order for Spurs to have a full complement in training, plenty of young talent needs to be pulled in to the ranks.

Mauricio Pochettino will, therefore,e get a chance to see some of his young players training with regular first-team players such as Fernando Llorente, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

One player who will be training with the first-team this week is talented wide-man Keanan Bennetts, according to London Live.

The 19-year-old left-winger has been catching the eye for the club’s youth team in recent weeks, making the news after scoring a fantastic goal for the under-19s against Monaco in the UEFA Youth League last month.

Bennetts has also been attracting interest for his positional dexterity. The wide-man has played at left-back in recent times and it could be that is his future best position.

This week he will be up against some excellent players such as Lamela and Moura, who did not receive selection to the Argentina and Brazil national teams, respectively.

If he can prove himself with this calibre of player, Pochettino will have to take notice.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

It is coming to a point in his Tottenham career when Bennetts has to make such an impact. The teenager is out of contract at Spurs in the summer and needs to ensure he is kept on for at least one more season.

Tottenham fans who follow the youth teams are certain he is deserving of such a chance. If he can show Pochettino what he is capable of this week, then a new deal will surely be in the pipeline for the talented wide-man.

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English Premier League

Despite improvement, Everton should not rekindle Thomas Vermaelen interest

The Belgian defender has been in better form for Barcelona this season.



Rumours have emerged today suggesting Everton could be back in for Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen.

Catalan newspaper Sport has reported that the 32-year-old could be offered a new deal by Barcelona, with a team from the Premier League interested in signing him.

Sport Witness has openly hypothesised that Everton could be that team. Whilst there is no confirmation or substantiated report that is the case, the boot certainly fits.

Last summer Everton tried to sign Vermaelen.

As reported by the Liverpool Echo, at the time Barcelona vetoed a loan move to Everton as they felt the defender could be a useful asset.

The Belgian certainly has. After struggling with injuries and form throughout most of his Barcelona tenure the former Arsenal man has enjoyed a good season.

The 32-year-old has been a genuine asset to the Catalans, despite still being used sparingly, and such form has even seen him win back a place in Roberto Martinez’s national selection for Belgium.

If it is Everton interested in Vermaelen it is easy to see why. Centre-back has been a major problem for the club this season.

However, Vermaelen, or a player of his ilk, is not the answer to the Toffees’ woes.

(Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)

The Belgian is obviously a talented player with plenty of experience, but Everton need to freshen up their back-line.

Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka’s age has shown in recent months.

The pair have been, at the best, inconsistent for the past 18 months and Everton need fresh young talent in the heart of defence if they are to succeed.

Vermaelen is not only 32 but also immensely injury prone. Everton need reliable figures to plug their leaky defences and the Belgian can simply not be relied upon.

Whilst on paper it seems a good deal, and one Everton could certainly turn to their benefit.

The truth is supporters of the Goodison Park outfit will hope they are not the club reportedly keen on bringing Vermaelen back to the Premier League.

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