The pressure increased on Mark Hughes on New Year’s Day as his Stoke City side fell to a narrow home defeat to relegation rivals Newcastle United. The Potters’ manager rested a number of players for the club’s recent visit to Chelsea and he was criticised for that, but he had this fixture in mind. The loss to Rafa Benitez’s men is a major setback for the home side and their manager has emerged as the overwhelming favourite to be the next Premier League manager to lose his job. Here are three talking points from the match at the Bet365 Stadium:
Benitez rotated well and found a style that works away from home
Newcastle United have now won back-to-back away matches and Rafa Benitez deserves great credit in how he set his side up on Monday. He made the decision to drop Joselu and Dwight Gayle, which meant a recall for Ayoze Perez. Although the Spaniard is a natural forward, he is rarely used as a lone striker and it was a surprise to see him in the starting eleven to play Stoke.
However, his selection facilitated some innovative attacking play, as Newcastle United had four intelligent and mobile forwards. They interchanged to great effect and their movement caused a lot of problems for the Stoke City attack. In the first half, Christian Atsu had a number of opportunities that he could have done better from and the other three forwards showed encouraging signs as the half progressed.
Matt Ritchie was the work horse of the front four, as he got back to support the defence. During the match, he completed four tackles to win possession back for his side. The real star of the afternoon was Jacob Murphy, as he showed confidence on the ball and provided the match-winning moment, as he accelerated away from the Stoke midfield before delivering a great ball into Ayoze Perez for the winner. The winger has been criticised for his performances since joining the club, but he is starting to perform as a Premier League player.
Hughes is running out of time
Mark Hughes is quickly running out of time at Stoke City as this defeat saw them fall to 16th position and they are just two points clear of the bottom three. The stats don’t make for great reading, as his side have conceded more than any other team by quite some distance. They have shipped 47 in just 22 matches. The next worst is West Ham United with 38 conceded.
Their attack has given them some crucial wins this season, but the overall trend is a worrying one. Often the team with the worst goal difference is relegated and Stoke’s currently stands at -24, which is the worst in the division. They are quite often having to play catch-up in their matches as they have conceded the first goal on 15 occasions this season.
On Monday, the team looked devoid of ideas and it could be that a new manager is required to breathe life into this squad. There is no doubting that they have the talent to stay up comfortably. The likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Joe Allen, Kevin Wimmer and Kurt Zouma are all fine players, but there is something missing at the Bet365 Stadium. A change of manager is becoming more and more likely by the day.
Jamaal Lascelles is the most important Newcastle United player
There have been some rough patches during 2017 for Newcastle United, but a huge positive has been the development of Jamaal Lascelles. The young club captain has always been seen as a great leader by Rafa Bneitez, but the centre-back is now performing to a high level on the pitch.
Since the defender returned from injury, Newcastle have taken seven points from 15 available, including two wins and two clean sheets. They have conceded only four times during that run of fixtures and it included matches against Arsenal and Manchester City. When he was out on the sidelines, the Magpies were a lot less reliable at the back as they conceded 15 goals in five matches.
It was a tricky test for the Newcastle defence on Monday as they were faced with the task of keeping Peter Crouch quiet and had to deal with a number of high balls. Lascelles had the defence well organised and he stepped up his game as contest drew to a conclusion. He won seven aerial duels and completed four ball recoveries. It was a captain’s display and the Magpies will need him to maintain his consistency for the rest of the season.
Is Juan Foyth a ready-made replacement for Toby Alderweireld?
The Argentine youngster joined Tottenham Hotspur from Estudiantes last summer.
According to reports in Belgium this week, Tottenham Hotspur have given up hope of keeping Toby Alderweireld.
HLN has reported Spurs have accepted defeat in trying to convince the Belgian of signing a new deal after failing to agree on wages.
Therefore, Tottenham will sell the 29-year-old this summer, with £43 million the asking price.
Tottenham could be looking for a new signing in the summer to replace him, but rather than spending big on a new recruit, they should instead give a chance to someone already at the club.
The player in question is Argentine defender Juan Foyth.
Spurs brought in the young defender from Estudiantes last summer for a fee reported to be in the region of £10 million by ESPN.
His signature was heralded as a success for the London outfit after the Times had reported PSG had instead got the youngster.
Foyth has played just eight times for Tottenham this season, with none of those appearances coming in the Premier League.
But at just 20-years-old and new to English football, that was to be expected.
Mauricio Pochettino is known to be a huge fan of his countryman and Foyth has impressed in the FA Cup this season.
As a ball playing centre-half he is the type of player Tottenham want at the back to take the team into the future.
With Alderweireld gone, Tottenham will be short a defensive option.
Jan Vertonghen will be the pillar in the centre of defence, with Davinson Sanchez an impressive talent alongside him.
Eric Dier’s versatility makes him an option. Foyth would then argue the case that he is next in line and deserves a shot at establishing himself in the Tottenham first-team.
It is certainly a possibility.
Tottenham also have highly-rated American defender Cameron Carter-Vickers out on loan at Ipswich Town, who could take Foyth’s place as fifth-in-line, if Tottenham give the Argentine his chance.
The likelihood is that Spurs will bring in a new recruit to replace Alderweireld. Perhaps a player with more experience will instead be pursued.
Foyth has not yet proved himself in the Premier League, so laying it on the line for him next season would be a massive risk by Pochettino and Tottenham.
But there is certainly a chance that the £10 million youngster could take Alderweireld’s place next season.
Luka Modric could prove the perfect Emre Can replacement at Liverpool
The Croatian has been linked with a move to Anfield with Emre Can expected to leave this summer.
Emre Can looks set to be on his way out of Anfield this summer as the 24-year-old German international seems unwilling to sign a new contract at Liverpool.
Spanish news outlet El Gol Digital have recently linked Real Madrid with the German international, although they would have to fend off interest from European rivals Juventus.
Speaking to Sport 1, Can recently expressed his desire to be featured in the world team of the year at some point in his career.
For the 24-year-old, it would be difficult to turn down a club of Madrid’s magnitude and his departure would represent a blow for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Nonetheless, a swap deal for Real Madrid star Luka Modric would be a superb way to ease the pain of the German’s exit.
Reports linking Can with the Bernabeu come just a matter of weeks after Spanish newspaper Dario Gol expressed Luka Modric’s desire to leave the current Champions League holders.
The Croation international is reportedly keen on a return to the Premier League return, with Liverpool, along with Tottenham, named as front-runners for his signature.
Even at 32 years of age, the Croatian midfielder is still one of the best players in the world and would represent an excellent short-term fix for the Reds.
His brilliant passing range, his superb footballing brain, and his delicate skills are all crucial components that would boost Liverpool’s attacking threat.
Combined with a world-class attack consisting of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane, the Reds truly could stake a claim for the most dynamic frontline in England next season.
Most importantly, the addition of Modric could finally mark the replacement for Philippe Coutinho that many Liverpool supporters have been begging for.
A seasoned international with tremendous experience at the upper levels of world football would be a remarkable transfer for Klopp’s side, and would surely bolster their title aspirations in 2018/19.
Matty Foulds has not fulfilled two-year Everton promise
The one time ‘next John Stones’ has not lived up to his potential.
In November 2015, Everton agreed a deal to sign teenage defender Matty Foulds from Bury.
The then-17-year-old agreed to join Everton in January 2016 and was immediately hotly tipped for a bright future at Goodison Park.
As reported by the Liverpool Echo, the deal cost Everton £225,000 and the club expected him to be playing first-team football within the next two years.
Such high praise and expectation soon saw him earning the moniker of ‘next John Stones’, considering the England international’s rise from the Football League.
So, it is now over two years since Foulds joined Everton and, as of yet, the first-team has not been calling.
The now 20-year-old defender has not yet made his first-team debut or even a matchday squad.
Foulds, who played just four times in Everton’s triumphant Premier League 2 Division One win last season, has not made the progress many at the club thought he might.
This season, he has established himself as a more regular feature, playing 11 times, mostly as a left-back, despite originally arriving as a ball-playing centre-half.
Foulds, whose current deal expires in the summer of 2019, has clearly not lived up to expectation just yet.
It could be he has fallen victim to the change of management at Everton. Roberto Martinez spoke highly of Foulds when signing him.
The Spaniard would have had a vision of him playing first-team football for Everton, but Ronald Koeman and Sam Allardyce may not share such expectancy.
Foulds also has plenty of competition at Goodison Park.
Last season he could not get past the likes of Antonee Robinson, Callum Connolly, Morgan Feeney and first-team regulars Matthew Pennington and Mason Holgate.
This campaign he has been a regular but has not featured in the club’s last four under-23 ties.
Lewis Gibson has been preferred at left-back with Foulds also struggling with injury.
It certainly appears as though Foulds has not lived up to the expectations Everton had for him when he first arrived.
Next season, contractually, is his last at Finch Farm and Foulds will need to massively improve if he is to have any long-term future at Goodison Park.
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