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.