Stoke City host Watford at the BET365 Stadium on Tuesday evening with both teams looking to put their season back on track following a disappointing end to 2016.
Combined, these two clubs have secured just two victories between them over the Christmas period and were both on the receiving end of four-goal defeats last time out. The Potters suffered a 4-2 defeat by league leaders Chelsea, although they did match Antonio Conte’s side for long spells, whilst The Hornets were given a 4-1 drubbing by London rivals Tottenham Hotspur in a disappoint display.
Both teams will be looking to kick off 2017 with a positive result as they look to climb back into the top-half of the table and make an explosive start to the New Year.
Stoke City were dealt a difficult hand by the fixture computer with trips to Stamford Bridge and Anfield between Christmas and New Year. The Potters would go on to lose both games, conceding four goals in each contest, but did perform valiantly, taking the lead against Liverpool and coming back from a goal down against Chelsea to level the score at 2-2. However, defensive errors have cost Mark Hughes’ side dearly during recent weeks and Stoke are without a win in their last five Premier League fixtures (although this run included away matches against Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool) with their last victory coming against Burnley at the start of December.
The last time these two teams met at Vicarage Road back in November, a victory for Watford would have seen them move into the top six. In the event, The Hornets lost the game by a solitary goal and they have continued to slip down the table ever since following a poor run of form that has seen them pick up just four points from the last twenty-one on offer. Walter Mazzarri’s side have lost five of their last seven Premier League fixtures, including the four goal demolition at the hands of Tottenham last time out, and supporters are starting to look nervously over their shoulders towards the relegation zone that seemingly creeps closer week by week. Scoring goals has been the most predominant issue and Watford have only managed to score two or more goals twice in their last twelve games.
Stoke City will be without long-term injury absentees Geoff Cameron, Steven Ireland and Jack Butland, with the club rocked by the news that their first-choice goalkeeper is likely to miss the remainder of the season following a further set-back on his recovery from a broken ankle. However, Mark Hughes has been boosted by the return of Ibrahim Afellay over the Christmas period, with the Dutch midfielder making his first appearances in eight months at Anfield and Stamford Bridge after recovering from a serious knee ligament injury. Marc Muniesa and Jonathon Walters are both doubts whilst Marko Arnautovic is suspended.
Watford are facing up to something of a mini-injury crisis as the New Year kicks off. Adrian Mariappa and Issac Success are both some way from a return after missing the majority of the season through knee and hamstring injuries respectively. Valon Behrami, Daryl Janmaat and Stefano Okaka will all sit out the trip to North Staffordshire due to muscular issues whilst Juan Zuniga and Roberto Pereyra are also set to miss out. Walter Mazzarri will be able to call upon the services of Nordi Amrabat and Adlene Guedioura for one final time before the duo jet off to join their international colleagues at the African Cup of Nations.
Predicted Starting Line-Ups
Stoke City Starting XI Watford Predicted Starting XI
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Key Man: Ryan Shawcross
The one-time England international has been a rock at the heart of the Stoke City defence for the best part of the last decade and the central defender is a key component of Mark Hughes’ back-line. However, the 29-year-old produced a number of costly errors in his last two appearances, albeit at Anfield and Stamford Bridge, and appears uncharacteristically prone to making mistakes. The Potters will need their captain at his very best if they are to start plugging the holes in their leaky defence and claim victory against Watford.
On paper, both sides are out-of-form and in need of a positive result after a difficult Christmas period. However, Stoke City have undoubtedly faced the tougher fixture schedule and were unlucky not to come away from their recent contests against Liverpool and Chelsea with at least a point. Watford have struggled for goals throughout the campaign and they will likely by looking towards their captain, Troy Deeney, for some inspiration in the final third. If Mark Hughes’ side cut out the defensive errors that have cost them so dearly over recent weeks then they will pick up a narrow victory.
Score Prediction: Stoke City 1, Watford 0