The added spice of former Stoke City manager Tony Pulis returning to the away dugout to lead rivals West Bromwich Albion in a Midlands Derby at the Bet365 Stadium will mean little to Mark Hughes and Stoke City as they battle to stop the rot they have fallen into at the start of this season. The Potters are one of two teams yet to win in the Premier League this campaign and are 20th with one point to their name coming off the back of a 4-1 defeat at Crystal Palace, where they scored their first goal of the season from open play.
Tony Pulis’ Baggies in comparison are faring rather better. West Brom currently sit tenth in the Premier League after a rampant 4-2 home win over West Ham United last week, and their manager as well as hoping that his team have found their goalscoring touch at last- after registering a mere 34 goals in 38 league games last season- will be looking to extend his impressive personal record against his former clubs when his side travel to the Potteries.
For all the high hopes of Stoke City supporters going into 2016/17, the reality of what has thus far transpired could not be more of a contrast. Stretching back to the beginning of April last season, the Potters have managed one win in 12 Premier League matches, with three draws and eight defeats.
Since the start of the 2016/17 season, they have mustered three league goals, only one of those coming from open play, and shipped 13 goals in their last four league matches including conceding four in one match on three occasions. In the overall picture, they have actually shipped four goals in six of their last 11 in the league. Their cup form has also proved little respite; despite a 4-0 away win over Stevenage to start with, they exited the EFL Cup on Tuesday following a 2-1 home defeat to Hull courtesy of a stoppage time winner from Markus Henriksen. Mark Hughes’ side subsequently sit rock bottom of the Premier League, with increasing pressure building on their manager. Despite Hughes receiving the public backing of club chairman Peter Coates this week, they are in need of a result to turn things around quickly and will be desperate to pick up points against a side that in recent years, they have enjoyed playing against.
Of the 14 Premier League meetings between the two sides, Stoke have won seven, with a further three finishing in draws. The Potters will be hoping that their superior top flight record can continue against the Baggies as they bid to end their barren run of form and begin to climb the table. There don’t tend to be many goals in these games though, with under 2.5 goals being scored in six of Stoke’s last seven meetings with the Baggies.
West Brom, however, do have the most recent historical advantage going into this game. Tony Pulis has a proud record against his former clubs and has mastermind three successive wins over Stoke in their last three Premier League meetings, all of which have had one goal in them. The most recent of these was a 2-1 win for Albion at the Hawthorns, when a late Jonny Evans winner was enough to secure the three points. The repeat fixture at the Bet365 last season ended in a 1-0 win for Pulis’ Baggies, Salomon Rondon heading in the winner in a match where the Potters finished with nine men. In fact, the Potters received three red cards in their two meetings with West Brom last season.
Regarding the Baggies’ league form this season, they have won two of their five opening matches, including a 1-0 win at another of Pulis’ former clubs Crystal Palace, before last week’s thumping 4-2 win over West Ham. Sandwiched inbetween is a goal-less draw at home to Middlesbrough, and defeats to Everton and Bournemouth. The Baggies have managed to score six goals in their opening five, which will be of great encouragement for Pulis after their lack of goals so often proved their undoing last season, whilst they currently average conceding goals at one per game, having shipped five in their first five league games.
Their defensive record away from home however is impressive, with under 2.5 goals scored in Albion’s last five away from home. There may just be more goals in this one though, with 12 goals scored in Stoke’s three home games this season in all competitions. Away from the league, Albion too are out of the EFL Cup, exiting on penalties at the first hurdle to League One outfit Northampton Town following a 2-2 draw at Sixfields. Their earlier exit means however that they are well rested going into this fixture, compared to their opponents who suffered yet another defeat to Hull City on Wednesday night, and must now rouse themselves for a 3pm Saturday afternoon kick-off.
Xherdan Shaqiri is in contention to return against West Brom having missed the Potters’ last seven matches through injury. Giannelli Imbula was dropped against Crystal Palace last time out in the league after a string of ineffective performances, and he may well miss out again with Shaqiri coming back in on the right and Bojan Krkic starting in the Number Ten role behind Wilfried Bony. Marko Arnautovic should keep his place on the left of midfield after scoring in back-to-back games in all competitions. Geoff Cameron is expected to return to right-back with Glen Johnson dropping to the bench, whilst Glenn Whelan should return to partner Joe Allen in centre-midfield. After a comfortable debut midweek, Lee Grant could make his first Premier League start in place of Shay Given in goal.
For Albion, Tony Pulis is largely expected to keep faith with the side that took apart West Ham only last weekend, with new £13million record signing Nacer Chadli featuring in the Number Ten role behind Salomon Rondon, James McClean and Matt Phillips operating on the flanks. Claudio Yacob and Darren Fletcher will be the midfield presence in front of the defence, with Everton loanee Brendan Galloway keeping his place at left-back. Jonny Evans, Gareth McAuley and Craig Dawson will make up the remainder of the defence in front of goalkeeper Ben Foster.
Stoke City predicted starting XI West Bromwich Albion predicted starting XI
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Stoke City’s list of treatment table occupants remains extensive, with Stephen Ireland and Ibrahim Afellay not expected to return til the New Year. First-choice goalkeeper Jack Butland’s recover setback also means that he is unlikely to return until November. Xherdan Shaqiri remains a doubt but should be back in contention after recovering from a calf problem, and Glen Johnson although rated doubtful should make the squad after coming through the full 90 minutes against Hull on Wednesday.
In contrast, West Bromwich Albion only have two absentees to contend with. Chris Brunt remains sidelined with an anterior cruciate ligament injury, though he is not far from returning. Young forward Jonathan Leko is doubtful after injury kept him out of the squad against West Ham United, but he could make the bench if he proves his fitness.
With only three goals in the last four games between these two sides, another low-scoring affair is expected, particularly after Stoke were able to fare much better defensively against Hull during the week. If Shaqiri makes his return, the Potters will enjoy a much needed boost in their creative game, but their defensive frailties will more than likely return to haunt them, with Pulis’ West Brom expected to thrive on set piece situations as they did against the Hammers. Hughes’ team are desperate for points however, and will halt their run of defeats but will still fall short in outfoxing their former manager once again. Our prediction, therefore, is a 1-1 draw.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by Dan Westwell.