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Match Reaction

The positives and negatives to take from Stoke City’s opening day defeat at Everton

Martyn Cooke



Stoke City

It may be a new season, but at Goodison Park on Saturday afternoon it felt like a case of ‘same old, same old’ for Stoke City supporters as The Potters fell to an opening day defeat against Everton.

The game itself was a relatively uninspiring affair with few chances created by both teams and little action at either end of the pitch. This contest will only be remembered for Wayne Rooney’s winning goal, on his homecoming for the Toffees, which was a little sprinkle of romanticism that elevated a dull opening day fixture.

Whilst Everton supporters will accept a one-goal victory with open arms the travelling Stoke contingent will have left Goodison Park with mixed emotions. Despite the hosts having spent £100 million on new personnel in the summer, The Potters certainly were not outclassed or outperformed. In fact, they looked pretty solid defensively and will feel disappointed at not having come away from the game with at least a point.

However, Mark Hughes’ side have failed to score in seven of their previous nine away fixtures in the Premier League and it took until the 93rd minute for Stoke to force Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford into a genuine save worthy of note. Whilst the Welshman appears to have solved Stoke’s defensive issues from the previous campaign, a lack of creativity in the final third still remains the most prominent issue.

Here, The Boot Room looks at the positives and negatives that Stoke will take from their opening day defeat.

Positive: A solid defensive performance

Mark Hughes deployed a 3-4-3 formation at Goodison Park with Ryan Shawcross, Geoff Cameron and new loan-signing Kurt Zouma making up the three central defenders in front of Jack Butland in the Stoke City goal.

The trio produced an impressive defensive performance and very rarely looked troubled by the Everton attack, although their only lapse in concentration resulted in Wayne Rooney drifting into space and cushioning a free header into the far corner of the net to secure the three points for the home side.

However, The Potters never looked like crumbling and supporters will be hoping that the days of regularly conceding three or four goals that have characterised the last eighteen months are long gone.

Stoke are expected to further strengthen their defensive unit by signing Bruno Martins Indi later this week and, on paper at least, a back three of Shawcross, Zouma and Martins Indi looks impervious. Mark Hughes has certainly built a solid foundation this season and The Potters will be much harder to break down than in previous seasons.

Negative: Impotent attack

Whilst Stoke City produced a solid defensive display on Saturday afternoon the lack of creativity and threat in the final third of the pitch will be a major cause for concern.

It is hard to recall the last time that Saido Berahino produced a performance worthy of note and he was completely ineffective once again against Everton. The 23-year-old has now failed to score in any of his 14 appearances for The Potters since signing from West Bromwich Albion in January and he has found the net just once in 41 league appearances over the last two years.

They are damming statistics yet the gravest concern for Stoke supporters will be that Berahino is not missing chances – he simply is not getting into goal scoring positions.

Part of the blame must also rest on the shoulders of Mark Hughes. The Stoke manager continues to play Berahino as a lone striker and it is abundantly clear that the forward simply does not possess the attributes to be able to lead the line effectively.

The 23-year-old needs to be played in a pair, where he can use his pace and movement to work opportunities off a target man, or potentially as an inside forward, with the freedom to drift into central areas from a wider starting position.

The Berahino conundrum is something that Mark Hughes needs to resolve – and sooner rather than later.

Positive: Impressive performances from new signings

There were three new debutants on show for Stoke City at Goodison Park and it is safe to say that all of the new faces produced impressive performances.

Kurt Zouma looks every inch the complete central defender and it is clear to see why Chelsea continue to rate him so highly. The 22-year-old was defensively imposing and yet equally as adept in possession on Saturday afternoon and he may turn out to be a shrewd piece of business by Mark Hughes, even if he does return to Stamford Bridge at the end of the season.

The Frenchman oozes class and he will only get better week by week as he gets regular game time.

Former Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher arrived at the Bet365 Stadium at the start of the summer after agreeing a free transfer from Midland rivals West Bromwich Albion and the 33-year-old was solid, if not spectacular, in the middle of the park.

His experience and leadership qualities will undoubtedly be a huge bonus for The Potters and on Saturday he rolled back the years, constantly biting at the ankles of Eevrton’s midfield, shielding the three central defenders well and setting up fresh attacks with quick, simply passes.

Fletcher is a direct replacement for Ireland international Glenn Whelan, who joined Aston Villa earlier this month almost ten years in The Potteries, but certainly looks like an upgrade on his predecessor.

Ghanaian winger Eric Maxim Choupo Moting came off the bench for the final 20 minutes at Goodison Park and looked lively on his debut in English football.

The 28-year-old certainly possesses the pace and strength to excel in the Premier League whilst he was calm and composed in possession, producing a number of clever passes and driving runs as The Potters attempted to grab an equalising goal in the closing stages of the game.

It is widely accepted that Choupo Moting is lacking in match fitness having missed out on pre-season but the winger showed glimpses on Saturday that he has the potential to be a big player for Stoke this season.

Negative: Square pegs in round holes

Mark Hughes deployed a 3-4-3 formation on Saturday afternoon but it is questionable if Stoke City currently possess the personnel to make the system work.

Mame Biram Diouf, a striker by trade, was shoehorned in as a makeshift right wing back against The Toffees whilst Dutch defender Eric Pieters played on the opposite side. Neither player looked completely comfortable in their new role and, although they stuck to their defensive duties admirable, they offered very little attacking threat.

Diouf is blessed with an abundance of energy, pace and power but is bereft of technical ability when in possession of the ball whilst Pieters is fundamentally a solid defensive full-back.

Throughout the entirety of the contest at Goodison Park the pair failed to provide a consistent attacking outlet in wide areas and very rarely ventured into the final third of the pitch, leaving the front three of Saido Berahino, Bojan Krkic and Xherdan Shaqiri shouldering the responsibility of trying to create goal scoring opportunities.

The only offensive input worthy of note that they produced was when Pieters produced a fantastic low cross across the edge of the six yard box – but it was a rare moment of quality.

If Mark Hughes is to persist with a 3-4-3 formation then he undoubtedly needs to purchase natural wing backs for both sides of the pitch.

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

Match Reaction

“Terrible, terrible manager”: West Ham fans lose patience with David Moyes



Photo: Getty Images.

Drawing with Stoke City was a disappointing result which brought West Ham firmly back to earth after seeing off Southampton and then drawing at Stamford Bridge, but fans pointed the finger at one man in particular: David Moyes.

The former Everton, Manchester United and Sunderland boss opted to retain the same starting line-up that took a point from Chelsea and used the same 5-4-1 system, deploying Marko Arnautovic as a makeshift centre-forward.

On home turf against second from bottom Stoke City, the conservative set up almost ended in catastrophe as Joe Hart’s calamitous error allowed Peter Crouch to give his side the lead before Andy Carroll’s last gasp equaliser.

Fans did not hide their displeasure on Twitter…

The Scot’s contract is set to run until the summer with safety still not secured for the Hammers, who have been brought right back into the fight by drawing against the Potters.

It could have been worse for the Irons had David Moyes not looked to his bench, where he first deployed the hero at Chelsea, Javier Hernandez, but even then not until the 77th minute.

Playmaker Manuel Lanzini joined in with only nine minutes left on the clock and Andy Carroll, who proved to be the equaliser, was only given four minutes of normal time plus injury time.

(Photo credit should read GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)

With fixtures coming up against the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United before the season is out, fans were baffled by the decision to go quite so defensive in a must win game at the London Stadium.

Now, West Ham are seven points from safety with five games left to play but only face opposition against top half sides, with a trip to face Leicester City and Sam Allardyce’s return on the final day of the season with Everton completing the club’s fixture list.

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Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace 2-3 Manchester United: Three talking points from Selhurst Park

The Red Devils mounted an incredible comeback at Selhurst Park.

Rob Meech



Photo: Getty Images

Nemanja Matic scored a dramatic stoppage-time winner as Manchester United overturned a two-goal deficit to inflict more pain on struggling Crystal Palace. Matic fired home from 25 yards to complete a memorable comeback from United, whose victory helped them regain second spot in the Premier League. Palace, meanwhile, remain in the relegation zone after slipping to their third successive defeat.

Selhurst Park was rocking when Andros Townsend put the hosts ahead via a huge deflection, before Patrick van Aanholt doubled their lead shortly after the break. However, Chris Smalling gave United hope 10 minutes later and the visitors then restored parity through Romelu Lukaku. With time ebbing away the draw looked inevitable, only for Matic to break Palace’s hearts with his first goal for the club. Here are three talking points…

(Photo by Ian Kington/AFP/Getty Images)

Palace’s survival hopes suffer a hammer blow

A week earlier, the Eagles thought they had earned a vital point against Spurs in their battle to avoid the drop. That was until Harry Kane popped up to snatch victory with practically the last touch of the game. A sense of deja-vu was palpable when, after another encouraging performance against one of the top-flight’s heavyweights, Matic ensured Palace went home empty-handed. It was a monumental body blow.

Roy Hodgson’s side had belied their lowly league position and taken the attack to United, deservedly assuming complete control. Had the score remained at 2-0, Palace would have been as high as 13th in the table. But United’s comeback, which left Hodgon and his players visibly deflated, means they are 18th, one point adrift of safety with an inferior goal difference. Although the performance was a positive one, the result leaves the South London club deep in the mire.

(Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

Mourinho buoyed as United show resilience

For all the talk about how this has been a disappointing campaign for United, they leapfrogged Liverpool into second place as a result of this stunning victory. Jose Mourinho’s men exhibited substantial amounts of steel in doing so. They faced a real test of character, having fallen behind against a team fighting for their lives. It looked like a mountainous task, but United fought their way back into the game before snatching all three points at the death.

This was the first time since 2013 that the Red Devils had clawed back a two-goal deficit to win a Premier League match. Of all their victories this season, perhaps this one will please Mourinho the most. Any divisions are quickly exposed when teams find themselves in trouble. But the way United stuck to their task was a big statement at a key stage of the season. It should give Mourinho belief that his side can see off the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur in the battle to finish runners-up.

(Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

Hodgson desperate for Wilfried Zaha’s return

Hodgson has previously tried to dismiss its significance, but Palace’s inability to win without Wilfried Zaha cannot be passed off as an anomaly. The Eagles have lost every single one of the nine Premier League games in which the 25-year-old has not featured this season, scoring only one goal in the process. For a while it looked as though that alarming record would be consigned to the history books, until United mounted an inspired comeback.

Zaha is clearly a talented individual whose absence would affect any team’s potency, but Palace’s over-reliance on him must be very concerning. The Ivory Coast international is currently sidelined through a knee injury and although he is back in light training, Hodgson has put no timeframe on his return to the fold. It’s no exaggeration to argue the Eagles’ survival aspirations depend on him.

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Leicester City 1-1 Bournemouth: Three talking points from the King Power

Rob Meech



Leicester City
Photo: Getty Images

Riyad Mahrez’s stunning 97th-minute free-kick rescued a point for Leicester City against Bournemouth.

Mahrez, who had been heavily linked with a move to Manchester City in the January transfer window, curled the ball past Asmir Begovic from 30 yards to deny the Cherries victory in a grandstand finish at the King Power Stadium.

Joshua King had given Bournemouth a first-half lead when he stepped up to dispatch a spot-kick after being fouled inside the area.

The Foxes threw everything at their opponents in the second period but had to wait until deep into added-time for a dramatic equaliser.

Here are three talking points…

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Redemption for Mahrez after troubling period

The Algerian’s attempts to engineer a switch to City and subsequent failure to report to training had not been well received by Leicester supporters.

Mahrez had been a key figure in the Foxes’ phenomenal Premier League title triumph two years ago, but his reputation suffered a battering when he made it clear he saw his future away from the club.

After a difficult period for all involved, Mahrez is back in the fold and now back in the fans’ good books.

His last-minute goal against the Cherries certainly was evidence of his redemption.

Thirty yards out, the 27-year-old started the ball outside the wall and watched it bend back past Begovic’s outstretched right hand.

Leicester, who have never beaten Bournemouth in the top-flight, are winless in five Premier League matches, but they remain eighth in the table.

With Mahrez’s reintegration seemingly complete, a fruitful finish to the season could even help them push for a European place.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Howe ‘disgusted’ as Bournemouth concede so late

Bournemouth’s backs had been firmly up against the wall in the second half as they sought to hold on to their tenuous advantage.

It looked to have been a worthwhile effort until Mahrez’s moment of magic.

A share of the spoils was probably fair in the context of the game, but Cherries manager Eddie Howe admitted he felt ‘disgusted’ after watching the visitors concede so late.

Only four minutes of stoppage-time had been scheduled, but an injury to Simon Francis as well as a substitution meant referee Lee Probert played nearly double that amount.

Despite missing out on what would have been a crucial win, Bournemouth are edging towards safety.

They have lost only once since Christmas, a run that has helped them climb out of the relegation zone and amass 33 points.

Two more victories from their remaining nine fixtures should be enough to secure Premier League football for a fourth successive campaign.

(Photo by Roland Harrison/Getty Images)

Summer will be a key time for both clubs

In a league that is dominated by the so-called ‘Big Six’, the primary aim of the other 14 clubs is survival.

As mentioned above, both Leicester and Bournemouth are all but guaranteed to be playing in the top-flight next season.

The question for both in the summer will be, how can they push on?

The first job for the Foxes’ hierarchy and manager Claude Puel will be deciding the future of Mahrez.

Do they cash in on their star player and reinvest the funds into the squad, or do they try to tie him down to a new contract?

Bournemouth’s ambitions are perhaps not as high as Leicester’s, but after finishing ninth last season, another mid-table position will consolidate their status as a bona fide Premier League outfit.

On the field, there may be some significant outgoings as Howe looks to freshen his resources.

The out-of-favour Harry Arter is one player who looks likely to leave the south coast.

Off the field, the club will hope its plans for a new stadium get closer to becoming a reality.

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