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Stoke City

Three players to look out for this season at Stoke City

Martyn Cooke



Stoke City

Stoke City kick off the new Premier League season on Saturday with a trip to Goodison Park as Mark Hughes’ side look to re-establish their position as a top-ten club following a disappointing 2016/17 campaign.

The Potters are entering their tenth year as a top-flight club and are aiming to maintain a decade of success and prosperity competing among the elite of English football. However, Stoke have shown signs of regression over the previous twelve months and a bottom-half finish last season suggests that the forthcoming year may not be as straightforward as some may be expecting.

Here, The Boot Room looks at three players that will have a definitive impact on how Stoke’s season plays out …

Ramadan Sobhi

The departure of Marko Arnautovic to Premier League rivals West Ham United in early June left Stoke City supporters with a bloodied nose. The Austrian winger was a fans-favourite and was arguably the club’s most influential offensive player having been directly involved in 25% of the team’s goals during the 2016/17 campaign. The manner of his move to The Hammers, forced through after handing in a transfer request less than a year after the 28-year-old had signed a new long-term contract, left a bad taste in the mouth.

However, Arnautovic’s departure could be good news for Stoke’s Egyptian starlet Ramadan Sobhi. The 20-year-old was signed in the summer of 2016 from domestic club side al-Ahly, located in Cairo, and arrived as a full international who was widely regarded as being the brightest and most exciting young talent that the country had produced in a generation.

But Sobhi’s debut season in English football was a slow burner. He was limited to just 19 appearances, half of which came as a substitute, and he was unable to cement a place in Stoke’s starting eleven. His route into the first team was blocked by the more prestigious and experienced figures of Arnautovic and Swiss superstar Xherdan Shaqiri, although the Egyptian was hugely impressive throughout the playing time he was afforded.

Now, with a route to the first team open and one year of experience in English football under his belt, Sobhi is perfectly placed to take the Premier League by storm. Hs pace, power, trickery and movement make him a genuine threat for defenders and his creativity will be key if Stoke are to improve on last season’s bottom half finish.

Kurt Zouma

Whilst the vast majority of supporters will agree that Mark Hughes has radically altered Stoke City’s footballing approach since his arrival in the summer of 2013, slowly replacing the direct style of play employed by his predecessor Tony Pulis for a more possession-based game, there will also be an admission that The Potters have lost their defensive resilience. The defensive unit last season often resembled a leaky sieve rather than a brick wall, conceding 14 times in their opening six games and conceding four or more goals in a game on eight separate occasions.

This frailty resulted in Stoke finishing the campaign languishing in the bottom half of the table but Hughes has moved quickly to find a solution by bringing in Kurt Zouma on a season-long loan from Chelsea. The 22-year-old joined The Blues in January 2014 but has seen his career stall at Stamford Bridge after falling out of the first team picture following an anterior cruciate ligament injury picked up early in 2016. He made just 13 appearances last season and, although he remains in Antonio Conte’s long-term plans, the Frenchman has been allowed to leave on loan in order to rediscover his form and fitness.

Stoke were able to beat 20 other clubs across Europe to secure the signing of Zouma, according to the Mirror, and the central defender remains one of the most highly rated young talents in the world. The 22-year-old is a defensive colossus and possesses the pace, power, strength and dominant presence to help strengthen The Potters’ brittle backline. If Zouma can help to eradicate Stoke’s frailties in defence then it will allow the club’s more creative players, such as Xherdan Shaqiri, Ramadan Sobhi and Bojan Krkic, to flourish whist enabling Mark Hughes to develop a team that is more evenly balanced. 

Saido Berahino

Stoke City were among the lowest scorers in the Premier League last season and it was clearly apparent that The Potters were lacking a striker capable of putting the ball into the back of the net on a regular basis. Peter Crouch ended the campaign as the club’s top goal scorer, despite spending much of the year among the substitutes, with no player managing to reach, or come near to reaching, double figures in the league. This imprecision in front of goal led Mark Hughes to investing £12 million on controversial West Bromwich Albion striker Saido Berahino in January.

The 23-year-old arrived with a poor reputation after almost eighteen months of off field issues at The Hawthorns that resulted in him being frozen out of the first team and being publicly criticised for his attitude and fitness levels – it was later revealed that the striker had also served an FA suspension after failing a drugs test, as BBC Sport reported.

However, Berahino is looking to put his chequered past behind him and make a fresh start in The Potteries, although his first six months at the club have hardly been impressive. The striker failed to score in any of his 13 appearances after joining Stoke and, although there were no qualms over his work ethic or application, he looked very much like a player who was short of form, fitness and needed to shake off some ring rust.

Berahino has proven more than capable of being a prolific striker in the Premier League and with a full pre-season behind him there will be no excuses for the forthcoming campaign. It is likely that Hughes will place faith in the 23-year-old to spearhead the Stoke’s attack and the team will be relying on the young striker to score the goals to ensure that the club maintains its position in the relative safety of mid-table.

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.

Stoke City

It’s crunch time for Stoke City under Paul Lambert

The next two months are crucial for the future of Stoke City.

Martyn Cooke



Photo: Getty Images

There are only eight games left of the Premier League season and with Manchester City running away with the Premier League title the attention now turns to the race for survival.

Stoke City began the season celebrating their tenth consecutive year as a top-flight club and yet the campaign could ultimately culminate in relegation to the Sky Bet Championship.

The warning signs were there in the summer when star winger Marko Arnautovic forced through a transfer to West Ham United and claimed that the Potters ‘lacked ambition’, something that the club hierarchy strenuously denied before forcing Mark Hughes to be reliant on free transfers and loan signings.

The further departure of club stalwarts such as Jonathan Walters and Glen Whelan was also a loss in the dressing room and behind the scenes, if not necessarily on the pitch.

The campaign actually got off to a promising start as Stoke secured four points from their opening two home fixtures against Arsenal and Manchester United, but the wheels quickly began to fall off.

Hughes had opted to deploy a new look 3-4-3 formation and, despite some early success, it soon became apparent that the Potters did not have the personnel or quality to make the system work.

The sight of Mame Biram Diouf, a striker by trade, stranded as a wingback pretty much summarises the tactical naivety of Hughes and his unwillingness to revert to a back four, despite poor results, saw the club slip into the relegation zone.

Ultimately, it has been Stoke’s inability to defend that has underpinned their demise this season.

At one stage, the Potters had the unenviable record of possessing the worst defensive record of any club in the top flight of European football, whilst only West Ham United have conceded more goals or kept fewer clean sheets in the Premier League this season.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

The Manager

Mark Hughes was dismissed in late January after Stoke City had been knocked out of the FA Cup by fourth-tier Coventry City and were stranded in the Premier League relegation zone.

There is little doubt that the Potters were correct to part ways with the Welshman, although in hindsight the club hierarchy had remained too loyal for too long.

Stoke’s attempt to hire a successor was chaotic, disorganised and became something of a soap opera.

Gary Rowett was the first manager to publically turn down the job after being approached and was swiftly followed by Quique Sánchez Flores, who conducted a swift U-turn within twenty-four hours of reportedly agreeing to leave Espanyol, and Martin O’Neil.

Stoke supporters were eventually left with the uninspiring appointment of Paul Lambert who, quite clearly, was nobodies first choice for the role.

The former Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers boss has certainly had a positive impact since arriving in the final weeks of January and has undoubtedly made the team more organised and harder to beat.

However, Lambert has overseen just one win in seven fixtures, at a time when the club are desperate for points, despite having been handed a favourable run of fixtures that included Huddersfield Town, Watford, Brighton, Bournemouth, Southampton and Leicester City.

The 48-year-old will need to stimulate a dramatic improvement in results of The Potters are going to have any hope of avoiding the drop.

The Squad

On paper, the current Stoke City squad consists of a core contingent of proven international players that should have the quality and experience to pull away from the relegation zone.

Jack Butland, who is vying to be England’s first choice goalkeeper, Kurt Zouma, one of the most highly rated young defenders in Europe, Joe Allen, a central midfielder of undoubted quality, and Swiss superstar Xherdan Shaqiri make up the spine of the starting eleven, whilst Moritz Bauer and Badou Ndiaye arrived in January to add further quality.

However, there is an obvious lack of creativity in the current squad and the responsibility for facilitating goal scoring opportunities rests solely on the shoulders of Shaqiri.

In addition to this, Stoke lack a proven goal scorer with Mame Biram Diouf (inconsistent), Peter Crouch (one dimensional) and Saido Berahino (who has yet to score in over two years) the only options at Paul Lambert’s disposal.

This imbalance in the squad has been reflected in recent results. Since Lambert’s arrival in late-January Stoke have lost just once in seven games, against the champions-elect Manchester City, and have kept three clean sheets in the process.

However, in the same period, they have only won once, in Lambert’s first match against Huddersfield Town, and have found the net just five times – three of which were provided by Shaqiri.

It is the lack of creativity and goals that is undermining any shoots of recovery at the Bet365 Stadium.

Remaining Fixtures

Everton (H), Arsenal (A), Tottenham (H), West Ham United (A), Burnley (H), Liverpool (A), Crystal Palace (H) and Swansea City (A).

Stoke City have a semi-difficult run of fixtures but there are certainly opportunities to accumulate points over the closing weeks of the season.

Home games against Everton, Crystal Palace and Swansea City are ‘must win’ based on the fact that the Potters have the worst away record in England, having won just once on their travels this campaign, but trips to Olympic Stadium and the Liberty Stadium could provide a chance to rectify that.

Fundamentally, if Stoke can get to the final two games of the season and still be in with a chance of securing safety then they will be relatively pleased. It could all come down to the last day of the season with a mouth-watering fixture against Swansea.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Will They Survive?

Although Paul Lambert has certainly had a positive impact since being appointed in late-January, making the team more organised and harder to beat, it is difficult to see where Stoke City will secure the three or four wins required to guarantee safety.

The Potters have won just six games all season and the lack of creativity throughout the side and the absence of a proven striker leaves you wondering where the goals are going to come from.

There is certainly still hope for Stoke supporters, but Lambert will need to facilitate a dramatic improvement in performances if he is to guide the club to safety.

It will be an achievement if he can get the Potters to the final two games of the season, against Crystal Palace and Swansea City, and still be in with a chance of surviving.

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Manchester City

Manchester City close in on title after brushing aside feeble Stoke City

Manchester City have one hand on the Premier League title after victory on Monday night.

Martyn Cooke



Photo: Getty Images

So that answers that question then – Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City team can handle a dark, cold and wet mid-week fixture against Stoke City at the Bet365 Stadium.

Not that the result of this game was ever in doubt.

Manchester City are undoubtedly one of the best club sides in the world at this present moment in time and arrived in ‘The Potteries’ 13 points clear at the top of the Premier League table.

It was little surprise to see them nonchalantly brush aside Stoke on Monday evening courtesy of two goals from David Silva and, in the process, increase their lead over second-placed Manchester United to 16 points.

City now require just three more wins to confirm the title and are on course to break the 100-point mark.

Guardiola’s side were dominant at the Bet365 Stadium and continued to produce the breath-taking football that has characterised their season. It is the perfect mixture of pace, precision and technique and Stoke quite simply did not possess the quality, confidence or character to muster a challenge.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

This was procession more than it was a contest and Manchester City were not required to get out of first gear.

A trip to ‘The Potteries’ used to spark fear into the hearts of opposing players – facing a Stoke team that was characterised by discipline, hard-work and an up-and-at-‘em approach that was backed by a passionate home crowd – but on Monday night all of the above were lacking. The players were lethargic on the pitch and the home supporters were apathetic in the stands.

Paul Lambert and his side appeared content to lose the game as long as the scoreline was kept respectable and it was clear from the first whistle that the Potters were in damage limitation mode.

Stoke failed to muster a shot on target in the entire game and there was no purpose, urgency or direction to their play. They offered little defensively either. There was no attempt to press the visitors or ruffle their feathers, demonstrated by the fact that only Joe Allen picked up a yellow card, and the sight of Manchester City stroking the ball around unopposed at walking pace will have been a demoralising sight for the locals.

Yes, you have to acknowledge that Manchester City are good, very good in fact, but the way that the hosts simply rolled over without a fight was indicative of a campaign that will possibly result in their relegation.

Wigan Athletic, Burnley and Basel have all demonstrated since Christmas that Guardiola’s side are far from invincible, yet the Potters opted to wave the white flag from the onset.

Lambert certainly has a task on his hands at the Bet365 Stadium if he is to guide the club to safety. A predictable loss to the champions-elect will not define their future, but the upcoming home fixture against Everton on Saturday certainly will. Stoke supporters can only hope that their team shows more character, fight and direction at the weekend than they did on Monday.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

For Manchester City, the Pep Guardiola football revolution continues to roll on. The focus now for City will be to wrap up the Premier League title as soon as possible so that additional emphasis can be placed on progressing to the latter stages of the Champions League.

Beyond this season, the future continues to look bright.

Guardiola’s squad consist primarily of young starlets or players that are in their mid-late twenties and are at or just entering, the peak of their powers.

Raheem Sterling (23), Leroy Sane (22), Bernardo Silva (23), Gabriel Jesus (20), John Stones (23) and Ederson (24) are all under the age of 24 whilst  Kevin De Bruyne (26), Kyle Walker (27) and Sergio Aguero (29) have yet to hit their thirties.

The Premier League must now face up to the prospect that the current crop of Manchester City players, under the guidance of one of the best coaches of the modern era, have the potential to dominate the domestic scene for the foreseeable future.

If the runaway train is to be stopped, teams will have to demonstrate a much more positive attitude and a desire to compete than that shown in the performance by Paul Lambert and his players on Monday evening.

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Stoke City

Errors continue to cost Stoke City despite improvement under Paul Lambert

Stoke City have proved the makers of their own downfall under Paul Lambert in recent weeks.

Martyn Cooke



Paul Lambert
Photo: Getty Images

When Stoke City kicked off the season back in August the club were celebrating the start of a tenth consecutive campaign in the top flight of English football.

Now, six months on, the Potters have just ten games left to clamber out of the relegation zone to ensure that their supporters will be travelling to Old Trafford, Anfield and Stamford Bridge next season rather than the Pirelli Stadium, Oakwell and New Meadow.

Relegation is now staring Stoke straight in the face and the threat of dropping into the Championship is now a very realistic possibility.

Saturday’s draw against Leicester City leaves the club stranded in the relegation zone, albeit only one point from safety as it currently stands, but time and ‘winnable’ games are beginning to run out at an alarming rate.

(Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

The appointment of Paul Lambert in January has stimulated a revival of sorts in the Potteries.

The Scotsman has made Stoke more organised, harder to beat and has been busy attempting to find solutions on the training ground with double sessions each week for the players.

However, the improvement in performances has not been reflected by results on the pitch as basic errors continue to undermine the club’s attempts to generate points and build momentum in the closing months of the season.

On Saturday, Stoke appeared to be grinding out an invaluable three points against Leicester at the King Power Stadium with Xherdan Shaqiri’s stunning long-range strike, his third in as many matches, giving the Potters an invaluable lead.

Defensively Lambert’s men appeared relatively comfortable, denying both Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez the time or space to have any meaningful impact on the game and the hosts were struggling to create clear-cut goal scoring opportunities.

However, Stoke have developed a dangerous habit of shooting themselves in the foot this season.

In their previous fixture, it was Charlie Adam’s late penalty miss that cost the Potters a win against Brighton whilst on Saturday it was Jack Butland’s failure to catch a low cross, instead deflecting it into his own net, that led to two more vital points being dropped.

Had Adam converted from the penalty spot and Butland caught a bread-and-butter cross then Stoke would have four additional points on the board and be well on their way to securing safety.

(Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

The reality is that the Potters now face a relegation six-pointer against Southampton at the weekend that they simply need to win. However, it may already be too late.

Since arriving at the Bet365 Stadium Lambert has won just one of his five fixtures, with all of the opposition coming against teams in the bottom half of the table.

Six points from matches against Brighton (home), Huddersfield (home), Watford (home), Bournemouth (away) and Leicester (away) may ultimately not be enough with the club facing a tough run of fixtures to close the season.

In their final ten matches, Stoke face Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool – with just one win in their previous nine games it is hard to see the Potters picking up any points from those four contests.

There are then away fixtures against Southampton, West Ham and Swansea City, which will undoubtedly be made more difficult by the fact that the club have the worst away record in the top four divisions of English football.

Then, there are crucial must-win home games against Crystal Palace, Everton and Burnley.

To say that there is no longer room for error is an understatement and Stoke can certainly not afford to make the same fundamental mistakes that have cost them vital points in both of their previous two fixtures. In truth, The Potters need a miraculous turn of form, particularly on the road, if they are to have any chance of survival.

(Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

There is still hope, though.

Lambert has made a positive impact since his arrival and there has been an improvement in performances.

Stoke are harder to beat and in Xherdan Shaqiri have someone who is capable of making something out of nothing – the diminutive winger is The Potters’ main creative focal point and his form will have a direct impact on results and, ultimately, the club’s future.

So, Stoke’s tenth consecutive campaign in the top flight of English football has basically come down to a ten-match season where their Premier League status is in need of saving.

All that the supporters can do now is buckle themselves in and get ready for what will undoubtedly be a rollercoaster end to the campaign.

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