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Stoke City

Three things learnt from Paul Lambert’s debut as Stoke City manager

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Reuters

There were plenty of raised eyebrows around the Premier League, especially throughout ‘The Potteries’, when Stoke City announced that Paul Lambert would be succeeding Mark Hughes at Bet365 Stadium.

The 48-year-old former Norwich, Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers boss was certainly not at the top of the managerial wish list of many supporters and his recent achievements in the dugout would not have set many pulses racing, yet his reign got off to the best possible start on Saturday afternoon.

Goals from Joe Allen and Mame Biram Diouf secured a comfortable two-goal victory against Huddersfield Town in front of a raucous Bet365 Stadium, earning The Potters their first Premier League points since the respective reverse fixture during the Christmas period. The three points were enough to move Stoke out of the relegation zone and firmly established a feel-good factor around the club.

Here, The Boot Room highlight three things that we learnt from Paul Lambert’s first game in charge of Stoke City…

Back to basics

One of the factors that led to Mark Hughes’ departure was his persistence with playing a 3-4-3 system despite not having the personnel to suit the formation, exemplified by the fact that Mame Biram Diouf, a striker by trade, was shoe-horned in as a right wing-back. The team was unbalanced, stranded in a system that simply did not work and  gradually had their confidence eroded.

However, Paul Lambert’s first meaningful action as Stoke City manager was to go back to basics.

The 48-year-old deployed a 4-1-4-1 formation and selected the players that best suited the system. Darren Fletcher was deployed as the holding midfield player, Diouf’s pace and mobility was utilised in a striking role and the creative duo of Xherdan Shaqiri and Eric Maxim Choup-Moting were given the freedom to drive forward from their wide positions.

The central midfield trio of Fletcher, Joe Allenn and Charlie Adam were industrious and solid whilst the central defensive pairing of Ryan Shawcross and Kurt Zouma formed an impenetrable wall. Stoke have the unenviable record of having conceded more goals than any other top-flight team in Europe and this was their first clean sheet since October.

There was nothing complex or complicated about Lambert’s tactical decisions, but there did not need to be. It was back to basics and it worked perfectly.

Drive, desire and work rate

During the final months of Mark Hughes’ reign the performances of the team were increasingly ineffective and lethargic. This was exemplified by Xherdan Shaqiri, who was recently jeered by the Stoke City supporters after he made a half-heart attempt to retrieve an over-hit through ball against Newcastle United.

What a difference a new manager can make.

Based on Saturday’s performance Paul Lambert has re-enthused and re-motivated the Stoke players and there was a clear increase in energy, dynamism and work rate in his first match in charge. This was emphasised by the post-game statistics with the Staffordshire Sentinel reporting the team made 13% more sprints against Huddersfield Town than in the previous Premier League fixture against Newcastle.

In contrast to Hughes’ approach, which often saw the team surrendering possession and sitting deep in their own half, Lambert has instilled a playing style that is reliant on pressurising opponents all over the pitch. The drive, desire and intensity of the players on Saturday prevented the visitors from finding any kind of rhythm and Mame Biram Diouf’s goal came from is team mates winning the ball in the oppositions half.

Just to further underline the change in approach, mid-way through the second half Shaqiri chased an opponent thirty yards across the pitch before winning possession with a slide tackle. It was the perfect metaphor for the change of approach and attitude instilled by Lambert.

A new sense of togetherness

Paul Lambert’s name would certainly not have been top of many Stoke City supporter’s managerial wish lists following the dismissal of Mark Hughes, yet it was clear on Saturday that The Potters fanbase were fully behind their new manager.

Within moments of the game kicking off a chant of ‘Paul Lambert’s red and white army’ echoed around the ground and that set the tone in the stands. Supporters rolled back the years to create a loud, intimidating and fearsome atmosphere inside the Bet365 Stadium that has been absent in recent months.

It was a direct reaction to Lambert’s high intensity tactical approach and it was clear from his demeanour on the touchline that this opportunity means a great deal to him. He probably did more running up and down the touchline than some of his players but the crowd undoubtedly fed off his obvious energy and passion in the dugout – it was a complete contrast to the emotionless figure that Hughes often cut.

After the final whistle Lambert directed his players to walk across to the Boothen End of the ground to applaud the supporters and earn some Brownie points. Suddenly a club that looked so fractured just two weeks ago looks united both on and off 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.

Stoke City

Stoke City should avoid re-signing Robert Huth and look to the future

Although a romantic idea, the Potters should avoid resigning the 34-year-old.

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Getty Images

On Wednesday morning, Leicester City announced that Robert Huth would be leaving the club at the end of the season after three-and-a-half years with the Foxes.

The German defender has made 93 appearances during that period, scoring six goals, and became a fans favourite at the King Power Stadium for the prominent role that he played in the club’s recent success.

He was a crucial facet of the Leicester team that were crowned Premier League champions in 2016 and was widely admired for his tough, no-nonsense style of defending.

However, Huth will go into the summer as a free agent after the Foxes decided not to renew his contract when it concludes at the end of the campaign.

The German has struggled to regain his place in the first team squad since suffering a string of injuries in the closing stages of last season and is behind the likes of Wes Morgan, Harry Maguire and Aleksander Dragovic in the pecking order for a starting role.

Huth remains a popular figure among Stoke supporters after his contributions helped to establish the club in the Premier League, reach an FA Cup final and progress to the latter stages of the Europa League.

His central defensive partnership with club captain Ryan Shawcross is widely perceived by fans as being the best in the club’s modern era.

With the Potters being relegated to the Sky Bet Championship and Huth set to leave Leicester in the summer, some Stoke supporters have been left wondering if the German is set for a dream homecoming.

The current Stoke squad will undoubtedly experience a dramatic overhaul during the summer as the club prepares for life in the second tier and the departure of Kurt Zouma, who returns to Chelsea when his loan expires next week, will mean that the Potters will be in the market for a defensive replacement.

However, the potential signing of Huth would not represent a positive move.

The central defender is now 34-years-old and has barely featured for Leicester over the last twelve months. In fact, the German has yet to make an appearance this season and has struggled with multiple consecutive injuries over the last year.

If The Potters are serious about reclaiming their place in the Premier League then they must avoid trying to relive the past and start to look to the future.

Regardless of the place that Huth has in the hearts of Stoke supporters, it makes little sense objectively to purchase an aging defender who has barely played in twelve months.

Attempting to recreate the glory days of half-a-decade ago is unlikely to solve the club’s current issues in the here and now.

(Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

A defensive partnership of Huth and Shawcross would have a combined age of 64 – you have to question how effective the pairing would be in the intense world of football in the Championship where the games come thick and fast with often two matches a week in a congested fixture list.

There is little to gain from trying to relive the past.

Instead, Stoke should be looking to bring together a young, hungry group of players that are developing towards the prime of their careers and still have everything to prove.

It should be about building with the future in mind, rather than reminiscing about creating an ‘old boys’ club.

A return for Huth to the Bet365 Stadium would be an idealistic and romanticised concept in the minds of some supporters, but is he truly the best option?

Huth will forever be remembered as a genuine Stoke City legend, but he represents the past and it is the future that the club need to be focusing on.

A return to ‘The Potteries’ may be a romantic notion for some supporters, yet it would not represent forward thinking or progress for a club that needs to rebuild after a period of regression.

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Newcastle United

Newcastle should swoop for Stoke’s Joe Allen in the summer window

The Welshman will be hot property as he seeks a return to the top flight.

Josh Kerr

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Photo: Getty Images

Newcastle United should make a move for Stoke City midfielder Joe Allen, who will be looking to stay in the Premier League after the Potters relegation to the Championship was confirmed on the weekend.

Earlier this month, The Sun reported that the likes of West Ham and the Magpies were interested in the £20 million-rated Welshman’s signature after Paul Lambert’s side became the first Premier League team to face the drop.

The former Liverpool midfielder is only 28 and may still feel his talents are best suited to the Premier League. Therefore, a move away from Staffordshire may be the best solution in order for him to stay at the highest level.

Allen has featured for the Potters in a more defensive role this season, one that has seen him grab two goals as well as six assists.

A player with significant Premier League experience, the Welshman would bring a lot to this Newcastle side, and a host of other top-flight clubs would no doubt love to have him in their engine room.

Lovingly referred to as the ‘the Welsh Xavi’, Allen is by no means the most prolific midfielder, but his work rate and experience are second-to-none. He is a real leader in the dressing room that the Magpies would be foolish to ignore.

The £20 million would be a club record signing for Newcastle, surpassing the fee spent on Michael Owen’s capture from Real Madrid back in 2005. However, Allen represents stability and Benitez will be searching for that if his side are to stay up again next season.

Allen’s relentless energy in the middle of the park will suit the Spaniard, and his experience will see him set the example for the young players around him to follow. He also looks real Rafa Benitez signing, a player whose work-rate and dedication matches his quality.

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English Premier League

Xherdan Shaqiri has progressed despite Stoke City relegation

The Swiss international has eight goals and six assists this season.

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Getty Images

Xherdan Shaqiri arrived in England with a big reputation after playing for both Bayern Munich and Inter Milan.

The Swiss international was regarded as one of the brightest talents to emerge from his homeland in several years, but his lack of consistency and selfish style prevented him from being a success at two of the biggest clubs on the continent.

Despite that, it was still seen as a huge surprise that he joined mid-table Premier League side Stoke City.

At the time, the attacker would have seen the club as a stepping stone to bigger things with a move to a top-six Premier League team in his future.

His first two seasons were underwhelming, as he managed to contribute only seven goals and eight assists in 48 matches.

He was involved in a goal every 249.9 minutes, which isn’t good enough for a player with his quality.

The environment at Stoke didn’t help him play to his potential, as there was little ambition at the club with the only focus being to stay in the division.

Although there were some nice moments from Shaqiri, he didn’t impact matches on a consistent basis and that stopped a bigger club from making a move for him.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Saturday was the day of Stoke City’s relegation from the Premier League and that has created doubt regarding the future for Shaqiri, but he is one of the few players in the squad to emerge from this season with credit.

In the match against Crystal Palace, the 26-year-old gave his side some hope with an excellent strike from a free-kick, but the Potters once again showed that they couldn’t hold on to a lead and that is one of the major reasons for their current position.

That goal took Shaqiri up to eight goals and six assists for the season.

He has nearly matched his contribution from the last two seasons combined and that shows the improved consistency that he has found, despite Stoke’s struggles. This has been helped by his playing time, as he has started all but two of the team’s matches.

As the season progressed to a climax, there was a lot of pressure on Shaqiri to produce the magic to save Stoke City.

The plan seemed to be ‘defend and give the ball to the winger’ to provide a match-winning moment.

It may not have worked, but it gave a platform to the Swiss international to show his ability and he has managed to do that with some impressive showings.

(Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

The relegation will hurt Shaqiri today, but his performances over the course of the season mean that he is unlikely to have to play Championship football.

He is far too good for that and he has the opportunity to leave this summer.

The World Cup will be his first priority, but he could use the tournament as a shop window and attract a club of the highest calibre possible.

A top-six club may be beyond him, despite his improvement. However, there will be a lot of Premier League interest and it would be a good decision to remain in England.

The style of football suits him and there is no telling how effective he could be in the right system.

Stoke never provided that, but there will clubs that will. It may not feel like it today, but this season has represented progression for Shaqiri.

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