Three things Paul Lambert must address to ensure Stoke City's survival
Stoke City have announced that Paul Lambert has been appointed as the club’s new manager after signing a two-and-a-half-year contract with the Premier League strugglers.
The 48-year-old succeeds Mark Hughes, who was dismissed after The Potters were knocked out of the FA Cup by fourth-tier side Coventry City earlier this month, and must now shoulder the responsibility of guiding the club away from the relegation zone.
Stoke are currently eighteenth in the Premier League table and are facing up to the realistic possibility of dropping out of the top flight for the first time in almost a decade.
Lambert’s appointment has brought an end to Stoke’s prolonged search for a new manager that has reportedly seen the position turned down by a number of high profile candidates.
The club hierarchy were initially keen on securing Gary Rowett, prior to him agreeing new contract with Derby County, and have also been snubbed by Espanyol manager Quique Sanchez Flores and Republic of Ireland boss Martin O’Neill.
Essentially Stoke have had to be content with securing their fourth-choice managerial candidate and there is a considerable amount of uncertainty and frustration among supporters that the club were unable to attract a more prestigious figure.
However, with time running short prior to the transfer window closing at the end of the month The Potters have elected to hand the job to Lambert, who has been out of work since leaving Wolverhampton Wanderers in the summer.
The former Scotland international faces an uphill task to convince Stoke supporters that he is the right figure to rally behind and must now take on the challenge of saving the club from the drop.
Here The Boot Room looks at three things that Lambert needs to do in order to retain Stoke’s Premier League status.
Organise the defence
Mark Hughes’ position as manager was made untenable by his inability to organise an effective defensive unit.
The Potters currently have the worst defensive record in any of Europe’s top-flight divisions and have conceded 47 goals in 22 league games so far this season – that is an average of over two a game.
Furthermore, the last eighteen months of Hughes’ reign was characterised by heavy defeats, especially against the so-called ‘top teams’, on a regular basis. Stoke have already been hammered at the hands of Tottenham (5-1), Chelsea (4-0 and 5-0) and Manchester City to name just a few.
So Paul Lambert’s immediate concern is to plug the leaky sieve that is Stoke’s defence.
The 48-year-old needs to get back to basics by making The Potters organised, fitter and harder to beat. That might mean taking a more conservative or pragmatic approach and that may result in having to side-line some of the club’s more enigmatic and creative players in order to create a team that is more defensively solid and robust.
If Lambert can close the floodgates and stop Stoke leaking goals then he will have already have solved the team’s most prominent issue.
Find a system that suits the players available
Stoke City’s issues this campaign can be largely attributed to the formations and systems deployed by Mark Hughes that simply did not suit the players that he had available. This is exemplified by the Welshman’s decision to play 3-4-3 despite having no natural wing-backs – eventually being forced to shoe-horn Mame Biram Diouf, a forward by trade, into a right-wing back role.
The current squad is not short of talent, but rather it has been widely misused in the past eighteen months, and it is now Paul Lambert’s responsibility to find a way of maximising the potential of players such as Xherdan Shaqiri, Ramadam Sobhi, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and, maybe even, Saido Berahino.
The most obvious solution would be to revert to a back-four, yet it is what the 48-year-old does with the midfield and attacking units that will define his career at the club.
He has plenty of questions to answer: does he use Shaqiri as a winger or a number 10? Does he play with a lone striker? Does he play with a front two? What system will get the most out of Darren Fletcher and Joe Allen in the central of midfield? Which wingers does he place his faith in?
At this stage, Stoke supporters will be willing to buy into whatever decisions that Lambert makes as long as they are logical and appear to be part of a clear, definitive game plan. As long as they do not have to see a striker being forced to play as a right-back they will back into their new manager’s decisions
Get supporters onside
There is no secret that Paul Lambert was far from being top of the managerial wish-list for Stoke City supporters and it is no surprise that the fanbase has been left feeling underwhelmed by his appointment.
However, the club’s failure to secure a more high-profile appointment now leaves The Potters with little option other than to rally behind what was effectively the hierarchy’s fourth choice option to succeed Mark Hughes.
Lambert faces a difficult challenge to steer the club away from the relegation zone and he needs to get the supporters onside as soon as possible.
The Bet365 Stadium was once renowned for its loud, raucous and passionate atmosphere after Stoke first achieved promotion in 2008. The crowd often had a key influence on matches and a trip to The Potteries was something that opposition players feared.
However, that atmosphere has dissipated in recent seasons following the club’s steady decline under Hughes and if Lambert can give supporters cause to rally around him then they can play a crucial role in the relegation battle as the metaphorical ‘twelfth man’.
The only way that Lambert can do this is by inspiring some fight, drive and determination on the pitch, which is something that has been sorely lacking in recent months.
The supporters will give the manager and the team their full support if they see their side putting everything into the cause that they can – it is now down to Lambert to show that he can stimulate a dramatic improvement in performances.