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Stoke City

Which striker is capable of solving Stoke City’s goal scoring conundrum?

Martyn Cooke

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Stoke City

If you ask any Stoke City supporter what the most prevalent issue was with their team during the 2016/17 season they are likely to say “a lack of goals”.

The Potters struggled to find the back of the net on a regular basis last campaign and were among the lowest scorers in the Premier League (41 in 38 fixtures) with just one player managing to reach double figures.

Peter Crouch may have ended the season as the club’s leading scorer but he netted just seven times in the top flight and the departure of Mark Arnautovic, who found the net seven times in all competitions, will be further cause for concern.

So who will be solution to Stoke’s inefficiency in front of goal? The Boot Room looks at the four striker’s that Mark Hughes is relying on to fire The Potters to glory in the forthcoming campaign.

Saido Berahino

In January, Mark Hughes made a calculated gamble to spend £12 million on controversial West Bromwich Albion striker Saido Berahino in an attempt to strengthen his forward line.

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.

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.

Stoke supporters will be hoping that a full pre-season will help the 23-year-old to find his feet again and his first goal for the club, in a friendly against AS Monaco, may be a sign of more positive things to come. The striker has certainly proven himself capable of scoring goals in the Premier League and his pace, power and movement has the potential to cause some serious problems for defenders up and down the country.

Berahino will not be lacking motivation for the year ahead and he has an awful lot to prove. He needs to hit the ground running this season if he is to avoid being written off as a £12m flop.

Peter Crouch

The lanky striker is now entering his seventh season with The Potters since joining from Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 2011 and, despite being 36 years old, he still has plenty to offer.

Few would disagree that Crouch has been an important component of Stoke’s success over the last decade and his 40 league goals bear testament to his invaluable contribution. Last season Crouch finished as the club’s leading goal scorer and was the only player to end the campaign with double figures, finding the net 10 times in all competitions despite spending most of the year among the substitutes.

Crouch’s style of play has never been based on mobility, but rather his height and aerial prowess, so there is little to suggest that the 6 foot 7 inch striker will be retiring any time soon or lose his goal scoring threat (unless he begins to shrink).

The issue for Mark Hughes is that the presence of the 36-year-old in the starting line-up often results in the team being drawn into hitting long, direct balls towards the striker’s lanky frame – which is often ineffective in the modern game. Supporters now expect a more aesthetically pleasing playing style and Crouch remains a reminder of the dull football that the side produced in Tony Pulis’ final season.

Whilst Crouch may be effective in certain scenarios – in the final ten minutes when Stoke are chasing a goal or against opposition that are vulnerable to aerial attacks – there are few around the Bet 365 Stadium who would agree that the 36-year-old is the long-term solution to the club’s goal scoring issues.

Mame Biram Diouf

The Senegal international joined Stoke in the summer of 2014 on a free transfer after his contract with Bundesliga side Hannover had expired. A former Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers striker, Diouf already possessed experience in the Premier League and he arrived with a reputation as a prolific goal scorer after he had averaged a goal every two games during his time in  Germany.

The 29-year-old scored 14 times for The Potters in his debut campaign after cementing a place as Stoke’s first-choice central striker but has slowly seen a steady decline in his role at the club in subsequent seasons. Diouf found the net just once last year but was often played out of position and spent various stages of the season being deployed as a winger, a wing-back and even at full-back. He failed to earn a regular place in the starting line-up and had to be content either playing out of position or sitting among the substitutes.

The Senegalese striker may lack technical proficiency but his pace, power and strength have proven to be a dangerous threat for Premier League defences in the past. Mark Hughes’ unwillingness to utilise Diouf in his favoured position as a central striker, despite netting 14 times in his debut campaign, has seen the 29-tear-old revert to becoming almost a utility player and it is questionable whether this is the most effective use of his talents.

Joselu

The Spanish striker was signed by The Potters in the summer of 2015 and he arrived with a reputation of being a powerful target man with good aerial prowess after a three year spell playing for various clubs in Germany.

Joselu struggled to break into the starting line-up at the Bet365 Stadium in his debut season in English football and scored just four goals in 27 appearances, the vast majority from the bench. Whilst he demonstrated moments of brilliance and technical ability, such as a stunning volley against Everton in December 2015, he failed to find any consistency and was never truly given a run of games in the side.

The 27-year-old was shipped out on loan last season to Spanish side Deportivo, where he scored six goals, despite missing the vast majority of the campaign with a serious knee injury. It was widely perceived that Joselu would be sold upon his return to The Potteries, but five goals in three pre-season friendlies, including back-to-back braces against Bolton Wanderers and St Pauli, have suddenly shot him back into consideration for a first team spot.

The striker’s pre-season form has seen him emerge as the leading candidate to spearhead Stoke’s attack when they face Everton on the opening day of the season and the Spaniard could be a surprise goal scoring package for The Potters this campaign if he is handed sufficient game time.

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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