Stoke – An example to all
At the weekend Stoke took apart a less than impressive Manchester City through the exceptional play of Shaqiri, Bojan and Arnoutavic. These three players helped Stoke to a 2-0 victory over a team that many thought a few weeks ago would walk the league, and they did it rather nonchalantly. In truth it could have been worse for City with Joe Hart; dubbed ‘England’s number 2’ by the Stoke fans, keeping them in the game on a number of occasions. This isn’t a hugely revelatory scenario as without club captain Vincent Kompany, Hart has been left to support a defense that is struggling to keep its head above water.
Despite City’s obvious defensive frailties, Stoke deserve every plaudit they attain. Since their promotion to the premier league in 2008, they have become mid-table stalwarts (12th, 11th,13th, 14th, 13th, 9th, 9th , currently 10th). This mid-table stability has been based on the idea of a ‘Cold Tuesday night in Stoke’, that focuses on their ability to make it uncomfortable for teams with solid and hostile defensive performances. This Stoke is synonymous with Tony Pulis’s reign as gaffer. Mark Hughes owes a lot to the Pulis period, as it is this defensive foundation that is providing Hughes’ current crop to flourish; with only Unites, Spurs and Arsenal conceding fewer goals this season.
In my last article I wrote; The Gerard Deulofeu Transfer Model (https://t.co/V9sFYHmGBR), I talked about mid-table teams making the most of those players cast aside/to the benches of the European elite. Just of the top of my head I can think of one team that have already started doing this, Stoke. Bojan, Affelay and Shaqiri were at one point the future of both Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but as mentioned in my other article getting ahead of players like Messi, Robben, Neymar, Ronaldinho is not the easiest of tasks.
Mark Hughes himself said that the top premier league teams can’t buy all of the talent. Therefore, Stoke’s ability to realise this and take advantage of the opportunity to scalp some world class talent is going to help them turn mid-table finishes into Europa challenging finishes. This step up is a difficult one, and for teams like Stoke who already have an established ability to prevent teams scoring the challenge is to get that goal scoring/creating quality further up the field. Stoke’s board deserve some congratulations in this aspect. We all know that goals win games and the players that can create/score them are amongst the hottest property in the world of football. So for Stoke’s board to back Hughes and give him the money to bring these in is commendable.
If Stoke can make their City performance a regular occurrence, it should be an example to all clubs with aspiration to try and disrupt the somewhat statue like top 6. They’ve built their team on a solid defensive base, and been quick to act when European competition players become available. Their next big task is retaining this group, and holding on to their highly rated players. Jack Butland is key to this, after losing Begovic in the summer a few wondered whether the young Butland would be up to the task. The young man has not only proved these doubters wrong but got us all wondering why he hasn’t been the number 1 already. He is one of the biggest prospects in his position not only in England; with huge pressure now on Joe Hart to maintain form, but in world football. With rumors of so-called bigger clubs already planning to bring him away from the Britania, will Stoke hold onto him? Personally if they are going to have any chance of breaking into the European contenders then they are going to have to.
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