Stoke’s Christmas Wishlist – Attacking Midfielders and Wide Men

With less than a month left to one of the most exciting days of the year, yes the opening of the transfer window, I thought I would look at Stoke City’s current squad and give my opinions where we need to strengthen. This time attacking midfielders and the wide men:

First Choice:       Arnie, Shaqiri and Joe Allen

Reserves:            Ramadan Sobhi, Bojan, Mame Diouf

Any Others in or around the first team squad?

There is a rumour that Stephen Ireland is still at the club and as I have mentioned him in relation to every position apart from goalkeeper I wonder if Muniesa could play here?

What about ones for the future?

Oliver Shenton, Thibauld Verlinden and Mohamed Choulay are all exciting talents in the youth ranks.

Do we need to bring anyone in?

Unless one of the big two are sold this is an area where Stoke are well stocked with both first team players and exciting players pushing for first team selections and is an area I wouldn’t expect Hughes and his team to be too concerned about.

Do we need to let anyone go?

Bojan is probably the most at risk, especially as Imbula and Adam can both be pushed further forward. I would also expect a few loan deals for some of the players in the under-23s to be arranged.

Have we been linked with anyone?

Along with Alex Witsel, Stoke have been linked with Leon Bailey and Eric Choupo-Moting whilst Stoke City and the transfer window wouldn’t be complete without Saido Berahino being mentioned.

Any other business?

To hold onto Arnie and Shaqiri whilst also giving Ramadan more game time once he has returned from the African Nations Cup.

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Stoke’s Christmas Wishlist – The Engine Room

With less than a month left to one of the most exciting days of the year, yes the opening of the transfer window, I thought I would look at Stoke City’s current squad and give my opinions where we need to strengthen. This time the shield in front of the defence:

First Choice:       Glenn Whelan and Geoff Cameron

Reserves:            Charlie Adam

Any Others in or around the first team squad?

Ibrahim Affelay is close to returning to first team contention whilst both Joe Allen and Giannelli Imbula can play as a holding midfielder. Personally I believe Marc Muniesa should be added to this list as I think this would be his best position.

What about ones for the future?

There a number of young midfielders who could play this role such as Eddy Lecygne but Sergio Molina is probably the most suited and ready to progress to the first team squad.

Do we need to bring anyone in?

In the short term no, as can be seen we have plenty of numbers but if Hughes isn’t willing to gamble on Muniesa and Adam showing he is not suitable for this position then in the long term a younger version of Glenda would be a good buy if we could find the right player for the right price.

Do we need to let anyone go?

We are overstocked with players in this position and Affelay returns soon I would be tempted to try and off load Charlie Adam. Also Muniesa could be at risk but he does provide cover for other positions.

Have we been linked with anyone?

From the intriguing in Soualiho Meite to the improbable in Alex Witsel and back to the downright ridiculous in Xeka, this seems to be a position where there is a lot of choice in the market.

Any other business?

Stoke’s engine room for the latter half of the season will have a lot to do with if / when Affelay returns from injury. If he returns at anywhere near his best this shouldn’t be an area where Stoke gave to invest.

What If Glenda, Clumsy And Joe Are Not Available On Sunday?

With Joe Allen banned and our two main defensive midfielders, Glenda and Clumsy, both doubts for the trip to Watford, Mystic Mark is going to have to look long and hard into his crystal ball to come up with a solution. As always, like any good football fan, I have my opinion on who, and who should be given the three midfield berths on Sunday:

In an Ideal World                                           Glenda / Clumsy / Imbula

I know this may come as a shock as the Frenchman has been doing his best impression of Where’s Wally of late but with Joe Allen definitely out due to suspension this may be the perfect opportunity to discover if a sojourn on the side lines has given Imbula the kick up the backside he needed.

If Glenda or Clumsy is Missing                   Glenda (or Clumsy) / Muniesa / Imbula

Muniesa has the defensive nous and technical ability to shine as a central defensive midfielder and he has to realise he is nothing more than a “just in case” player in his manager’s eyes when it comes to his preferred position of centre half. If Clumsy and / or Glenda are missing on Sunday this is the perfect opportunity for the Spaniard to audition for a role I believe he is best suited and if he succeeds he could become a long term solution to Glenda’s aging legs.

If Both are missing                                        Be Bold, Play 4-4-2 with Muniesa and Imbula in the middle

Watford are going to play with three at the back which will mean Wilfried will have a torrid afternoon if he doesn’t get any support. Playing two up front may be a gamble, especially at home, but if the Ivorian had another to pressure the defenders Stoke could defend from the front. My choice would be Mame because of his extra pace which would complement Wilfried’s physical presence.

Shouldn’t Get a Look In                               Bojan / Charlie Boy

Surely Bojan’s career at the Bet365 is almost over. He was once easily our best player but ever since he got injured he has been a pale imitation of that player and if he was a beloved pet you would be considering putting him down by now. Stoke must put all sentiment to one side and let Bojan return to the continent where the slower pace will hopefully allow him to influence games like he used to do for us.

In Charlie Boy’s case I also fear his days at the Bet365 are numbered simply because Joe Allen has been such a revelation since he joined in the summer. It was plainly evident on Saturday the Scot is not even a stop gap solution as a central defensive midfielder and he deserves to be playing football regularly instead of making first team cameos and the occasional appearance in the Checkatrade trophy.

A Bag Full of Lemons – Week 11

Fifty points may be down on previous weeks but as the average score was a miserly forty I feel I have had another good week.

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In such a low scoring week my Giraffe of the Week has to go to Harry Kane, who bagged a brace against West Ham in what was ultimately a lucky win for Spurs. Any of my three compulsory Stoke players could have picked up the Lemon of the Week but after picking up a fifth yellow of the season, leaving him unavailable for the trip to Watford this week’s Lemon of the Week goes to Joe Allen.

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Having only just played my wildcard you may be surprised I am making a transfer this week but with Joe Allen suspended I have decided on gambling with Ramadan Sobhi. If you haven’t seen the Egyptian winger yet this season he has the potential to be a star and although he will most likely only be deployed from the bench I suspect his influence on matches is going to increase over the course of the season. Like at Stoke, Sobhi will have to be satisfied with a place on the bench for now but if any of my midfielders get an injury, and Hughes brings him on, I have faith Sobhi will deliver.

Stoke City 3 – Swansea City 1

And so the run continues. Five matches unbeaten, three wins on the bounce and now up to 12th in the table and all their early season worries behind them. With the loss of Clumsy, who failed a pre-match fitness test, Charlie Boy stepped in to the team alongside Glenda but for the me and the Boy the biggest news was Ramadan finally returning to the match day squad as the Bet365 welcomed Swansea City.

In the build up to the game all the talk had been about Wilfried and Joe Allen playing against the club where they made their names and Mystic Mark’s crystal ball must have been working overtime as his prediction that Wilfried would score came true after only three minutes. True, no one not even Bony would ever call his first goal a classic but the delight on his face was evident as he tapped in from close range after a scuffed shot from the other former Swan, Allen.

One-nil up and dominating play as firstly Charlie Boy, with a shot from outside the penalty area, and then Shawcross tried in vain to double Stoke’s lead but in the end it was the visitors who scored next as Wayne Routledge managed to get in front of Bardsley and head the ball past Grant. With less than ten minutes gone the match was all square again but Stoke continued to pour forward looking to reassert themselves in a game which they must have felt was there for the taking.

First Charlie Boy attempted another shot from the outside of the box, after a delightful layback from Arnie, but could only watch as his shot hit the post. But whilst Stoke’s attacking play was as good as it has been this season they didn’t look as solid without the ever improving Clumsy and but for a deflection Siggurdsson could have given the visitors the lead. With Swansea still proving a threat and unable to score the elusive second goal Stoke might have been forgiven for cursing their luck as Shaqiri limped off at the half hour mark to be replaced, in a surprising move by Hughes, by Ramadan.

Yet Stoke continued to push forward and Charlie Boy managed to beat the keeper once more only to see his left foot strike hit the opposite post. Then Ramadan combined with Allen to send Arnie clear in the penalty box but the Austrian could only pull his shot onto the post after he had rounded Fabianski.

Watching the team come out for the second half most Stoke supporters could have been forgiven for thinking that, after our dominance in the opening forty-five minutes, Stoke wouldn’t be able to keep their momentum going but ten minutes into the second half the Potters finally regained the lead they deserved. After bamboozling the hapless Rangel, himself a first half substitute, Ramadan crossed the ball into the box and before Joe Allen could pounce, for what would have been a deserved goal, Mawson turned the ball into his own net.

Stoke had their skipper to thank for denying Swansea a chance to repeat their first half fight back when Shawcross managed to thwart Routledge as the Swansea winger suffered a moment of indecision in the Stoke penalty box.

Perhaps conscious of already losing one lead Stoke continued to push for a third to seal the game with Bony teeing up the ever eager Charlie Boy but the Scot could only push his shot wide but then Wilfried managed to get on the end of a drag back by Allen to head Stoke’s third which surely meant he three points would remain at the Bet365. Yet buoyed by the Boothen End Stoke continued to push for a fourth as Allen narrowly missed connecting with an Arnie cross and Bony saw what would have been a hat-trick header cleared of the line.

In the middle of the pitch the referee, the much loathed Michael Oliver, was having a quiet night by his standards but a Stoke match in which he was officiating wouldn’t be the same without a bad decision or two and he duly obliged by booking Arnie for a challenge in which the Austrian clearly got the ball. A bad decision, even by Oliver, can be forgiven but the fact that the referee seemed incapable of booking a Swansea player, even a horror tackle from The Swansea fullback on Phil Bardsley warranted nothing more than a slap on the wrist, and how close Oliver was to the Arnie tackle does raise the question what has Stoke ever done to him? Maybe he had a bad night out at Valentino’s as a youth?

Still Oliver’s ineptitude was a blessing when he seemed to give a penalty for a challenge by Pieters on Routledge only for him to overturn his decision and give a free-kick after his linesman intervened. For the record this Stoke fan thinks that once again Oliver got a penalty decision in a Stoke game wrong but I’m not complaining.

Now up to 12th, and with a few potentially easy games in November, Stoke should be looking to push on after what was probably their best performance of the season so far but as always there are a few things which need to be taken into consideration:

  • With Arnie, and possibly Shaqiri, missing for the trip to West Ham and after his impressive performance against Swansea, Ramadan has to start against the Hammers. There may be times when the young Egyptian needs to be wrapped in cotton wool but with his confidence up this is not the time.
  • Now that Wilfried has got off the mark hopefully the naysayers will give the Ivorian a rest but on Saturday, if Arnie and Shaqri are missing it may be, that for one match only, Stoke will need to get crosses into the box rather than trying to play beyond the Ivorian.
  • Pray that Clumsy is fit for Saturday! Charlie Boy did OK against Swansea but was I the only one that was apprehensive seeing Glenda so far up the pitch? Clumsy provides the legs in his partnership with Glenda and as good a player as Charlie Boy is, he is not renowned for his running.
  • Once again don’t get complacent. By some quirk of fate we have played the bottom three in successive games before we head off to London to play the team fourth from bottom. Whilst we can take heart from Stoke’s performance on Monday night we will need to improve if we are to have any hope of making it four wins out of four.

Stoke Giraffe of the Week           Joe Allen

Stoke Lemon of the Week           Erik Pieters

Match Ratings

Lee Grant – 7                         Another week with not a lot to do and had no chance for the Swansea goal

Phil Bardsley – 6                  Had problems with Routledge and will not want to see replays of the Swansea goal

Ryan Shawcross – 8             A pleasing trend is emerging where one or the other centre halves is having a good game even if their partner seems off the pace. This week it was the captain’s turn.

Bruno Martin Indi – 7         Not quite as dominant as in previous weeks and looked hurried on the ball.

Erik Pieters – 6                     Lemon of the week again! Not a bad game but easily the worst of Stoke’s performers. Lucky not to give away a penalty at the end.

Glen Whelan – 8                   Covered most of the pitch and was even Stoke’s most forward player at times however I much prefer to see him sitting in front of the Captain and the Beast.

Charlie Boy – 7                     Unlucky not to score and proved an able deputy for Clumsy but the dynamics looked wrong without the American.

Joe Allen – 9                          Was everywhere and unlucky not score. Set up two for Bony against his old teammates.

Shaqiri – 6                             Didn’t really get into the game before he limped off in the first half

Arnie – 9                                Must be getting frustrated at the number of chances he has missed but he is getting into the right positions and as always ran his socks off. Suffered an injustice at getting booked and will be missed against West Ham

Wilfried – 9                           Finally got the goals his team play deserved and continued to play the lone striker role to perfection.

Substitutes

Ramadan – 8                         Showed that when required he can be an able deputy to Arnie and Shaqiri and it is a shame Stoke’s second couldn’t be attributed to the young Egyptian

Super Jon – 6                       Came on for Bony but had little time to shine. If Shaqiri fails his fitness test expect Mystic Mark to play Super Jon on the wing against West Ham

Two Meter Peter – 6            Came on late and didn’t have a lot to do

Manager

Mark Hughes – 8                 To be honest I didn’t think playing Charlie Boy alongside Glenda would work but happy to be proven wrong and nice to see Hughes gave Ramadan a chance when Shaqiri got injured

Referee

Kevin Friend – 5                  Two Stoke bookings and none for Swansea despite Bardlsey being on the receiving end of the worst challenge of the match. Expect Oliver was disappointed at being overruled by his linesman over the non-penalty incident