Stoke’s Christmas Wishlist – The Men Up Front

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. Finally, the men up top:

First Choice:       Jon Walters

Reserves:            Wilfried Bony, Peter Crouch, Mame Diouf, Bojan

Any Others in or around the first team squad?

Not really but then again there’s always Muniesa.

What about ones for the future?

Julian Ngoy is the obvious candidate but there is also Hakim Abdallah and Dominic Telford.

Do we need to bring anyone in?

Certainly, at the time of writing Wilfried has yet to prove he can reproduce his Swansea form whilst Super Jon and Two Meter Peter have both seen better days. Mame makes a good back up player but Hughes must surely be considering letting Bojan leave.

Do we need to let anyone go?

It all depends on whether we bring anyone in. If Wilfried was to rediscover his scoring touch and we managed to grab a fifteen twenty goal a season man then at least one of Crouch, Walters or Diouf could be let go, whilst I think Bojan’s days at the club have to be numbered.

Have we been linked with anyone?

It wouldn’t be a transfer window without Stoke being linked to Saido Berahino but waiting until he becomes a free agent in the summer would make the most sense. Elsewhere Daniel Sturridge has been mentioned but Sam Lammers from PSV has been mentioned and both Leon Bailey and Eric Choupo-Moting can play through the middle.

Any other business?

Making a decision on Wilfried has to be one of Hughes’ top priorities before the transfer window opens. Also the fact Mame, Wilfried and Ramadan are all participating in the African Nations cup makes signing a top class striker a priority. But then again this has been top of every transfer window wish list ever since I started supporting Stoke back in the days before the Premiership.

A Man on the Halfway Line

back-to-basics

Recently Leigh Griffiths, Celtic’s diminutive forward, changed his twitter name to #shorty because Gordon Strachan, Scotland’s manager, has stated he requires tall players at set pieces thus suggesting Griffiths is too small to warrant a place in his national team. Whilst sending a worrying message out to all the talent scouts scouring the globe for the next Messi or Ronaldo, it also highlights a worrying trend in how managers view and manage set pieces.

Griffiths’ place in the team, according to Strachan, is in jeopardy because he wants his centre-forwards to come back when his team are defending corners. I have no problems with the big men coming back to add their height to the defensive effort but this argument should not mean small players, such as Griffiths, should be excluded from the team.

Sadly, however, it has become a worrying trend, especially down at the Bet365, for teams to defend set pieces with every player in or around the penalty box. From a defensive point of view this may seem like a good idea, more players are able to mark more players and occupy more space, but I disagree and instead believe this philosophy is counter-productive. How many times this season have Stoke cleared their lines only for the ball to come back a few seconds later because there is nobody further up the field to chase down and hold up clearances? Leigh Griffiths may be too small to be anything more than a hindrance at set pieces but he his quick enough and clever enough to be able to chase down clearances and hold the ball up to allow his defence to clear their lines.

Stoke often have Wilfried, or whoever is playing up front, tracking back for corners and I have no problems with this but we need to keep a player on the halfway line to occupy the defenders and to be a target when we clear our lines, otherwise Shawcross and the rest of his defence might just as well pass the ball back to the opposition and invite them to try again!

West Ham United 1 – Stoke City 1

With Arnie, Shaqiri and Clumsy missing from the Stoke line-up even playing an out of form West Ham seemed like it was going to be a tough game. Hughes’s team selection however gave a glimmer of hope with Ramadan deputising for Arnie whilst Charlie Boy continued alongside Glenda and Super Jon taking his place on the right wing.

Yet after only a few minutes it was becoming abundantly clear that this West Ham team is a poor imitation of the Payet led side which performed so well last season. This West Ham team are not just out of form but simply poor, a fact which makes the point gained on Saturday feel more like two points lost.

Stoke, missing the magic and goal threat of Shaqiri and Arnie, dominated the opening forty-five minutes without troubling Adrian in the West Ham goal. In fact, Stoke’s only real clear cut chance fell to Bony, who’s glancing header hardly troubled the West Ham keeper and although both Ramadan and Super Jon teased their full backs a number of times the end ball was just not that good enough.

Despite all of Stoke’s dominance it was West Ham who had the best chance of the first half when Grant produced a reflex save to deny Angelo Ogbanna and with the two teams heading into the tunnel at half-time that here we go again Stoke paranoia began to surface once more.

And that paranoia felt justified when after sixty-five minutes a Payet cross was diverted into his own net by Glenda to give the home team a lead they thoroughly didn’t deserve. And with their noses in front West Ham began to grow in confidence as they chased a second goal which would surely have killed the game.

Hughes, seeing his team fall behind, gambled with the introduction of Two Meter Peter and Bojan for the disappointing Bony and Glenda and whilst he may not have the mobility of his younger days the added aerial presence of Stoke’s veteran forward man began to give Adrian the jitters. Every time the ball was launched into the West Ham penalty area the West Ham keeper seemed to have a rush of blood to the head as he left his line to try, unsuccessfully, to claim the ball.

It was one of these rushes of blood to the head which resulted in Stoke’s equalizer when Super Jon bravely chipped the ball past the on rushing Adrian for Bojan to tap into an empty net and although the West Ham keeper received a yellow card for taking out the Stoke winger I would be interested to see what would have happened if Bojan had missed and Stoke were subsequently awarded a penalty. Whilst Super Jon was not faced with a clear goal scoring chance the rugby tackle which he received would surely have resulted in a red card for Adrian if Stoke hadn’t of scored.

Stoke remain 12th going into the final international break of the year and with a couple of winnable games coming up should be looking to break into the top half before December’s nightmare fixture run commences but as always there are a few things which need to be taken into consideration:

  • Another good game from Ramadan but, at the moment, he is no Arnoe or Shaqiri. A good third choice winger he needs to be getting match day experience and should be on the bench when his senior colleagues are available again
  • Wilfried didn’t have his best game in a Stoke shirt and clearly missed Arnie and Shaqiri. Although Two Meter Peter created problems when he came on we desperately need a second striker as back up to the Ivorian
  • With both Charlie Boy and Bojan producing the goods Stoke are showing they have quality back up for their first team players but Clumsy and Allen, if fit, should retain their places after the break and Hughes needs to avoid the temptation to tinker with a winning formula to give his bench players game time.
  • With two winnable home games coming up, as well as a trip to a Watford team thumped by Liverpool, Stoke are on a run of fixtures which sees us play against the weaker teams in the division. But we can’t let complacency seep in and Hughes needs to ensure his team approach the upcoming matches with the positive attitude they have showed in recent weeks.

Stoke Giraffe of the Week           Erik Pieters

Stoke Lemon of the Week           Wilfried Bony

Match Ratings

Lee Grant – 7                         Excellent reflex save in the first half and unlucky for West ham’s goal.

Phil Bardsley – 7                   Typical old fashioned full back’s display complete with foul and abusive tirades aplenty. Needs to keep his mouth shut otherwise less lenient refs will take his name

Ryan Shawcross – 8             A true skippers performance and a huge sigh of relief emanated from the Stoke fans when he returned to the field after an injury scare.

Bruno Martin Indi – 6         Got outmuscled a couple of times and his passing seemed more flustered than usual.

Erik Pieters – 8                     From Lemon to Giraffe, anything that went down the West Ham right was dealt with easily by the Dutchman and provided a calming influence for Ramadan in front of him.

Glen Whelan – 7                   Did what he was asked to do well and was unlucky for the own goal.

Charlie Boy – 7                     Not so much a presence going forward as he was against Swansea but was a calming presence in the middle of the park.

Joe Allen – 7                          After his recent goal scoring form can be excused for sometimes shooting on sight but needs to look up every now and again rather than just putting his foot through the ball

Super Jon – 8                        A match which suited his more combative approach to wide play and was brave to set up Bojan’s equaliser

Ramadan – 7                         Not quite as impressive as against Swansea but looked menacing and worked hard tracking back

Wilfried – 5                            Missed having players close to him and meandered out of the game.

Substitutes

Bojan – 7                                In the right place at the right time to give Stoke the equaliser they deserved

Two Meter Peter – 7            His presence alone seemed to send Adrian into meltdown

Mame Diouf – 6                   Didn’t really have enough time to make an impression

Manager

Mark Hughes – 8                 Another solid team selection and his substitutions worked

Referee

Andre Mariner – 8                Unobtrusive and let the game flow, the only negative if I was a referees’ adjudicator would be not talking to Bardlsey about his continued foul and abusive language

A Bag Full of Lemons – Week 8

Another good week my Bag Full of Lemons Fantasy Football Team with 77 points, however any celebrations have to be dampened by the fact for probably the first time this season all the main players managed to get on the scoresheet, that is as long as they don’t play for Manchester United!

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With the attackers doing so well this week it is therefore no surprise my Bag Full of Lemons Giraffe of the week goes to one of their union, Wilfried Bony who, now his taste for the goal has returned, I fully expect to go on a goal scoring streak and banish memories of his recent drought. My Bag Full of Lemons Lemon of the week is awarded to Paul Pogba, with the Frenchman joining last week’s winner, Raheem Stirling, as a two-time winner.

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After debating whether to replace Joe Allen with his teammate Shaqiri last week I am glad I resisted the temptation with the Swiss maestro being replaced early in the game against Swansea. With this in mind Joe Allen keeps his place and instead I have decided to replace Heung-Min Son, whose team visit the Emirates at the weekend, with another previous Lemon of the Week, Eden Hazard. Similarly with Spurs travelling to Arsenal I have decided to swap out Vertonghen and bring back Van Dijk, whose Saints team travel to Hull hoping to pile the misery on the Tigers. You may also be surprised that Pogba retains his place in team but                with Manchester United travelling to the out of form Swansea I can only repeat what I said last week. If Pogba performs I get points and if he and his team fail? Well I’m still a winner!

The Lone Striker – Just Watch Zlatan

Picking up the newspapers last Sunday morning I was shocked, if sadly not surprised, by the reaction Wilfried Bony received for his performance against West Brom. In the old days you would judge a centre forward’s contribution in one currency and one currency only, goals, but in today’s modern game the vogue is to play with a lone striker and what they bring to the team is a lot more than goals.

This current trend of a solitary target man has filtered down to the amateur and youth leagues, as every trend, good or bad, seems to do and watching the Boy on a Saturday morning I am constantly amused by the number of teams who line up with only one up front. With a striker who knows what their role in the team is, this lone striker can cause havoc amongst an opposing defence but as the Boy like to tell me, “they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Invariably the Boy and his partner are left marking a solitary, static striker who, whilst having a nose for goal, is not getting the service because they are not working the centre forwards and their midfield believes their jobs are complete once they have got the ball up to their front player. Watching Manchester United dismantling of Leicester I would argue that the man of the match was not Pogba or Mata but a player who seemingly had no contribution to any of the goals, Zlatan.

Against Leicester, Zlatan held the ball up when it was played to him allowing his midfielders to receive it back whilst their teammates ran into space behind the defence. This had the effect that the Leicester defence were being turned and their own midfield were having to expend energy to cover the gaps being created. But what sets Zlatan’s performances above most of his peers is the movement and running he does when he doesn’t have the ball.

Time and time again, against Leicester, he pulled out to the wings and when he managed to lure one of the centre-halves with him spaces suddenly appeared in the Leicester back into which the likes of Rashford and Lingard poured. Yet it wasn’t only this lateral movement which caused Leicester so many problems, when Rooney entered the fray Zlatan preceded to drop deeper, which allowed Rooney to play further up the pitch. This constant movement not only creates spaces for others to exploit but also plants a seed of doubt into the opposition’s minds because nobody knows just who is supposed to be picking him up.

Going back to Wilfried Bony and the match against West Brom, when he was on the pitch Bony held the ball up well and, whilst not as mobile as Zlatan, moved the defenders around to create the space which Shaqiri, Alllen and Arnie were able to run into. Yet when Two Meter Peter replaced him the only space Stoke was seeing was when we broke on the counter attack. Personally I am one of Two Meter Peter’s biggest fans, I think he is one of the most underrated forwards of the last ten years and his England record of a goal every two games should have brought him more than the forty-two caps it did but he is not a lone striker. As the Boy said after watching the match at the weekend, the way Stoke are set up he would much rather play against Two Meter Peter than Bony – out of the mouths of babes.