A Bag Full Of Lemons – Week 14

Another average week with my team only getting three more points than the average of 46 with Coutino’s absence being a big blow.

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From Lemon to Giraffe, Romelu Lukaku¸ wins the Giraffe of the Week despite being in a losing team. At the other end of the scale there were a number of players who vied for Lemon of the Week but I am giving it to Gareth McAuley for picking up a yellow card in what was otherwise an impressive display against Chelsea

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After last week’s rejigging to bring in Kelechi Iheanacho I am now able to bring my Stoke contingent up to the maximum allowed of three by swapping the injured Coutinho for Xherdan Shaqiri who goes straight into the team in place of his team mate Ramadan Sobhi. After their lacklustre display against Leicester I am expecting Manchester City to bounce back against Watford and this is why I have decided to take a gamble and make Iheanacho my captain!

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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.

October’s Giraffes and Lemons

Another month gone and, at the top, the Premier League looks like it could go down to the wire as no team seems able to gain an advantage over any of their rivals. However unlike in previous seasons I fear there will be no fairy tale to follow with the top five places filled with teams who you would expect to be challenging for the Champions League places come May.

It is a similar scenario at the bottom of the table with two of three relegation places filled by the teams I predicted to finish bottom and after seeing Stoke beat both Sunderland and Hull City convincingly I can’t see either of these teams playing in the Premiership next year. So bad were Sunderland when we played them at the Bet365 they are my Team Lemon for October an award they easily justified at the weekend after they were hammered by Arsenal.

For the Team Giraffe for October there have been a number of contenders from Chelsea and their impressive run of clean sheets to the attacking delight that has been Liverpool over the opening weeks of the season but instead of the obvious my Team Giraffe for October goes to Watford. Whilst not playing the most attractive football in the division Watford have sneaked up the table to 7th place and even though I don’t think they’ll make the European places come the end of the season I wanted to reward them for the little bit of fantasy they are providing and also for being a place above Manchester United.

Here then is my updated prediction for the end of the season (and how it has changed over the course of the month):

  1. Manchester City (1st)
  2. Chelsea (2nd)
  3. Liverpool (6th)
  4. Arsenal (4th)
  5. Tottenham Hotspur (3rd)
  6. Everton (7th)
  7. Manchester United (5th)
  8. Southampton (8th)
  9. Leicester City (9th)
  10. Watford (10th)
  11. Stoke City (14th)
  12. Crystal Palace (11th)
  13. West Bromwich Albion (12th)
  14. Middlesbrough (15th)
  15. West Ham United (13th)
  16. Bournemouth (16th)
  17. Burnley (18th)
  18. Swansea (17th)
  19. Hull City (19th)
  20. Sunderland (20th)

From an individual perspective I feel I have to reward Manchester City for keeping the title race interesting by awarding my Lemon of the Month to one of their players and as a protest at Pep’s insistent on playing football from the back, no matter the cost! Therefore, my Lemon of the Month goes to the poster boy of this movement, Claudio Bravo, not for anything he did in the Premiership this month but instead for his display against his old team mates at the Nou Camp.

Finally my Giraffe of the Month is a nod to Stoke’s move out of the relegation zone and whilst Joe Allen has been in fine goal scoring form the Giraffe goes to Xherdan Shaqiri, who has been the real difference for Stoke in their recent run of good form.

Hull City 0 – Stoke City 2

Four matches unbeaten, two wins in a row and more importantly back to back clean sheets, finally Stoke’s season is starting to look like they may just end up in the top of the half of the table once the dust settles next year. Yet, as I mentioned after the Sunderland match, any celebrations must be tempered by a word of caution, this Hull City team was as bad, if not worse than the Sunderland team who visited the Bet365 last Saturday. But you can only beat what is put in front of you and on Saturday Stoke certainly did that.

Stoke started with the same eleven who beat Sunderland and both the boy and I breathed a huge sigh of relief when it was announced Phil Bardsley had recovered sufficiently to take his place in the starting XI. An old fashioned full back, In Johnson’s absence, Bardsley provides a steady influence down the right hand side and as proved against Hull he can get forward as well. With a little more luck he could have more than tested Marshall, in the Hull goal, and although Bony complained when Bardsley was unable to pick up his run at least the Scottish full-back was in the right place to deliver the cross.

With Bardsley providing a rock behind him Shaqiri has the platform to bring out all his party tricks and whilst his opposing fullback didn’t end up completely in a spin, Clucas will not be looking forward to coming across the Swiss maestro anytime soon. Seemingly given a licence to roam, Shaqiri tormented the Hull defence from the offset with a delightful through ball putting Arnie one on one with keeper, only for the Austrian to see Marshall save with his legs. But the Hull keeper didn’t stand a chance with Stoke’s opener as Shaqiri picked up the ball and drifted into space on the edge of the Hull box before curling a delightful strike into the top corner.

Stoke could, and should, have made more of their first half dominance with Bony being the biggest villain as he was put through by Shaqiri, who else, but he delayed too long and Michael Dawson was able to dive in and block the shot. An in form and confident Bony would surely have guided the ball into the bottom of the net and surely all Stoke fans must now be praying for that first Stoke goal for the Ivorian because once more Wilfried led the line well, holding the ball up when he had to and running to create the space for his midfielders to run into.

As the teams returned for the second half and even though Stoke were one goal to good, I admit I had a few nerves despite Stoke’s first half dominance as we still had to endure Hughes’ substitution bingo but once more Shaqiri was on hand to calm my fears. With a free kick in an almost identical position to where he scored the opener there didn’t seem to be any other conclusion as he stepped forward and stroked the ball over the wall and into the top corner of the Hull net. With a two goal cushion Stoke continued to push for the goals which would help to reduce their less than impressive goal difference with both Bony and Allen having chances. But it was Arnie who perhaps had the best of the lot as he majestically brought down an inch perfect long ball from Shaqiri only to see his resultant shot pushed away by Marshall’s outstretched hand.

With Stoke in total control Hughes delayed his customary substitution until the seventieth minute when he brought Mame on for Wilfried and with Shaqiri tiring the steam began to run out of the Stoke attackers’ legs. It was now time for Shawcross and the even improving Bruno Martins Indi to prove their worth to the team cause as Hull, led by the impressive Hernandez, but this Hull team seems to be bereft of ideas and whilst they peppered the Stoke box, their attacks seemed to consist of lofting the ball into the penalty area in the hope that they could somehow nick a goal from a knockdown.

In the stands the Hull supporters were leaving in droves well before the final whistle sounded and these supporters will all have missed the final action of the day as Shaqiri, Bardsley and Allen all picked up bookings for reacting when Clucas kicked the ball at his tormenter in chief’s back.

With Stoke out of the relegation zone for the first time since the opening weekend Hughes can feel vindicated after the criticism he endured earlier in the season but there are still a few things which need to be taken into consideration:

  • Broken record time! Sort out the subs bench! With Shaqiri tiring but an opposition on the ropes wouldn’t Saturday have been a perfect time to give Ramadan another twenty minutes first team action?
  • Keep the faith with Bony, if anything after Diouf’s cameo it has shown if Hughes wants to play this way then he needs an able back up to the Ivorian. Stoke have let the opposition back into the game each time Wilfried has been replaced. He may not be scoring at present but he offers so much more to the team than Super Jon, Two Meter Peter or Mame.
  • Remember don’t get complacent. This Hull team was as bad as Sunderland the week before and there will be better teams waiting around the corner.

Stoke Giraffe of the Week           Shaqiri

Stoke Lemon of the Week           Erik Pieters

Match Ratings

Lee Grant – 6                        Not a lot to do. Still needs to work on his communication. This week it was Shawcross who he nearly got into trouble

Phil Bardsley – 8                  Looking not just an able replacement for Johnson but serious competition

Ryan Shawcross – 7             Not quite as good as last week but still kept the Hull forwards quiet.

Bruno Martin Indi – 8         As responsible as anyone for the clean sheets in the last two matches.

Erik Pieters – 6                     A little unfortunate to get the Lemon of the Week but still looks like the weakest link in the backline

Glen Whelan – 7                   Same old Glenda!

Clumsy Cameron – 7           Not as influential going forward as in recent weeks but did the defensive work well.

Joe Allen – 7                          Wasn’t involved in the game as much this week but thankfully didn’t have to be

Shaqiri – 9                             Majestic

Arnie – 8                               A typical Arnie display, chances, non-stop running and constant waving of the arms in frustration.

Wilfried – 7                            A vital cog in the way this team plays. Will be missed if those Stoke fans who want to see him dropped get their way.

Substitutes

Mame – 6                               Ineffectual when he came on

Manager

Mark Hughes – 7                  Beginning to reap the benefits of a settled side

Referee

Kevin Friend – 6                  Let the game flow but could have showed some common sense after the whistle had blown.