5 Stoke City Storylines To Follow As Season’s End Nears
Stoke City Storylines To Follow For The Remainder Of The Season
As much as things may change, they always stay the same. That saying can be closely attributed to this season’s Stoke City Football Club, who looked like they were ready to turn the corner but instead are right back where they started.
The last five seasons in the English Premier League have been a fight for survival for the club under then manager Tony Pulis. Pulis would set the goal of 40 points, and that mark would be where the club needed to get to in order to remain in the top flight. Though Stoke would struggle along the way, the club would end up right where they needed to be to keep their Premier League dreams alive.
Last season, there were finally expectations around the Britannia Stadium when the club brought in game-changing midfielders Charlie Adam from Liverpool and Steven N’Zonzi from Blackburn Rovers. At the turn of the New Year, the club sat in eighth place with 29 points and seemed poised to make a run at a Europa League spot. A disappointing January transfer window and only three wins to close out the season saw Stoke get rid of Pulis.
In came Mark Hughes, who promised a more attacking brand of football and new signings to help him accomplish his goal of bringing Stoke City into the top 10 consistently. Signings were hard to come by, though Hughes was able to bolster the defensive depth with Erik Pieters from PSV Eindhoven and Mark Muniesa from Barcelona. Offensively, they were able to secure Marko Arnautovic from Werder Bremen and Oussama Assaidi on loan from Liverpool.
Stoke is currently sitting No. 11 in the table, but due to the parity at the bottom of the league this season, they are only three points out of the relegation zone. At this point in past seasons, Stoke would already be sitting at 30 points, but they are five points below that mark as of now.
Here are some the storylines to follow as Stoke City preps to survive another season in England’s top flight.
5. Does Mark Hughes Need To Change Tactics?
Mark Hughes has continued to employ the 4-2-3-1 tactics used during the Tony Pulis era. Unfortunately, this tactic is no longer useful for the Potters. It helps to have a big target man like Peter Crouch at forward, but having only one man up top forces Jonathan Walters to be used at a wing position where he does not belong.
In their last match with Manchester United, Stoke was forced to employ a standard 4-4-2 formation due to the suspension of Steven N'Zonzi. As a result, Stoke won the match 2-1, even with Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie on the field for United.
Stoke has only managed more than five shots on goal just twice this season. With their difficulties getting goals, the need for a second forward is obvious.
4. Is The End Near For Robert Huth?
Robert Huth has been out with a knee injury that required surgery since Nov. 23. He has been a very crucial piece of the Stoke defense alongside fellow centerback Ryan Shawcross but now at age 29 and coming off knee surgery, it may be the right time for Stoke to move on.
They have some very capable replacements like Marc Wilson, Marc Muniesa or even Geoff Cameron. Wilson is currently filling in for Huth.
3. Will Stoke City Find Results Away From Britannia Stadium?
Stoke has played 12 matches, both at home and on the road this season, with the results being dramatically different. At the Britannia Stadium, the club has five wins, five draws and two losses with a plus-three goal differential. On the road, that mark stands at one win, two draws and nine losses with a minus-17 goal differential.
This problem will need to be addressed, as three of the most important matches of the remaining season come on the road, all of them relegation battles with Norwich City, Cardiff City and West Bromwich Albion.
2. The Stoke City Attack
Scoring is very important in any sport, especially soccer where the chances don't come around very often. Stoke City has only managed 24 goals in their 24 league matches this season. While that is not the worst in the league, it needs to be addressed.
The leading goalscorer on the team is currently Charlie Adam with seven goals in the league, eight across all competitions. Their biggest issue is that they only play with one forward, another factor that limits goal-scoring opportunities.
1. Can Stoke City Avoid Relegation?
As mentioned earlier, Stoke City may be sitting in 11th place right now, but they are only three points clear of the drop zone, making every game from here on out very important if they want to stay in the Premier League.
The recent win over Manchester United could be the one result that Stoke fans point to as the one that saved their season. The near future is tough, as Stoke will see Southampton, Manchester City and Arsenal among the next four matches.
In their last 10 matches though, they will face seven of the other clubs they are battling to avoid relegation. So if they are not successful, they only have themselves to blame.