What Can Stoke City Do to Climb Out of the Premier League Cellar?
The past couple of years have been encouraging for Stoke City. They've signed some high-profile players in Xherdan Shaqiri and Bojan Krkic, and for the most part, manager Mark Hughes has turned a traditionally defensive-first side into one with attacking creativity and a brand of football that's fun to watch, generating nicknames like "Stokealona".
That offensive spark has been missing in the Potters' first five games. In fact, pretty much everything needed for a successful team has been missing.
Stoke sits in last place in the Premier League with a single point from five matches, and they've allowed at least four goals in three of those five matches. Overall, they've only scored three goals, two of which came from dead-ball situations and the other came after Stoke was trailing 4-0 to Crystal Palace this past weekend.
|Opponent||Goals Allowed||Goals Scored||Stoke Possession||Shots on Target/Shots Allowed on Target|
It's this past weekend that might be the most concerning result thus far. Stoke has had a brutal schedule, having to play Everton, Manchester City and Tottenham, which make up the top three spots in the table. A draw against Middlesbrough was reasonable, but getting rocked by Palace may be enough reason to sound the alarm. Palace has a respectable squad and can get results, but they certainly aren't a team like Manchester City or Tottenham.
It's pretty apparent that the critical aspect to fix is in defense. Stoke has established defenders like Ryan Shawcross and Geoff Cameron, but the back line has been completely overwhelmed this season.
Shawcross has been rated negatively by Squawka.com in three of Stoke's five EPL matches, and he is the only one who has played every minute of those games. He has been a rock in recent years, but whatever he brings to the table mentally in terms of leadership gets lost in the static when he isn't in form.
|Player||Appearances||Performance Score||Avg. Defensive Actions||Pass Accuracy||Duels Won Percentage|
|Bruno Martins Indi||2||16||11||76%||75%|
Stoke did pretty well to get Bruno Martins Indi on loan from Porto, and he has been their best player, per Squawka's Performance Score rating system. Hughes is trying to ease him into the squad, but it's probably about time to give him a string of starts.
Fitting new players into the squad has been an obstacle in Stoke's early weeks, and it's reasonable to think that Hughes just hasn't found the right combination yet. Wilfried Bony is on loan from Manchester City, but he has yet to make a significant impact, while Giannelli Imbula has yet to provide the midfield engine to complement fellow addition Joe Allen.
Hughes may be willing to go through a trial by fire to implement new players, but he could look to revert back to defensive-minded tactics if the Potters continue allowing goals at a high rate. Bony is certainly a target man, and playing on the counter with Shaqiri, Bojan and Marko Arnautovic feeding to Bony may provide enough lethality to get goals against the pace.
The talent level has risen at Stoke, but so far, it hasn't turned into results. The Potters' arguably have their most talented team in recent memory, but it's now on Hughes to steady the ship, particularly defensively. The prospect of relegation can lead to knee-jerk sackings and panic, so Hughes may have less time to recover than he deserves. The schedule will get easier, and the Potters need their offseason additions to start producing results.