Oppo Preview: Stoke v Sunderland
How’ve you done so far?
Well, if the season had started at the culmination of the January transfer window we might well have been flying high in the top half of the table, but the fact of the matter is that it didn’t, and our struggle towards the safety line has been a direct results of years of mismanagement, and particularly the decision to give Dick Advocaat the manager’s job in the summer. Sunderland, especially in recent weeks, have proven themselves to have fight – and with players like Jermain Defoe and Jan Kirchhoff, we have the ability to beat just about anyone. Leaving the Britannia Stadium with anything less than three points this weekend is just unacceptable, because it’s probably our best chance of moving clear of Norwich and Newcastle – for a week at least.
And that’s no slight on Stoke, by the way. You have a very capable squad and I’m expecting we’ll have a tough battle on our hands, but let’s be honest, Stoke have suffered from injury troubles recently and have been below par in recent weeks, so if we are to give ourselves a good chance of staying up we have to be targeting three points this weekend.
Last time out?
Our last game was against Arsenal, and though we drew 0-0 we really should have won. We caught a number of Arsenal players on a bad day – Ozil, Ramsey, Giroud and Sanchez did the grand some of nowt throughout the entirety of the match – and we had more than enough chances to win but were persistently thwarted by the world class presence Petr Cech. Much like we have been in some time, we looked organised, resolute and difficult to break down, all whilst creating plenty of chances at the other end.
Where will be the key battle?
Most certainly in midfield. We’ve got real top class players in Jan Kirchhoff and Yann M’Vila – two footballers who could easily slot in to just about every team in the top flight – and in recent weeks we’ve seen a resurgence in the form of Lee Cattermole, so your central players are going to be in for a tough day.
Imbula has looked very promising so it should be interesting to see how he deals with the interception machine that is Jan Kirchhoff – since moving into our midfield in February, Kirchhoff has been an absolute revelation and the fact he’s yet to have a bad game for us speaks volumes of the quality he possesses. From a neutral perspective it should be very interesting to see which side comes out on top.
Predicted starting XI?
The most predictable thing about Saturday’s match up is the team that Sunderland will play. Sam Allardyce has stuck with the same eleven for a number of weeks now and it has worked well, so I can’t see him changing things now. Vito Mannone will play between the sticks, and he had a fine game against his former club Arsenal. Our full backs will be Patrick Van Aanholt and DeAndre Yedlin – two players that have improved massively in recent weeks – and shoring up the centre of the defence will be the ever dependable Lamine Kone and Younes Kaboul. Our middle three will be Lee Cattermole, Jan Kirchhoff and Yann M’Vila, whilst out wide will be Wahbi Khazri – a Tunisian playmaker that had his best game yet for us against Arsenal – and Italian forward Fabio Borini. Playing the lone role up top will be Jermain Defoe, who has sixteen goals so far this season and doesn’t seem to be showing signs of letting up.
Well on our site we do a feature called Roker Riches, and this week I’ve predicted a 2-0 Sunderland win, so I’m going to have to go with that. I feel that though we’ve been poor for much of this season, we finally seem to have stumbled across our best system and team and as tough as Stoke can be on their day, we might just want this more, what with our future as a Premier League club hanging in the balance.
What’ve you made of Stoke this season?
I’ve been impressed and unimpressed in equal measures. The fact that Stoke have been able to attract top quality players like Bojan, Shaqiri and Imbula speaks volumes of the direction that the club is going but the way that Mark Hughes’ side have just rolled over in recent weeks should be concerning. Stoke are very much safe, so many of the players might have one eye on their fitness ahead of Euro 2016 and that’s maybe where you’ve seen inconsistencies and below-par performances in recent weeks.
For me, Hughes has to be given the funds to strengthen his defence in the summer, and bringing in a top class central defender should be a priority. As I stated earlier though you have to put much of the lack of success in recent weeks down to misfortunate injuries to key players. All in all, Stoke have had a good season, but next time round I think the pressure might be on Hughes to get the club into the top six places. Failure to do so might well result in Stoke’s better players leaving for bigger clubs abroad, and nobody wants to see that happen.
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