Where do we go from Here?
Tottenham match? What Tottenham match? If like most Stokies you haven’t been able to wipe the last 225 minutes of football (second half Swansea to Monday’s dreadful performance) from your memory you will still have questions that need to be answered. In this period we have conceded 10 goals scoring only 1 in reply, yep it’s genuinely that bad, and there is a requirement for change. So what can we actually do prior to the end of the season to try and reclaim some decent form?
One suggestion is to change our playing style. Our stronger performances throughout this season have come playing a German style counter attack with the team sitting deep and hitting hard and fast in attack. This has been lost from the squad ever since we played Chelsea at Stamford Bridge where Hughes moved the back four much higher up the pitch in an effort to retain possession and pressure on the opposition’s midfield and defence.
Whilst working in the Chelsea match itself, unfortunately this tactical set up has been exposed in nearly every match since by teams with quality in attack and pace throughout the squad. With great ease they have been getting in behind our defence who are frankly about as quick as a 15 year old 1.2 Corsa towing a caravan made of lead up a hill. So my suggestion would be to drop the defence deep, with our midfield having to make up for this by coming deep to pick up the ball, this allows the front three to play in a truly attacking role hopefully allowing them to retain more energy for attacking runs rather than dropping back to cover the counter.
Another resolution I have seen is to introduce a different formation, and of course the 4-4-2 is getting the most attention as it always seems to when an English team needs a change. But I am not a fan of that formation and would much prefer to see something a little more experimental due to the pressure being totally off the players. After having a good think on the matter, my mad scientist solution for the formation is to go to a 5-2-3 (no seriously stay with me here). I would play a central three of Muniesa, Shawcross and Wollschied, lapped by wing backs of Glen Johnson and Joel Taylor, who has been impressing for the under 21’s at left mid and left back so would be perfect for that role. Now I would also drop Whelan for the next few matches to allow him to regain some fitness as well as the fact we all know what he brings to the table. So the 2 in the middle of the park for me would be Imbula and Afellay, a pair who we have only seen exclusively together for brief moments so far. And of course this would be behind a front 3 of Arnie, Bojan and Shaq. This formation may seem absolutely bonkers but many teams have been using a similar shape with success this season, the chief example being Southampton, and with the little importance of our last 4 matches it would be nice to see Hughes experiment.
Of course the most accepted solution is to play some of the kids who will show the fight and desire that seems to be lacking in the first team, and this is an idea all Stokies appear to be on board with. There is no longer any need to play fringe first team players (the Irelands, Wilsons and Adams of the world) who are unlikely to be at the club come September next year. Instead we should just allow some of the better players from the academy to attempt to get into Sparkies thoughts for the squad next season. As already mentioned Joel Taylor is a player I would like to see in the first team, due to the fact that of the 11 games he has played at left back in the u21’s league we have only lost 3. Of course local lad Ollie Shenton is deserving of another chance, especially with so many of our centre midfielders being some of the oldest players in the squad. Dom Telford has already scored 9 goals in the youth league this year, and is well worth some game time seeing as there appears to be no confidence whatsoever in our strike force at the current point in time. Thibaud Verlinden is a player Hughes himself has suggested will get game time before the end of the year, and along with Moha provides a pacey wing option. Both prefer to beat their man on the outside with pace, rather than cutting inside as our current wide men do.
To prevent this season turning into a stale one for fans and players alike, changes must be introduced to ensure that there is still a fight and hunger within the team. As fans we need to forget the recent performances and recognise that we have also faltered in our performance. No longer is the Britannia a cauldron of noise screaming the players forward, and I’m sure that if we give that back to the players they will repay us with improved performances.
Written by Tom Thrower
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