A Vote of Confidence

Mark Hughes appears to be suffering from a lack of self-confidence and his recent squad selections and tactics have left a lot to be desired. But in the eat or be eaten nature of the Premier League is it time for Sparky to throw caution to the wind and finally leave his mark on the team. The best football we have seen in his 3 year tenure has come when players from the old regime have made way for those of Hughes’ choosing, and it is time again for Hughes to implement change.

Firstly let’s address the Peter Crouch issue. I was reluctant to see his name on the team sheet against Stevenage, as a good performance against a weak side may have forced Crouch into Sparky’s plans for Saturday. Lo and behold a hat trick ensured the Crouch’s name would be the first name on the team sheet for the trip to Goodison Park. His performance flatters to deceive against a poor League 2 side who would in no way play a similar way to Everton (if you disagree get on the blower to Coatesy to get Omar Bogle in). One Stoke fan with fantastic foresight (me) saw the issues that would arise after the performance on Tuesday night.

Stoke clearly don’t cross into the box in any kind of frequency (we have only made 9 crosses from open play this season). Instead of attempting to force this issue Hughes simply needs to accept it and find other methods of creating chances, playing to our squads strengths. Playing Crouch saps the team of any quick attacking plays as he simply cannot keep up with the squad, and with the lack of crossing ability in the side he becomes a wasted player. Stoke’s best moves against Everton did not involve the big man and it is clear that a big target man does not compliment the rest of the side, and it is time for Hughes to stop experimenting with one.

The next matter is Stoke City’s training wheels, Glenn Whelan. Whelan is undoubtedly an important squad player who has vast experience, but he is in a poor run of form and is another player who prevents the best of the squad being seen. Whelan’s inclusion seems to come from Hughes’ fear that without Whelan Stoke will be too vulnerable. However with his inclusion Stoke become uncreative and slow as Whelan provides little to no penetration of the opposition defence, shown in the pitch maps of the Everton match below (Whelan on the left, Imbula in the middle and Allen on the right).

Screenshot (33)

In contrast to both Imbula and Allen, who had both had poor games for their high standards, you can clearly see that Whelan only moves the ball across the pitch, rather than attempting to break through the Everton back 4. Further to this the inclusion of Whelan now appears to mean one of Imbula, Allen and Bojan do not make the starting XI, with another being played out of position. These players are 3 of our most important, two make up the two most expensive transfers to club has made, and there is currently no justification for Whelan keeping a place over one of these three.

It is not just Whelan’s lack of creative input that hurts the team but his poor defensive performances. Whelan is the most frequently dribbled past Stoke player (7) whilst his midfield partners have only been dribbled past 3 (Imbula) and 2 (Allen) times. He also has the most tackles lost in the side (10) more than both full backs Pieters (8) and Bardsley (9) who have been criticised for poor defensive work. Whelan was dropped by Ireland after only one game during the Euro’s and he has been seen giving up several times this season (seen in this move against Man City) and this could be a potential indicator of burn out or that maybe his age is catching up with him.

In his efforts to turn around our poor start Sparky needs to entrust the two centre midfield positions to Imbula and Allen. Both have played in a more advanced role and it has adversely affected their game. Imbula did not have space to spin into and sprint away from his marker, and Allen did not have the time to pick out his pass, often giving the ball away. Their combined work rate, both forwards and backwards, is something that the team, who ran the 2nd least accumulative distance in the league last season, desperately needs. Removing the safety wheels of the midfield will allow us to play a trio of creative players, and creativity is certainly the area most lacking in the first three league fixtures.

Hughes’ reign has been a positive one with some superb highlights, but the lows of his command all carry the ghost of the former manager. With pressure mounting at a 4th poor start to the season in a row, now is the time for Sparky to have confidence in his own choices and truly make the squad his own. He can do this by fielding an attacking, fluid and creative side, with no trace of the former defensive, disciplined and limited regime.

And finally a big shout out to @SamTheLost for the Gif, give him a follow Stokies he breaks down all our mistakes in endless loops every week (hopefully he’ll do the same when we have some highlights).

Written by Tom Thrower

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