The End is Nigh
Three things are certain in life: death, taxes and football managers losing their jobs. And it appears that for Mark Hughes the latter is an ever increasing likelihood. The year of 2016 has taken on a feel of sadness and disappointment for most and none more so than anyone who holds Stoke City FC close to their hearts. In the 37 league games of 2016 Stoke have acquired a woeful 42 points, conceding a whopping 64 goals in the process. The blame for the continued disappointing performances lays firmly at the feet of the Welshman in charge of the side, and it is unlikely to be long before he no longer holds the role.
Hughes has amassed one of the best (if not the best) mid table side in the league, yet the performance of the side still appears to be that of a relegation threatened side. This comes from an apparent lack of trust of the newly signed stars. Take last nights drubbing for example, old boys Whelan, Crouch and Walters held starting roles whilst the players signed to replace them (the likes of Bojan, Ramadan and Shaqiri) sat on the bench. The trait of dropping flair and foreign players for a domestic player is one that has plagued the Potters throughout 2016.
The strangest appears to be the removal of Shaqiri from the staring XI, which has somewhat un-coincidentally been timed with Arnautovic’s suspension. One Stoke fan joked on twitter:
Big fan of Shaqiri sharing Arnautovic's ban
— Will (@IamWillSCFC) December 27, 2016
But many a true word is spoken in jest, and the joke gets to the heart of the issue of Hughes selection, talent and creativity is often given a second seat to graft and hard work. I am not arguing that a good work rate is not beneficial to a side, but in a highly demanding league such as the Premier League hard work will only get you so far, and sapping the side of all creative talent seems pointless.
This is proven by a little known statistic known as xG. The method behind the calculation of this stat involves some real maths that I have no idea about, but here is what it means xG = amount of goals that should be scored (i.e. how successful the side is at creating goal scoring opportunities). The Liverpool game saw Stoke’s lowest xG of the season (aside from the Southampton game where Stoke defended for at least 70 minutes). This came immediately after Stoke’s highest xG scoring game, the Leicester Match, one of the only games which saw new signings Bojan, Shaqiri, Imbula and Allen all play together.
“Right very nice so far Tom, but what’s your point?” The point is playing the hard working players comes at the cost of creativity, but does not in anyway produce better results. And this indicates that Mark Hughes cannot see the issues that the side and himself. The removal of creative players in favour of grafters leaves the Potters entirely one demential and unable to truly compete with talented defences. Again last nights performance provides a good example of this. The early attacking focus, with long balls up to Crouch caught Liverpool off guard, leading to the opening goal. Yet once Klopp and his men had regrouped they were able to easily press Crouch out of the game, meaning the Potters had absolutely no effect in the oppositions half.
This like all of the losses so far this season, aside from perhaps the Bournemouth match, come from a total tactical ineptitude from the man at the helm of the side. Stoke have only beaten two sides outside of the relegation zone so far this year and one of those are newly promoted Burnley. The ability to beat the stronger sides of the league on the counter appears to be gone, coupled with a continued inability to beat sides around us and it appears that dreams of European football are fading fast.
The time for change appears to be upon us, many have indicated how this season has begun to feel similar to Pulis’ final one, and it may be that Coates acts sooner rather than later. The traditional worry that changing a manager in January will not allow the successor time to sign players for the side appears not to be so pressing with Stoke. Stoke have an excellent (and somewhat large when Joselu and Wolscheid are included) squad, which is not in need of improvement. Instead it is in need of innovation, ingenuity and inspiration; and it appears the Mark Hughes has lost his ability to provided any of those things.
Written by Tom Thrower
P.S. Big thanks to @hecairns for the stats, if you are as sad as me you will love looking through his Stoke stat base here https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1H-pKQY2oKCUjlQq4IRorUCQcWdSOfKy_NCOeuann_uw/edit#gid=0
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