Bring ‘Stokalona’ back and the results will come
Saturdays defeat against West Brom consigned Stoke to another season where the promised land of 7th place, and the hopes of European football that brings with it, is out of reach of the Potters. This season has seen a reversion to a more direct style, and with Bojan being pushed out of the club the movement known as ‘Stokealona’ is all but deceased. Yet this does not mean Hughes cannot reawaken the fluid passing football that he sought to bring to the Potteries, and doing so now will only be of benefit to Stoke.
It is undeniable that Hughes is beginning to upset some of the fan base with his move away from the flamboyant style. And this is no surprise, Hughes was supposed to be, and at a point he was the revolutionary to lead Stoke away from the long ball system we were synonymous with, and this style adhered many fans to Sparky. The reversion has not benefited Stoke, with the Potters being lower in the league than where they were at this time last year.
With Everton being an unassailable 11 points ahead of Stoke in 7th, the pressure on Hughes to get results is somewhat reduced. Yes, he will still be expected to secure a place in the top half but he is no longer required to treat every game as a win at all costs fixture. This perhaps, means he can turn to players considered inconsistent more easily.
Players like Giannelli Imbula should be preferred over players such as Charlie Adam. With Adam, you know what performance you are likely to get a 6 or a 7 out of 10 performance, but if Imbula hits his stride you have one of the most dominant midfielders in the Premier League. He should also return players to their natural positions, and this of course is in reference to Joe Allen. Allen is not a number 10 and his heat map against the Baggies paints the picture of a player struggling in a role they find unnatural.
Placing Allen and Imbula in the midfield together is something Hughes has not done much at all this season, in fact he has barely given them 90 minutes together in total. Seeing as both are the two most recently recruited midfielders, with a combined price tag of 31 million pounds, finding a system that includes both will ease the pressure building around Sparky. Any system that includes both as centre midfielders will be a creative and attacking one, and instead of constantly struggling against the attacking side he has assembled Hughes needs to embrace it.
A move to a more defensive system has had no defensive success. In the 7 games where the false nine, the epitome of ‘Stokalona’, was used Stoke conceded 7 goals. In Stoke’s past 7 games, some of the most defensive football seen under Hughes, Stoke have conceded 12. This suggests that the whole defensive experiment can be questioned, but I’m trying to be more positive and going any further here would lead to some form of a rant.
How do we bring back ‘Stokalona’ without Bojan? Well the honest answer is I’m not very sure at all, Afellay is a reasonably negative number 10 who doesn’t always take the risks he should. A move to the original 343 has been suggested by the Wizards of Dribble, and I direct you to read this piece as it is an interesting discussion.
With this season a write off, obviously there is still league positions to play for but there is no way Stoke can push on this year, Hughes needs to focus on the future. He needs to set out a tactic that he will take into next August, and establish which players he wants to slot into this. And for me the ethos that underlined what was dubbed ‘Stokalona’ is what Hughes should look to reinstall in this side.
Written by Tom Thrower
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