Mark Hughes’ Bizarre Managerial Decisions Cost Stoke Again and Again

Stoke succumbed to a third 4-0 loss to Tottenham in a row and it is proof that Mark Hughes’ consistent failings are costing Stoke. We sit an unassailable 12 points behind the always targeted 7th spot and even 8th is beginning to look out of Stoke’s reach with West Brom 8 points ahead of the Potters.

This does not make good reading for Mark Hughes who has lost a large amount of support from the fan base this season. It appears ‘Sparky’s’ plan is unravelling and it is his stubbornness that is forcing the Potters down the table, with a very realistic risk of finishing outside the top half, for the first time under his stewardship.

Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance 

Stoke City are yet to reach November without having occupied the bottom 5 of the league under the 4 seasons Hughes has been in charge, however he is still insistent on his low intensity pre-season plans. Football, like all professional sports, is becoming increasingly physical. Pressing is the current buzzword of tacticians and pundits as athleticism has gone from being a good attribute to a bare minimum for most sides.

And then there is Stoke. Isolated in the rolling fields and hills of Staffordshire, the fitness revolution seems to have not reached the Potteries. It is Mark Hughes who is remaining stubborn to change, even when it falls into his lap. Joe Allen, a player with the potential to be a Kante-esque midfield dynamo, yet Mark Hughes sees this hard-tenacious ball winner as a number 10, it makes me want to scream. Even naturally fit and athletic players are seemingly forced to be slow, lethargic and ultimately ineffective under Hughes.

He stubbornly sticks to his outdated methods, arguing that despite the initial disadvantage the Potters are equipped to reap the rewards for this style of fitness management at the end of the season. This is no longer acceptable. Firstly, points at the start of the season are worth just as much as at the end of it. To simply treat these games, which could make or break a season, as an extended pre-season is disgraceful. Secondly, a fitness management regime that cannot get and keep players fit from game week 1 until game week 38 should not be an option. All other sides in the Premier League seem to have regimes which create fully fit squads from August to May so why can’t Stoke?

The two week break in Dubai looks to have followed this trend of shambolic preparation. Within 5 minutes of kick off on Sunday Stoke looked tactically clueless and more fatigued than a Spurs side who have played 3 matches whilst the Potters were away on their jolly. The trip to Dubai was a large waste of valuable time and resources.

Yin and Yang

Balance is an important thing to a football side, and Mark Hughes has absolutely no idea how to balance a team. Let’s focus on the Spurs game. Stoke approached the game as huge underdogs and many expected them to sit with a tight back 4 that was hard to break down. This didn’t happen. The entire backline was unbalanced with both full backs pushed much too high whilst the centre halves sat much too deep, as shown by this average positions chart.

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The back line was totally unbalanced and it was no surprise to see Spurs easily slicing their way through it to 4 first half goals. Hughes once said that you cannot play all your flair players at the same time. Well here’s a counter to that, you will never break down the best defences in the league with Charlie Adam, Glenn Whelan and Joe Allen, and with Stoke’s defensive ineptitude in the past 12 months you will struggle to win many games at all.

Bizarre Defence Preference

Mark Hughes has assembled the most exciting side that Stoke-On-Trent has ever been given the pleasure to host. Despite this Hughes has preferred to play with a tactic that focuses on defence solidity. Shockingly the attackers we have acquired, who all learned their craft at European giants, struggle to thrive when they are expected to contribute more to defence than they are to attack. The proof that Hughes has settled on this tactic has come with the report that he is looking to sell Bojan and Imbula in the summer.

I’d accept this change if it had pushed Stoke up the table, but it hasn’t we’re tenth and will be lucky to finish in the top half and it has not even made Stoke more defensively solid. Our defensive performances appear entirely reliant upon the strength of the oppositions attack. Stoke have kept clean sheets against 6 different teams this season, 5 of which are part of the 6 lowest scoring sides in the league. Stoke have conceded 3 or more goals against 6 different teams this season, 5 of which are the top 5 scorers in the league. Stoke City are the most passive side in the league and the oppositions’ quality entirely dictates what result is achieved.

And for God Sake Ban Zonal Marking

I’m going to get a little anecdotal here. At about 2 o’clock on Sunday, sat in the stands at White Hart Lane, I leaned over to my cousin and said “Oh Harry Kane looks a bit free at the top of the box”. Lo and behold in the seconds preceding my statement he was volleying home his, and Spurs’, second. Kane is, and I’ve checked the measurements for this, a double decker bus length away from the nearest Stoke player, it is embarrassing Sunday league-esque defending, that we have seen too many times this season.

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Stoke’s zonal marking shows everything wrong with Mark Hughes’ management style. He is a stubborn man who refuses to back down from a decision even if he is in the wrong. Stoke use zonal marking because Hughes is miffed at the crack down on pulling in the box, there is no other reason. He refuses to create a man marking system that will not give away fouls, so instead he is content for Stoke to concede from set-pieces frequently. Almost as if he wants to prove a point that Stoke will lose out either way.

Hughes provides comfort masquerading as stability. Poor results occur when ‘it is one of those days’, injuries are to do with luck and there is a refereeing conspiracy against Stoke. These kinds of descriptions provide a narrative that there isn’t any problems and things simply went against Stoke on the day, and it is these descriptions Mark Hughes has fed us for nearly 4 seasons. They simply aren’t true and the way things are going Stoke could be in trouble sooner than we expect.

Written by Tom Thrower

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