It’s been a strange season in the Premier League, and at Stoke City, it’s been no different!
A poor start and end; the parts of the season that stick in people’s minds, has left some fans disappointed, but luckily Mark Hughes’ side managed to finish with a win against West Ham United on Sunday.
So another season is over, but what did we learn from an unpredictable 2015/16 season?
1. Inconsistency needs to be addressed
There have been some great moments for Stoke looking at the season as a whole. Home wins against Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea; alongside a draw with Arsenal, without conceding a single goal, are the sort of memories you look back on with happiness. But it’s not them performances supporters are looking back on now the season has finished, it’s the missed opportunities.
Defeats at home to Watford, Crystal Palace and West Brom spring to mind, alongside draws with Sunderland and Swansea after being two goals ahead with just 20 minutes to go.
It’s not necessarily the results, it’s the performances, and the wins against the top teams makes it even more frustrating. You would think after one complacent performance against a lower placed side, the players and manager would learn and correct it, but it was a theme that continued throughout the campaign.
Ninth in the Premier League and a cup semi-final is without doubt a good season, but if Stoke are wanting to progress further, this is something that needs to be looked at.
Potters fans are looking at the likes of West Ham and thinking that could have easily been us.
2. More squad depth needed
I’ve never seen a season as bad for injuries as this one at Stoke. Goalkeeper Jack Butland has spent three months on the sidelines and captain Ryan Shawcross missed a large chunk of the season after back surgery, just to name a couple.
But it was the little niggly injuries week after week that hampered the side in the long haul. Boss Hughes had to deal with over 75 separate injuries to several different players throughout the campaign, meaning it was almost impossible to get a settled side.
This has been unfortunate, but it has proved the squad as a whole needs strengthening in the summer. The starting eleven; when everybody is fit, is mouth watering and the best that has been seen in red and white in a long time, but when there are injuries, the replacements don’t have the same impact and when games aren’t going our way, you look at the bench and there’s not a huge amount to choose from in terms of players to come on and make a difference.
Preferably the solution would be to sign players that can go straight into the side and bring in a competition for places, because now when everybody is fit you can almost predict the team, and if we can then surely the opposition can too.
3. Who is the main man up top?
The striking situation has been most people’s main concern this season. Hughes has Mame Biram Diouf, Peter Crouch, Joselu and Jonathan Walters to chose from; and has also opted to play Bojan as a ‘false nine’ every now and again, as well as Marko Arnautovic.
The issue is none of the strikers have been given a good run in the side to prove themselves and cement a permanent place. Granted different games suit different players, but how is any striker supposed to gain any confidence if they are getting dropped every week or two?
Hughes has a decision to make this summer over whether he wants to pick one of the current strikers and give them a fair crack at the whip, or go with most of the fans’ choice which is to spend big on a forward.
Of course if you take this option, it’s a big call on who to go for, and the money coming in from the new TV deal means the competition to sign players has increased and a 15-20 goal-a-season striker is on everybody’s agenda.