It could get worse before it gets better for Stoke City. Not exactly words fans want to hear when their club is already bottom of the table, but The Potters may have to wait a little while longer for their first three points of the season.
After the international break, Stoke host Tottenham Hotspur and then face a tricky away tie at big-spending Crystal Palace, so Mark Hughes’ side face the very realistic prospect of no wins in their first five league games. Recent defeats against Manchester City and Everton have exposed fragilities in attack and defence.
With those losses in mind, manager Hughes took executive action on deadline day and recruited Wilfried Bony and Bruno Martins Indi on loan deals. Dutch International defender Martins Indi will take the centre-half position vacated by Phillip Wollscheid, who left for Wolfsburg.
Bony, meanwhile, may not have been the Stoke hierarchy’s first choice centre-forward, given their pursuit of Saido Berahino, but the Ivorian could prove to be a shrewd acquisition should he recreate the goalscoring form he had at Swansea.
Creating chances is proving to be Stoke’s biggest hurdle at the start of this campaign. Despite possessing the creative flair of Xherdan Shaqiri, Bojan and Marko Arnautovic, The Potters have found scoring opportunities hard to come by.
An injury to Shaqiri hasn’t helped matters, but Stoke’s defeat at Goodison Park was particularly frustrating, as Everton looked far more likely to score a second than Stoke were to score an equaliser. For many fans, The Potters have started this season the way they finished the previous season, not scoring enough goals, looking vulnerable at the back and not picking up points.
Hughes’ teams tend to grow into seasons, so Stoke fans shouldn’t panic about the club’s current league position. It wasn’t until The Potters beat AFC Bournemouth 2-1 in late September that Stoke recorded their first three points of the 2015/16 season.
Stoke definitely have the personnel at their disposal to record another impressive Premier League finish, and everyone in the Potteries will definitely be hoping that their new loanee from the Etihad Stadium will be the missing piece of the puzzle as far as the team’s attacking play is concerned.
What is clear though, is that Hughes needs to take another look at his tactics. Stoke’s form since February coupled with the vast sums spent on new players in recent transfer windows have called into question The Welshman’s system.
Defender Marc Wilson, who departed for Bournemouth earlier this transfer window, took a swipe at Sparky’s defensive training, or rather lack of it, in a Twitter Q and A with fans. Considering Stoke haven’t recorded a clean sheet since a 1-0 home victory over Newcastle United on March 2, Wilson may well have a point.
Given this lack of form, it may very well be the case that Hughes will have to sacrifice some of the more established names from his starting XI. Glenn Whelan has been a loyal servant and has been a crucial part of both Tony Pulis and Hughes’ Stoke teams, but recent games have passed the Irishman by and it may be difficult for him, Joe Allen and Giannelli Imbula to all feature in the Stoke midfield.
Likewise, Erik Pieters has really struggled to look like the same tough-tackling, all-action left back he was before he signed a contract extension at The Bet365 Stadium. The Dutchman had a torrid afternoon against Man City and will be thankful for the international break after a tough outing on Merseyside.
After a positive deadline day, Hughes has been dealt a further blow with the news that last season’s Player of the Year, Jack Butland, could be out for a further two months with an ankle injury.
Although Shay Given deputised well against Everton, the 40-year-old doesn’t inspire the same level as confidence in the backline as England international Butland. Derby County loanee Lee Grant, who didn’t feature at all in the Rams’ 2015/16 campaign, was brought in on deadline day and will most likely be a back-up to Given.
Stoke will have to overcome a lot before their season can truly get up and running. A poor start, injuries, out-of-form players and tactics that haven’t brought results in some time are all conspiring to raise the levels of discontent in ST4.
However, boss Hughes definitely has the resources and capability to turn Stoke’s slump around. It may just take a little while yet before ‘Stokealona’ come back to their best.