The new Stoke City are proof apparently that a leopard can change its spots, even a red and white striped one. The days of the long ball and long throw and robust attrition are behind them if you believe the rumours. Tree trunks in defence, speedy wingers and a lump up front – The Pulis formula now being recreated at the Hawthorns where he’s filling his back four with centre-backs – this is the image of Stoke that we, and probably more importantly Poch and his team, should be letting go of.
The purchases made by Mark Hughes in the last few transfer windows exhibit an abrupt about turn. Their squad brims with exotic potential, fresh from markedly more glittery and glamorous surroundings than the Britannia – Milan, Madrid and of course, Catalonia. Stokelona indeed.
Like us they opened this season with a slightly unjust 1-0 defeat, theirs to a very late goal at home to Liverpool so also like us they’ll be wanting to get some points on the board before the top group, which both sides have pretentions of challenging this season, get too far ahead. With Shawcross, Arnautovic, Wilson and Bojan injured and new signings Joselu and Shaqiri not bedded in this could be a good time to play the Potters as they may look like a very different outfit as the season matures.
The same applies to us of course with much needed support for Harry apparently on its way, though not in time to lend a hand tomorrow and therein lies the rub. Without the extra pace we’re expecting to have on tap by the end of the window, will we be able to create chances or make the most of opportunities that open up due to our much vaunted pressing game? The general opinion of last week seems to be that we did alright overall, particularly in defence but the truth is that we hardly created a chance worth its name and we’ll struggle to do so again with the same line up. With regards to our attack, it’s currently a frustrating waiting game. Anyone who’s pinning all their hopes on N’Jie is kidding themselves; he is though a step in the right direction.
Last season’s defeat to Stoke at WHL was notable in that it was followed by the dressing room ‘discussions’ that effectively led to the end of the Spurs careers of Adebayor, Kaboul and Capoue at least and Pochettino’s decision to put his faith in youth. A similar result this year wouldn’t lead to quite such apocalyptic discussions but stress levels would rise, not least amongst the fans.
I expect Lloris and Rose to regain their places if fit tomorrow and Alderweireld, Vertonghen and Walker to fill the remaining back four spots. Further forward Dembélé, Chadli and Eriksen will probably support Kane leaving Bentaleb and Mason in midfield. Mason isn’t the finished article but he does provide more movement and thrust than Dier. Alli and Pritchard will hopefully be on the bench and it’d be great to see either of these, and Trippier too, given a chance at some point. The two Eric(k)s and Wimmer will make up the quota unless Rose is a potential doubt in which case Davies will be in there too.
Stoke are confident and are ably led, this will be a difficult game and a good contest and hopefully one we’ll put up a better show in than last year’s disaster. Victory is certainly possible but it will be hard won and will need all of our potential goalscorers to be at their best.
Robert Madley is down to referee. No, me neither.
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