Currently languishing in the Premier League relegation zone, Stoke City are embroiled in a battle to stay in the top-flight of English football — a place in which they have comfortably remained since 2009. The Potters have also been knocked out of both domestic cup competitions by lower league opposition. Bristol City overcame them in the Carabao Cup, whilst League Two Coventry City got the better of Stoke in the FA Cup.
The most recent failure against the Sky Blues was enough for the Midlands club to make a change and relieve Mark Hughes of his responsibilities at the Bet365 Stadium. The likes of Martin O’Neill and Michael O’Neill have been linked to the vacant post, but whoever arrives would appear to have a considerable job on their hands.
It can be said that football is a simple game: The whole point is to win matches by scoring more goals than your opponent. If you can, therefore, find the net and stop the opposition from doing so, you have the perfect formula for success. During this season, however, Stoke have struggled to follow this simple formula.
The problems started at the back
Stoke currently have the worst defensive record in the Premier League having conceded 47 goals in just 22 league games, just under 2.14 goals a game. Only Fulham have finished the season with a worse goals conceded per game record within the last six years. It appears that whatever the personnel, whatever the system, and whatever the opponents, the Potters just cannot stop shipping goals. Indeed, only Oldham Athletic and Chesterfield have conceded more goals than Stoke City this term. And both those sides have played five more games each and only conceded two and four more goal respectively – indicating just how poor the Potters have been at the back.
Only two clean sheets in the Premier League has seen the Potters slide dangerously close to the foot of the table. On seven occasions, they have conceded three or more goals with a 5-0 defeat to Chelsea and a 7-2 hammering at the hands of Manchester City. Individual mistakes in the defensive areas of the pitch have been terminal for the Potters, and they will surely need to rectify this in the coming months if they are to retain their position in the Premier League.
An underwhelming attack
Whilst defensive excellence can represent an excellent platform for a club in any match, the only method by which matches will be won is by scoring goals. Having netted 23 times so far this season, the Potters’ scoring record is not especially alarming. Only West Ham United have scored more than Stoke City in the bottom-half of the Premier League. While this is not an achievement, it’s not too bad considering the current position of the Midlanders at the current time. Nonetheless, they do need to start scoring more to start rising up the table, and that starts with the forwards.
The club’s top-scoring title this season is currently shared. Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting is in a four-way tie with the likes of Peter Crouch, Mame Biram Diouf and Xherdan Shaqiri with a paltry four strikes. It is not to say the Potters need a 20-goal striker but they really do need to start finding the back of the net far more regularly. They have only score five goals within the last seven games, and none in their last two games. On seven occasions they have failed to find the back of the net, and out of 22 games, that is a poor return. It is true that scoring goals in the Premier League is extremely difficult, but the fact that they are still relying on the likes of 36-year-old Peter Crouch is telling.
Poor recruitment, poor results
One huge contributing factor to both of these aspects has been the Potters’ poor recruitment over recent seasons, hence the slow but steady slide at the Bet365 Stadium. Their drive this season in fact has had little to no impact. Kevin Wimmer has struggled since his big-money move from Tottenham Hotspur, whilst Jese has flattered to deceive on-loan from Paris Saint-Germain. Looking back even further, big money has been splashed on Saido Berahino, Gianelli Imbula and Xherdan Shaqiri. They have all had varying degrees of success at Stoke but none have really lived up to the expectations that their astronomical transfer fees have warranted.
The Potters have already begun their January recruitment with the arrival of defender Moritz Bauer from Rubin Kazan. It is crucial that he, and any other new recruits, have an instant impact if Stoke City are to get out of the mire. This is even more relevant when the riches of the Premier League are to huge to afford losing. They have to get this, amongst other elements, correct.
After all, football is a simple game and Stoke City have been playing it wrong.