Stoke City will be looking to carry on from where they left off last weekend when they head to West Ham United, who have not won in their last five Premier League matches.
The home side put in their strongest performance for some weeks in their most recent outing at Manchester United, coming close to winning it after creating the better chances, but eventually having to settle to what was still a highly commendable goalless draw. With Diafra Sakho out, Andy Carroll played as the lone striker and put himself about, combining well with Mauro Zarate, who could and probably should have earned them their first win over the Red Devils since 2007.
As far as this one goes, Slaven Bilic’s side have often struggled this season when the onus has been on them to force the issue and attack. Like them, Stoke tend to prosper most on the counter-attack, so a lot will depend on the protection that midfield duo Cheikhou Kouyate and Mark Noble give to the back four when the visitors look to break forward at pace. Going forward, this game could represent a chance for Michail Antonio to prove himself in the top-flight, having been given surprisingly little game time since arriving in the summer.
In seasons gone by, the sight of Stoke overcoming a side with the riches that Manchester City possess would have resulted in a nationwide inquest as to what went wrong for the side at the top, but last weekend it was different. The incisive and beautifully free-flowing football that the Potters exhibited all game made observers everywhere sit up and take notice, as they not only beat Man City, they took them to pieces and could have won by a huge margin.
Manager Mark Hughes opted to play without an out and out striker, instead fielding a front three of Marko Arnautovic, Bojan Krkic and Xherdan Shaqiri. The three of them, who would undoubtedly grace any team in the Premier League, linked up superbly and were a joy to watch all game, giving their opponents the runaround with Shaqiri setting up Arnautovic for both goals. That was Stoke’s sixth win in nine league games, but they will hope to play like that on a more regular basis, starting with this tricky encounter.
West Ham are unable to call upon a number of key players, with Victor Moses and Winston Reid the latest to have been struck down. Manuel Lanzini faces six weeks out, while Diafra Sakho and Dimitri Payet are also out until the New Year.
Strikers Peter Crouch and Peter Odemwingie are still out for Stoke, who may have Marc Muniesa back in contention after several weeks out with a hamstring injury.
Last Meeting: These two sides were both comfortably in mid-table when they met back in April, and they finished all square as Stoke netted a last-gasp equaliser through Marko Arnautovic. The Austrian, who had earlier seen two efforts ruled out for offside, netted with a firmly struck angled shot in the fifth minute of added time. West Ham had led since the seventh minute through Aaron Cresswell’s free-kick.
Played for both – Matthew Etherington: The left winger spent six years at West Ham from 2003, helping them win promotion back to the Premier League in 2005 and featuring in the FA Cup final the following year. After scoring seven Premier League goals for the London club he moved to Stoke in January 2009, helping to establish the club in the top-flight. He stayed until 2014, scoring 13 goals in 152 league outings.
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