Club Focus – Stoke – Is John Carew the striker Stoke need?

On the surface, John Carew and Stoke City might appear to be a match made in heaven. The big Norwegian, expected to complete his loan switch to the Potteries before the weekend, seems tailor-made for the direct style of Tony Pulis’ side. Carew has been a popular figure at Aston Villa over the years, and has an impressive goalscoring record, averaging around 15 goals a season since his arrival from Lyon in 2007. Indeed, even as recently as last season, when Mama Sidibe was so firmly ensconced as Stoke’s withdrawn striker that the position was named after him, Carew would have been seen as a dream signing for the Staffordshire side.

Football is fickle however, and Stoke would now seem to be sufficiently well stocked in the target man department, with record signing and top scorer Kenwyne Jones as first choice and midweek FA Cup hero Jon Walters providing industrious cover. Carew himself, meanwhile, is 31, and has struggled this season with injury and fitness problems, while questions have been asked about his attitude and application at Villa Park.

Irrespective of how much truth lies in the swirling rumours of Ricardo Fuller’s imminent departure, it seems highly likely that, one way or the other, Carew will be taking the Jamaican’s starting berth up front in Stoke’s starting XI, as Jones’ strike partner. This could prove problematic. Stoke’s system works best with an unpredictable livewire forward buzzing around ahead of a target man. Attempts in the past by Pulis to field two battering rams have rarely yielded success, with the Potters’ boss usually forced to throw on Fuller or Tuncay to try and kick-start the team’s attacking play. Removing the mobility and unpredictability provided by either of these players – two of the few genuine creative forces in the squad – seems to be asking for trouble. Fuller in particular is often criticised for a perceived lack of goals, but Stoke look far blunter without his pace and knack of creating panic in defences with his ability to slalom past players at will. Replacing a creative player capable of fashioning his own scoring opportunities with a striker who needs service to thrive (the kind of service players like Fuller and Tuncay provide), and then expecting him to weigh in with more goals than either, is something of a curious strategy.

Moreover, the pursuit of Carew might signal something of a retrograde step in Stoke’s ambitions to evolve their playing style. Even with Fuller off form, Tuncay had stepped into his boots to enter what have been without doubt the best performances of his Potters career to date, yet Carew’s arrival will likely push him back down the pecking order once more. At a time when adding more nuances to the team’s play could help cement a serious push for Europe, using the lanky Norwegian up front with Jones would give Stoke’s defence another tempting target to aim an endless stream of long balls towards.

Tony Pulis has earned more than the benefit of the doubt as far as his transfer dealings and managerial decisions at Stoke City are concerned. In bidding to sign a player similar to those Stoke already have however, it is difficult to see what he hopes to achieve – especially if the decision ends up robbing Stoke of their mobility up front and rendering them even more one-dimensional at a crucial stage of the season.

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