Stoke Club Focus – Time to learn the effect of international break as Potters host Liverpool

Following a sequence of testing games in the opening month of the season and faced with a similarly congested run of fixtures in September, Tony Pulis would have been forgiven a sigh of relief at having only two of his first team players participating in the batch of Euro 2012 qualifiers which took place over the past week.

Aside from midfielder Glenn Whelan representing the Republic of Ireland in their goalless draws against Slovakia and Russia, and Asmir Begovic who kept a clean sheet in Bosnia’s 1-0 victory over, Pulis retained a full complement of players to work with over the recent International break. Ultimately then, this provided a welcome opportunity for Pulis to reinvigorate the majority of his squad who valiantly participated in their initial series of Domestic and European games and prepare them for round two, which starts with a home game against Liverpool today.

Whilst the excellent run of results – unbeaten in seven competitive games – Stoke enjoyed in the lead up to the International break, is beyond questioning, it appeared that these early season exploits were beginning to catch-up with the Potters in their last Premier League outing, when in the process of recording a fortuitous 1-0 victory away to West Brom, they produced an uncharacteristically lacklustre and lethargic performance. Therefore it is rational to assume that Pulis will have devoted a large portion of the uninterrupted time he has been afforded with his players over the past fortnight to working upon re-establishing a vibrancy in their play, realisation of which will be vital if the Potters promising sequence of early season results is to continue.

Another factor which could conceivably have an important bearing upon Stoke’s success over an upcoming spell of six games during the next 19 days, is the extent to which Pulis has managed to integrate Peter Crouch, Wilson Palacios and Cameron Jerome into his squad, since the trio signed amid a frenzy of activity at the Britannia on transfer deadline day. In terms of providing these new recruits with some valuable time to, familiarize themselves with their new surroundings and in the cases of Jerome and Palacios, undertake vital work on the training pitch so as to promote their chances of featuring immediately for the Potters, the time off afforded by the Euro qualifiers once again has the potential to have served Stoke well. Whilst the likelihood is that Palacios and Jerome will be gradually played into first team action over the forthcoming weeks when deemed appropriate by Pulis, a process which has the potential to begin today against Liverpool, Crouch is strongly fancied to make his home bow against his former employers.

Regardless of the personnel who line-up for Stoke this afternoon, they will be buoyed by the fact that since the club returned to the top flight in 2008, this corresponding fixture has yielded two draws and last season a 2-0 win for the Potters, when employment of the powerful approach they have become famed for, exploited the frailties of a weak Liverpool side. Rejuvenated under Kenny Dalglish however, the Anfield club are set to present a far sterner test in a game which also promises to provide a further indication of Stoke’s ability to mix it with the Premier League’s elite, following their opening day stalemate against Chelsea.

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