European highs swiftly tempered by domestic disappointments is a sequence which Tony Pulis recognises he must find a solution to breaking, so as to prevent it becoming of potential detriment to Stoke City’s season. The brilliance of courageous and energetic performances against Dynamo Kiev and Besiktas which have taken Stoke to the top of Europa League Group E cannot be questioned. However, their effect on the Potters domestic form certainly can, since both European games have been followed just days later by lacklustre displays in the Premier League.
Just as was the case when they returned from a 1-1 draw in Kiev to be defeated 4-0 by Sunderland a fortnight ago, Stoke again appeared to be a victim of their own European exertions – this time a 2-1 victory over Besiktas at the Britannia Stadium – by producing a very slow start away to Swansea on Sunday. This lethargic opening culminated in Ryan Shawcross conceding a ninth minute penalty, which Scott Sinclair converted which the Potters were subsequently unable to fully recover from as they eventually succumbed to a 2-0 reverse.
Nevertheless, despite these relative troubles, it would be inappropriate to describe Stoke’s efforts to claim points in the two Sunday Premier League fixtures they have played, immediately after their Thursday night outings in Europa League Group E, as abject. On falling behind to Sunderland and Swansea, the Potters responded in both games by displaying a significant degree of resolve to threaten a comeback, which although failing to materialise in either instance, ought to represent a positive for Pulis to take into his plans for Stoke’s next run of quick-fire Europa League-Premier League doubleheaders.
These are set to recommence after the current international break, with a home game against Maccabi Tel-Aviv on October 20th and a trip to Arsenal three days later. Noteworthy is that this schedule represents one which the Potters are becoming familiar with. As in their opening two (1-1 and 2-1 v Kiev (A) and Besiktas (H) respectively) and subsequent three Europa League group games [Maccabi Tel-Aviv (A), Kiev (H), Besiktas (A)], they face an away fixture on their return to Premier League duty from European competition.
Although this is a far from ideal scenario, it can nevertheless be construed as a marker of the immense progress Stoke have made over the past few seasons in that at present their manager is concerned with developing a formula for not generating enough points to ensure Premier League survival but also for handling the demands of simultaneously competing on domestic and European fronts.
Pulis is not the kind of manager to be uninterested by the prospect of progression to the latter stages of the Europa League for fear it may detract from his side’s performance domestically. The Welshman is more for preparing his players to ensure they follow-up European outings with performances of the intensity and quality required to record positive results in the Premier League. Ultimately you would have to be brave, or more likely foolish, to suggest Pulis will be unsuccessful in these efforts given what he has achieved as Stoke manager.
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