With survival in the Premier League now secured for another season, attention at Stoke City has turned towards the next campaign. While speculation is still rife that long-serving manager Tony Pulis could choose to leave the Britannia at the end of the season, it is accepted that the playing squad must undergo changes if the Potters are to avoid a repeat of this year’s degeneration into a relegation battle.
However, though it is easy to make such a statement, what will be of greater difficulty is analysing just where the Potters can afford to make changes; and who could improve their options, should they allow players to depart.
The goalkeeping area is somewhere where Stoke will feel satisfied, at least. In Asmir Begovic they have arguably one of the best in the top flight, while the incoming Jack Butland has already played for England at the age of just 19. Even if Begovic departs, Thomas Sorensen acts as a more than able deputy.
Defensively, Stoke have seen their standards slip recently after being described by Andre Villas-Boas in December as having the best backline in Europe. Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross remain one of the best central defensive partnerships in the league on their day but perhaps Pulis (or indeed the new manager) should think about strengthening in the full-back positions. Marc Wilson at left-back is an able player but hardly one to set pulses racing, while Ryan Shotton often gives the impression that the only reason he makes the starting XI is for his long throws – which this year have proved hugely ineffective.
Midfield is where Stoke’s greatest deficiencies lie. The Potters’ success in recent years has been based on enterprising, quick wingers backed up by a sturdy central-base. However, Matthew Etherington has struggled with injury problems and, at the age of 31, it is fair to say he has lost a touch of the pace and directness that made him such a vital part of Pulis’ plans.
On the other wing, Michael Kightly has been inconsistent while Jermaine Pennant has disappeared and is certain to depart, often leaving Jonathan Walters – a workhorse and decent front player but certainly not a wideman – taking up residence on the right-wing.
Central midfield is also an issue. While Stoke will feel satisfied that in Steven Nzonzi they have one of the best young holding midfielders around, the signing of Charlie Adam has failed to provide the creative spark Pulis was looking for. Meanwhile the likes of Glenn Whelan and Dean Whitehead also look set to depart at the end of the season. A creative, goal-scoring central midfielder to compliment Nzonzi must be found.
Up front, Stoke have always struggled for goals, and this season more than ever with the drop off in Peter Crouch’s form. The 32-year-old looks a shadow of the player he was last season and could move on himself, while the likes of Kenwyne Jones and Cameron Jerome just do not seem good enough. Michael Owen is set to retire. Therefore, perhaps even two strikers are necessary in the summer transfer market.
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