Saturday will be a big day for Tony Pulis as he returns to the Britannia Stadium for the first time since being let go by Stoke City in 2013, hoping to mastermind current club West Bromwich Albion’s first victory of the season.
The hosts are also winless, but have followed a disappointing opening loss to Liverpool with two respectable away draws. The game at Norwich City last time out was very much a case of having to hold on, and they had goalkeeper Jack Butland to thank for preserving a point by making a series of top-drawer saves to repel incessant pressure. With a trip to Arsenal coming up after the international break, Stoke will be determined to register a success here.
New record signing Xherdan Shaqiri made his long-awaited debut in East Anglia, having the desired effect in the first half by supplying the quality cross for Mame Biram Diouf’s second goal in as many matches. He alone adds more than just the extra dimension to a squad that is now bursting with creative players, and that could turn out to be the difference against what is a West Brom side with undoubtedly less freedom to express themselves.
Even in spite of Pulis’ more disciplined approach and the absence of unsettled striker Saido Berahino, the Baggies often looked menacing in attack against defending champions Chelsea on Sunday, scoring their first two goals of the season but eventually paying the price for an unconverted penalty and a vulnerability to the counter-attack. All the same, it was a massive improvement on what was seen previously against Manchester City and Watford.
James Morrison recovered well from his failure from the spot, scoring both in what his most influential outing for some time. The Scot was assisted by Salomon Rondon, who gave the Chelsea defence a hard time on his first start since arriving from Zenit St. Petersburg. It was a performance which showed potential, which will only increase if they manage to keep Berahino, although the ongoing saga may prove a distraction until the transfer window closes.
Both sides were taken to penalties by lower league opposition in the Capital One Cup during the week and are set to make changes, with Bojan Krkic likely to be on the bench for Stoke as he is eased back to fitness. Peter Odemwingie is out with a hamstring injury.
West Brom will have to decide if Saido Berahino is in the right frame of mind to take part. Chris Brunt and Callum McManaman will both be assessed after picking up knocks against Port Vale.