Just a few years ago, Stoke were a Premier League side – but now, they find themselves at the foot of the Championship table. Blues, on the other hand, sit in mid-table, despite a whole lot of doom and gloom. Some extremely poor away results have clouded an otherwise decent start from Pep Clotet, and he will need a good home win to take the pressure off his shoulders.
If there was a team you’d want to face when needing a win right now, it’s Stoke. Blues have struggled to create chances and score goals, and Stoke are hemorrhaging them. 13 goals conceded in just 5 games so far this season and three conceded at home against Leeds last time out. The stoppable force meets the movable object, it seems. Blues apparently played last week, also, but we’re choosing to forget that happened.
Blues have been better at home and hopefully we can see a more aggressive, forward-thinking Blues team. Maybe, just maybe, we can pass to each other and have a shot now and then. Is that too much to ask?
Blues will hopefully bring in Daniel Crowley back into the starting line-up. After having struggled to keep the ball for long stretches against Swansea and at times lacking incision against Barnsley, Crowley seems an obvious fit. Blues could switch back to a four at the back system if they want more players higher up the pitch, as having three centre-backs didn’t stop the flow of shots against Swansea. With Kerim Mrabti and Maxime Colin once again fit, and Jefferson Montero available to come back into the squad, Blues have a few more options than they did last week.
Attacking midfielder Nick Powell is reportedly unfit for Stoke. The lanky playmaker could have been a key creative player in Nathan Jones’ team, but he will miss out with defender Nathan Collins. Jack Butland may also miss out, though we Blues fans know he’s going to play and have an absolute stormer.
Blues beat Stoke City home and away last year, with a Jacques Maghoma strike and an Omar Bogle wonderstrike giving Blues a Christmas three points at home, and a typical Che Adams goal at the bet365 Stadium. Before that, Blues last played Stoke in 2013 in a ridiculous 4-4 draw in the League Cup. Olly Lee scored. Imagine that.
Blues have Mrabti and Colin back and whilst Mrabti will likely be a bench option, Colin will probably come in to the starting eleven. We will surely see Crowley come into the starting line-up, and potentially Gary Gardner in for David Davis, who has struggled in recent weeks. New boy Alvaro Giminez was quiet at Swansea, and may be sacrificed for more creative midfielders.
Pep Clotet will not be tricked by the early Championship table: “We can’t get fooled by where Stoke are in the league now. I’m 100 per cent convinced they’re not going to be in that position at the end of the season. With the squad they have they have a lot of options and are potentially a very strong team.”
“Yes, they are very dangerous for a few reasons. They have a lot experience, not only Championship but Premier League, they know how hard the Championship is now after last season. They can play two systems and do well with both, they are strong up front, they have a lot of options in midfield, they have competed with Leeds for the last two games – the fact they haven’t won a game yet makes them more difficult because they have the need. We need to focus on our performance and being together with our fans, what we are good at home.”
He also had some words to say about Blues’ new style: “When you are trying to make steps to the way of playing that the Club wants, all the changes have to be small and very gradual. We are not going to be a club that goes from 23 per cent average possession last season to 77 per cent average possession – that’s impossible. Not just for us, for everyone, unless we invest, I don’t know how many millions. We need to look for gradual improvements, be more solid and organised and slowly add a little bit more football when we need to, slowly find a balance. We work on different kind of stats to help us see how we are doing but my message to the fans is that the important thing is to support the team and know that the players are giving everything they can to fulfil the vision of the owners – and taking into consideration when you take on a tougher opposition that you on the day, then those stats will never really tell you where you are heading because they just measure a difference in one level between two teams.”
Stoke Manager Nathan Jones spoke before their trip to St. Andrews: “I have been used to winning week in, week out – winning leagues, being second in the league, being in play-offs, so I am not used to being at the wrong end of the table. It is a test for me, a real test, especially with me being a young manager, only three and a half years in – but I know I have the character to come through it. I have leant on my staff – that is why they are there, especially people like Paul Hart, these are the very reasons I have them here with me. I know I can’t ask for time forever more, but Tuesday was a nice night for us, it was a real step forward. I asked the lads at the start of the week to try and take little steps forward, progress in the cup against a very good Leeds side, and now to try and follow that up with a positive result at Birmingham City.”