Stoke City’s Premier League image change under Mark Hughes
Mark Hughes is slowly starting to change Stoke City, who will record their highest Premier League finish this term. Under Tony Pulis, they were dogged and defensive. Some might say ‘old school’.
There is no question that their former manager’s tactics were effective. Playing with two out-and-out wingers, utilising Peter Crouch with long balls, a physical defence and two robust central midfielders.
And then there was their secret weapon; Rory Delap. Should Stoke be struggling in games, and they won a throw-in anywhere in the opposing half, the versatile Irishman would pump into the area aiming at Crouch or Ricardo Fuller before him. It was a tactic which worked to great effect.
Hughes, however, arrived with a reputation for being at clubs where he developed players who had more flair. At Blackburn Rovers, he managed Damien Duff, Morten Gamst Pedersen, David Bentley and Roque Santa Cruz, Benni McCarthy and Jason Roberts, all of whom were a success and a joy to watch.
At Manchester City, he signed the likes of Robinho, Craig Bellamy, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Emmanuel Adebayor, former player Santa Cruz and Carlos Tevez, highlighting his appetite for attacking personnel.
However, Hughes also stabilised the squad with the recruitment of Nigel de Jong, Gareth Barry and Kolo Toure, while he can also take credit for bringing in captain Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta; two players who have shone at the Etihad.
It shows that Hughes is no slouch when it comes to talent-spotting, though admittedly his budget at City was considerably bigger than the one he had at Blackburn.
Following unsuccessful spells at Fulham and QPR, who he admittedly, could have had better support from in the boardroom, he has started to slowly rebuild his reputation at Stoke.
Emphasising his desire for flair players, he began to gradually tweak the Potters’ image and footballing reputation. For a manager who has always pursued, and insisted on an attractive style of play, this wouldn’t be an easy task.
With the current team used to plying their trade with a defensive mindset, Hughes worked miracles in the summer, changing the internal paradigms and operating on a small, almost non-existent transfer budget.
Out went Matthew Etherington, Michael Kightly, Cameron Jerome and Ryan Shotton. Bringing in Phil Bardsley, Steve Sidwell and Mame Biram Diouf on free transfers was a mastertroke, while the capture of Barcelona’s Bojan Krkic for a small fee was inspired.
The wily Welshman also added wingers Victor Moses and Oussama Assaidi on season-long loans, though the latter secured a permanent January move to Al-Ahli in the Middle East.
It is now very much his team. Encouraging players such as Charlie Adam, who has been a stand-out figure, to make the step-up, he has developed more of the 29-year-old’s footballing side, to add to his physical attributes.
This led to arguably the goal of the season against Premier League champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, beating one of the best goalkeepers in the world, inside his own half, which you can see again below!
Stoke, for all of their obvious previous subtleties, are enhancing certain playing aspects under Hughes; who has concentrated his training field efforts on encouraging more patient build-up play.
In the squad there is a number of players who can pass the ball around and, when fit, Krkic seems to be the catalyst. Bred at Barcelona’s fabled ‘La Masia’ academy, he has become a metronome in Stoke’s attacking moves, as highlighted earlier in the season in their win over Arsenal at the Britannia Stadium.
Check out footage of his goals below, including his contribution against the Gunners.!
Austrian attacker, Marko Arnautovic has always had the potential to develop into a top striker, and he has shown his qualities this term, combining well up front. The fact that Hughes has versatile options is encouraging, and with the work rate of Jonathan Walters, who also knows where the goal is, they will never struggle to score.
This summer, adding a bit more creativity in centre midfield should be a priority, as well as a 20-goal-a-season striker, without compromising on defensive quality.
Retaining goalkeeper Asmir Begovic will stand them in good stead for the following campaign; however, they would receive a substantial fee for him, so could thus rebuild and strengthen, as they have a custodian of equally good potential in Jack Butland, who has been tipped for big things.
A push for a Europa League spot next season is a realistic possibility for Hughes and Stoke, having created a very stable platform to build on this term.