When players like Rory Delap, Matthew Upson and Dean Whitehead left Stoke in Mark Hughes’ first season in charge and were replaced by more glamorous types in Marc Muniesa, Marko Arnautovic and Stephen Ireland, it was clear the Welshman wanted to change the Potters’ identity.
If their supporters were wary of moving away from the stability Tony Pulis’ methods had provided, then their fear was misplaced. Hughes has achieved two things in his brief time at Stoke that his predecessor couldn’t manage in his five Premier League seasons in charge: break the top 10 and surpass 50 points.
Successive ninth-place finishes (with points hauls of 50 and 54 respectively) show that change doesn’t always go arm in arm with chaos. Now, the Britannia Stadium is an increasingly attractive venue for European players.
If Muniesa, Arnautovic and Ireland were recruits of a velvety nature previously unseen in the Potteries, then Bojan Krkic’s arrival was on a completely different scale.
The former Barcelona prodigy helped Stoke jump a notch in the creativity stakes before suffering a knee injury that ended his season in January.
However, if Hughes wants to keep Stoke travelling on an upward curve – and they are rated at a tantalising 5/4 to finish in the top half for the third straight season – then he’ll need more than just the diminutive Spaniard in his ranks.
Despite Bojan’s presence, Stoke still rated in the bottom three in the league for creating chances through the centre of the pitch. Just 29.5 percent of the side’s 359 total chances came through the middle. In comparison, noted easy-on-the-eye sides Arsenal, Swansea and Liverpool ranked in the top three, with the Gunners topping all with a 40.6 percentage.
Although Hughes cannot be expected to catapult Stoke to those heights, placing a tiny bit more emphasis on through balls and passing, rather than crosses, to create chances could see the Potters tackle the top six, currently an 18/1 chance.
Bojan topped Stoke’s charts with four through balls, but finished sixth in the overall “chances created” stakes with 26. Conversely, Arnautovic, Charlie Adam and Victor Moses, the three most prolific crossers in the side, all finished in the top four.
So, with the need for a creative, passing midfielder evident, it may pay for Hughes to take a look at these two options:
Holland is fast developing into a breeding ground for Premier League players and Stoke would be wise to jump on the bandwagon.
16 assists and 11 league goals show what a creative talent the 21-year-old is and it’s somewhat surprising that his name hasn’t been linked to a top-flight side already, considering transfermarkt.com only value him at £4.4m
Although he only moved to Twente this past season, there is plenty of evidence (Dusan Tadic, Nacer Chadli and Leroy Fer) to suggest a club known to sell their stars for profit could be convinced to part ways with him.
The Scot, who has played in the Premier League with Burnley, came second the Championship’s through-ball charts with seven and assisted 11 goals for his club during the season.
Fulham have reportedly made a bid for the 26-year-old, so he is certainly available. Stoke will just have to move quickly to hijack the Cottagers’ move.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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