Mark Hughes will be anxious ahead of Stoke’s trip Liverpool on Saturday after he sent three first team players home from training suffering from a virus that has been spreading itself through the squad.
Asmir Begovic, Geoff Cameron and Phil Bardsley were all asked to leave the club’s Clayton Wood base, further adding to Sparky’s selection headache as he looks to pull the Potters out of a rut.
The Britannia Stadium outfit will already be without Oussama Assaidi for the match, as he is ineligible to take on his parent club, while former Red Victor Moses handed the club a further blow at the start of the week.
Having limped off in last weekend’s defeat against Burnley, the winger was discovered to have torn a thigh muscle and now faces six to eight weeks on the sidelines.
After starting the campaign in a steady fashion, the Staffordshire side have slipped up of late winning just one of their last five in all competitions.
But rather than bare results, it has been the manner in which they have either lost (Burnley) or thrown away leads (West Ham) that has angered some areas of the Stoke fanbase.
Things need to be changed, either tactically or in terms of the starting XI, and could be forced to do so in the coming weeks.
Although they look likely to be stretched in terms of personnel ahead of a tricky run of games that sees them take on Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea in the next four weeks, as well as a visit to Selhurst Park, it will give fans and Hughes alike to see how much strength in depth they possess.
That is not to shirk the issue though. Lose four or five games in the next month and Stoke will be dragged deep into a relegation battle.
It doesn’t look like the manager will be given much, if any, armoury to go to war with in the January transfer window either, with chairman Peter Coates sticking to his thrifty principles.
Get something against Liverpool and the pressure will be lifted, for the time being at least; but lose and Hughes’ job (currently 40/1 to be the next gaffer to go) and Stoke’s Premier League status (9/1 for relegation) could come under intense scrutiny.
All odds and markets correct as of the date of publishing
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