Stoke City will be embroiled in a surprise battle of equals, at least according to the Premier League table, when Sunderland come calling at the Bet365 Stadium on Saturday. These two teams are stuck at the bottom of the table with a solitary point separating Sunderland (2) from Stoke (3). The two clubs in question started their campaign with drastically different goals and while Sunderland have followed the script of many, Stoke’s present form has taken quite a few by surprise.
Mark Hughes surely did not anticipate this after 3 years of laying the ground work wherein he aimed to transform Stoke City into a passing team with a host of creative players, which is drastically different from what they are known for. But everything has come to zilch till now and all the planning and aspirations have to take a backseat as new plans are being drawn up currently to survive this season with as little damage as possible.
The Potters are better than 19th spot but then the table is not based on how good a team is, rather their performance and results are reflected in the standings. Mark Hughes will look towards his big name players and the likes of Arnautovic, Shaqiri and Bony have to step up and do the needful.
T4O’s PREDICTED STOKE CITY LINE-UP VS SUNDERLAND (4-2-3-1)
Stoke City have already experienced a mini keeper crisis with Jack Butland injured since the start and Shay Given’s performance leaving a lot to be desired. Mark Hughes had to turn to Lee Grant for the last two matches and now will have to decide whether to give him an extended run or not.
An injury to Johnson saw him being ruled out of England duties. In case the former Liverpool man is unable to recover in time, Bardsley will fill in at right-back. Ryan Shawcross and Bruno Martins Indi will be the centre-back pair and Eric Pieters will occupy the left-back spot.
Stoke City earned a favourable result at the Old Trafford with Whelan and Cameron in midfield and Mark Hughes might look to keep the duo in at the centre. But given the opposition and the need to win the match, he might reinstate the more adventurous Imbula in place of Cameron. Joe Allen has been relishing his advanced No.10 role and looks set to feature there for the foreseeable future. He does have a hamstring niggle, and if he isn’t fit enough for the clash, Imbula or Bojan could get a look in.
Arnautovic and Shaqiri will be on the opposite wings and Wilfried Bony will look to impress with his first team spot coming under increasing glare from Crouch and Diouf.