Stoke City are currently preparing for their sixth consecutive year in the Premier League. This will be their first EPL campaign without Tony Pulis. Pulis achieved a lot in his time at Stoke, including reaching the FA Cup final in 2011.
However, his style of play brought many detractors, who focused on their ‘long ball’ tactics and physicality. So a change was made, and now it’s Mark Hughes who sits in the dugout.
Mark Hughes has held many Premier League jobs during his time in management. Blackburn Rovers, Manchester City, Fulham and Queens Park Rangers have been led by the Welshman in the past. Successful spells at Blackburn and Fulham have been dampened somewhat by his sackings at Manchester City and especially, QPR. Hughes is a man on a mission to rebuild his credibility at Stoke.
A change in style was mooted as the main reason for Stoke City and Tony Pulis’ relationship coming to an end. Tough tackling, long throw-ins and set plays were effective at first, but more EPL sides cottoned onto their tactics and that resulted in a disappointing 13th place finish last term.
Mark Hughes is a surprising choice to change Stoke’s brand of football. In his four seasons at Blackburn, Rovers finished bottom of the EPL disciplinary table every year. They too were accused of being ‘over-physical’ and ‘dirty’ by pundits and other managers. With a lot of Pulis’ players remaining at the club, it becomes more difficult for Hughes to press on with a more attractive version of football.
There are players at the Britannia whose creativity was stifled under the Pulis regime. Peter Crouch should be able to showcase his technical abilities more often under Mark Hughes, and should not just be used as a 6’7 target man.
Charlie Adam will have more freedom to express himself in the centre of midfield, and wingers Jermaine Pennant and Matthew Etherington can terrorise opposing full-backs on a more regular basis. If Hughes gives his own full-backs license to bomb forward, Stoke City can become an entertaining outfit.
The challenge has been set out for Mark Hughes at Stoke City: progression up the table and progression in their style of play. If he succeeds, it may be his biggest achievement in management yet.