Where should Stoke improve?
Stoke have already signed 1 player in this transfer window already in the likes of Ben Glasgow from Arsenal, and are also looking to sign Jamie Ness from the stricken Glasgow Rangers. This does pose the question though; Where do Stoke City need to improve for this season?
Let`s start right from the back, and work our way forwards. What better place to start than our goalkeepers?
Stoke have 2 main goalkeepers. The youthful, highly sought after Asmir Begovic, who, let`s not forget, was highly linked with the extremely wealthy Chelsea this time 2 years ago. His reliability is sometimes an issue, and as we have seen over the last few seasons, communication break-downs with the defense can lead to fatal, fatal errors.
Of course, we can never forget our other keeper, Thomas Sorensen. The experienced Danish goalkeeper was ruled out of Euro 2012 with a back injury, however, at the tender age of 36 now, Sorensen is still having the time of his life between the sticks. With next year being his 15th year in English football, Tommy is a perfect mentor for the 25-year-old Begovic, who will be coming into his best days as a goalkeeper soon.
With both Tommy and Asmir constantly battling and thriving to become the number one, and with Pulis struggling to make his mind up as both are as good as each other, then as far as I`m concerned, we are 100% fine in goal.
Stoke`s defenders have seemed slippery at moments during the 2011-2012 season, and mainly because of communication issues, or, in the case of some goals put past us last season, some freakishly sweet strikes. Our main problem is where Huth plays. Robert Huth is NOT a right back. He will never be a right back. Huth absolutely belongs next to Shawcross in the centre of our defence. So this leaves a space at right back, and also space for our left back. We have the obvious candidates in Wilkinson, Wilson and also Shotton. Wilkinson can be a fantastic right back at times, his grit and passion is an inspiration to footballers everywhere, but is he completely up to scratch? Wilson is now an established left back for the club, he is capable, dependable, and severely under-rated I feel. He has taken his chances and put a shift in whenever he has been asked. So, this leaves Shotton. As superb as Shotton has been, and as much as he has grown over the last 12 months, he doesn`t belong in defence. He is a fantastic cover player, and is happy to play in all positions on the pitch. He has played best though on right wing. As good as Wilko with his passion, Shotton has the pace and the execution on the wing to put the frighteners on any Premier League defense.
In my eyes, we need a decent, renowned right back, to stop other teams from attacking us down the wings. Many of our goals conceded last season were from teams playing us at our own game; going down the wings, or set piece crosses. Looking at the available right backs, we could do with a player a lot like Kyle Walker from Spurs, however, having had one of the best seasons of his career, we have no chance of acquiring him. A player who Stoke could look at is the high strength of Maynor Figueroa. Most people will remember this tank of a man for his exceptional goal put past us from his own half, silencing the home crowd. Figueroa can play as either a left back, or a right back, so his versatility will surely be a strong factor in why we should look at him.
Our Midfield had a fairly solid season last season, however, we still seem to be lacking that final, killer ball. Let`s go from left to right, and talk about our main Midfield players. First, we have Matthew Etherington. Matty had a decent season again last year, terrorising Premier League right and left backs. His pace and trickery is superb, he is a very 'in your face` winger, meaning that he will run at you, and not around you. Unfortunately with Ethers, and as we have seen in times past with special Stoke wingers (I.E Peter Hoekstra), he is prone to injury, but when he is fully fit, he is almost unplayable. Moving in to the middle now, we have the likes of Glenn Whelan and Dean Whitehead. These two have had another great season for us, they did well holding the ball up but they just seem to be lacking that final ball. The ball over the defence to Crouch, or through the defence to Walters...the same applies for Rory Delap, who isn`t taking as many plaudits as seasons before, as his long throw is not working at all now, and teams are used to it. Maybe it`s time for Rory to look for pastures new? Also in the center of our midfield is Wilson Palacios. Palacios looked like a fantastic signing at the start of the season for us, and he hasn`t been awful per se, but I feel that we were expecting a bit more from him. Fitness issues have dogged him all season, and we haven`t seen his full potential, yet. Finally, we have another winger in the form of Jermaine Pennant. Where do we start with Pennant? Another great season on the right side of the pitch for us, but as we are used to seeing with JP, his season has been tarnished by a few silly mistakes that he has made. Reported arguments with Pulis, and admitting drink driving right at the end of the season, Pennant has done his usual trick of letting his personal life tarnish a fantastic season.
We could do with reasonably good cover for our wingers, and we crave a central midfielder who can play a final killer ball. A summer transfer window wouldn`t be a transfer window without the obligatory link to Jermaine Jenas. Currently out of favour at Tottenham, we all know what Jenas is capable of, there is no harm in asking the question, surely? He has the skill and capability of taking on defenders, and also picking the perfect pass for our forwards. Also, if we are looking for a winger, why not have a look at taking the services of Morten Gamst Pedersen? A player with his ability belongs in the top flight of English football. If it wasn`t for him and Yakubu last season, Blackburn would have been relegated long, long before they were.
Stoke now have 4 main strikers, so let's discuss them before we look into this any further. Firstly, there is Kenwyne Jones, who has actually looked remarkably out of favour recently, bearing in mind exactly how much we paid for him. You get the feeling with Kenwyne that he doesn't try his hardest, but when he does try his hardest, Kenwyne is an unbelievable footballer, completely unplayable. This poses that question that almost all Stoke fans say to me when we talk about Jones; "why can`t he play like that every game?". Next, we have Cameron Jerome who has looked quite good this season for us. Again, looking out of favour in the Premier League, but he had a nice stint in that Europa League for us this season. He is rumoured to be fed up with being a 'bench warmer`, and he may look elsewhere to get regular first team action. Now, we come to our two "big guns" up front. There is the extremely well known Peter Crouch who scored one of the goals of the season last year, only to be beaten by a jaw dropping goal from Newcastle`s Papiss Cisse. Crouchy has settled in well in his first season with the Potters, scoring a mixture of headed goals, well struck goals, and one volley that anyone would have been proud of. 10 goals in his first season for us isn`t bad at all, he looks as good as he has ever looked. Finally, we have one of Pulis` best signings as a Stoke manager. When he spoke to Roy Keane about purchasing Jon Walters from Ipswich, many Stoke fans looked at each other with puzzled faces and reluctantly asked; "Who?" £2.75 million, and 2 seasons later, and Walters is arguably one of the first names that any fan will pull out when asked about Stoke. Walters has transformed himself from playing in the Championship and getting not much credibility, to scoring twice in the F.A cup semi final against Bolton, getting to the F.A cup final, and playing in the Europa League. Walters is currently a cult hero, and is one of the first names on Pulis` team sheet, and I can see why.
So, do we need to improve our strike force? With Mr. Stoke City himself, Ricardo Fuller on his way out, we could look at one player? Why don`t we look at taking Chelsea`s Romelu Lukaku on a season long loan? It gives Stoke a player for a season, and also gives Chelsea the advantage of getting a player some game time, who wouldn`t necessarily get game time with them directly.
Finally, I pose one question, as I am only one man, with biased opinions, and I am nowhere near qualified enough to be a manager.
Who else who you would realistically like to see in a Stoke shirt?