Opposition's view: Sunderland (Home)
Stoke are set to dual with a Sunderland side that have had similar start to the season as their selves. Vital Stoke Editor Lloyd Reddin travelled up north to ask Vital Sunderland`s Editor Tom Bodell for his pre-match thoughts.
You`ve had a similar start to the season as us with a lot of draws, are you worried you aren`t converting one point into three?
In a word, yes.
The Newcastle game on Sunday was absolutely indicative of the problems we are enduring at the moment. Albeit against our fiercest rivals & a decent team, we played over an hour against them with a man advantage and it took until the 86th minute to find an equaliser, let alone a winner!
We are very reliant on the goals of Steven Fletcher - he`s scored every one of ours in the League so far - and the input of the creative forces around him - Seb Larsson, James McClean, Stephane Sessegnon and Adam Johnson is crucial in not only supplying Fletcher, but generally creating chances and taking the game to the opposition.
If that little band of protagonists don`t show up, which they haven`t this season, we struggle. That`s the difference between one point and three for us.
What were your expectations for this season? And have they now changed?
The expectation, for me at least, was that we`d improve slightly on last season. We have a stronger first XI and a stronger squad in general on paper. Some fans were suggesting that we could make a real assault on the top-half and maybe even a Europa League spot - that`s beyond unlikely if you ask me.
However, the first target every year has to be to improve on the previous season. If we can do that I`ll be happy.
Have they changed? No, I think we`re about where we`d expect to be considering the amount of change & I think once the team gels properly and everybody is firing all on cylinders we will begin to climb up the league a bit.
Who would you say is your danger man?
The aforementioned Fletcher.
Even with Larsson, McClean, Sessegnon and Johnson all short of form at the moment, Fletcher has still bagged five goals already this season. He`s a better version of Nicklas Bendtner last season in as much as he can lead the line and scores the tap-ins.
For all of Bendtner`s extra technical ability and flair, he was never a real number nine; somebody you could hang your hat on getting a couple of really presentable chances a game and taking the crucial one.
He always wanted to be involved in the play, wherever that took him, and that meant we lacked a focal point up front.
What would you say are your strengths as a team?
We have a strategy and was have a team that fits into that strategy.
Away from home especially, Martin O`Neill will tell them to sit back, absorb the pressure and wait to hit you on the counter attack.
Players like Johnson, Sessegnon and McClean are all very comfortable with the ball at their feet and carrying the play, none are short of pace and therefore they are well equipped to breakaway when the opportunity presents itself.
What would you say are your weaknesses as a team?
Probably what I alluded to in the first answer. We are too reliant on Fletcher, and whilst he is getting goals, he won`t always score & therefore other players need to weigh in. Whilst Sessegon, Larsson and McClean all did that last term, only McClean has scored this season with his goals all coming in the League Cup.
How do you feel about your manager?
You can certainly see some of the complaints that Aston Villa supporters have of him! By that I mean he has his first XI and unless someone gets injured or sent-off, you know the team that will be picked next week.
Unfortunately it`s not the 50`s or 60`s and players can`t play 40 games a season back-to-back. Rotation is needed, and we have a few players who are capable of bringing something else into the side without diluting the quality too badly.
He might also need to look at dropping those short of form and playing Johnson and Larsson in their natural positions, not right-wing and central midfield respectively.
Which player (s) do you fear from the Stoke City side?
Whatever his detractors say about him, Peter Crouch scores goals, you can`t get away from that fact. With good wingers in Michael Kightly and Matty Etherington, he should, and has been thriving on their delivery.
A massively underrated player.
Is there any Stoke players you would like to add to your squad?
Charlie Adam for sure.
He might have had a rough time at Liverpool, but that was always a step too far for him. He is however a very good mid-table playmaker as he proved at Blackpool. We are crying out for someone who will get the ball in the centre of the park, look up and play that incisive pass.
Jack Colback and Lee Cattermole are decent enough at keeping the ball moving, but you know they are only going to make a perceptive pass once or twice a season - in a good season!
How do you think Stoke will do this season?
I think it`s fantastic for the competitiveness of the Premier League that a club has come up from the Championship and so quickly asserted themselves on the rest of the division. The reason Stoke got so much stick for their style of play was because it worked and the established order didn`t like the fact the new boys weren`t just going to roll over and die.
Anyone with half a brain cell should be able to see that in recruiting players such as Kightly, Etherington, Adam, Steven N`Zonzi and Michael Owen that this is a club who are evolving, and whilst balls still go into the box frequently and set-pieces remain integral, this side is a million miles away from the team that first arrived on the Premier League and leant on the chucking abilities of Rory Delap!
I think top-half therefore.
What is your likely line-up for the match?
As mentioned previously - easy! Although Lee Cattermole is back so I expect Larsson will be dropped.
(4-4-1-1) Mignolet; Gardner, O`Shea, Cuellar, Rose; Johnson, Cattermole, Colback, McClean; Sessegon; Fletcher.
Finally, what`s your score prediction for the match?
1-1. Which I`d be pleased with.
If you want to see Editor Lloyd Reddin`s reply to Vital Sunderland than you can do so here.