Despite scoring three goals in loss, Stoke need to address offense

Posted by James Whittaker

John Powell/Liverpool FC/Getty ImagesIt was a rare off day defensively for Ryan Shawcross and Stoke.

Mark Hughes promised exciting times ahead when he turned up at the Britannia but I'm not sure anyone quite imagined the likes of the eight-goal thriller that unfolded as Stoke lost 5-3 to Liverpool.

It's hard to know where to start, all I know is that fans would expect to be distraught at shipping five goals at home but there were smiles all around and nothing but positive energy as they flooded out of the stands at full time. There were so many talking points from a game that saw more than a few questionable decisions from the man in the middle and even more poor play from both teams' defences.

At the end of the day the difference between the two sides was quality in the final third, Stoke can't bring in new additions quick enough to add to a front line struggling to make an impact in front of goal. That the side managed to score three goals though is testament to the spirit and determination of the group and to add quality to that is an exciting prospect. The men in red and white edged the possession stats, made more passes in the final third and had more than five times as many corners as their more illustrious opponents.

The lack of quality in the final third was rivalled only by the same at the back following an ungodly number of costly errors from an uncharacteristically poor Ryan Shawcross as well as increasingly frustrating Marc Wilson. Shawcross looked like he was trying hard to protect rookie keeper Jack Butland who made his Premier League debut but in doing so did anything but; his contribution to Liverpool's efforts though was nothing compared to Wilson’s. People have suggested that Wilson should keep out Robert Huth on his return which is almost as comical as the Irishman's lack of attention and woeful decision making under pressure.

The penalty was fortuitous but Wilson's pass was blind and given he didn't get the decision put himself in a position where he left the referee little choice, despite his failure to blow up for a handball in the run up. He looked shaky throughout and to be honest was a liability that Liverpool ruthlessly exposed. Charlie Adam scored again but did little else to affect a game where he offered zero support to Peter Crouch, as he ambled around the field looking for the ball off the defence rather than leaving the pass to someone else so he could help the isolated target man.

The goal he scored was a cracker but it was a case of flattering to deceive and does little to help the manager find a position for him in the side. It's almost ludicrous to suggest that he should miss out given his return in front of goal but the bigger picture is crucial to the whole team and he just didn't impact the game where he should be. Stoke simply can't accommodate a floating luxury player who neither plays one role or another when the shape and style are still being established by Hughes.

That system seems to be a hybrid of old and new for now with long balls into Crouch with no pace or support to help him or a shorter passing game with no pace or power to get in behind. That will only be remedied with both time and new arrivals, one of which will hopefully be resolved in the current transfer window as Hughes tries his hardest to bring in more suited options up field.

He can be buoyed though at the strength of character of the group he currently has who for the most part have played to the limit of their ability in this most difficult period of transition. The system will click with the right components; the territory and movement just need better quality to take advantage of them to push the side on. The fact remains though that the Potters find themselves dangerously close to the bottom three which puts the spotlight firmly on the comings and goings of this month. One outgoing could well be one of the current striking options, Kenwyne Jones, who was nowhere to be seen today, seemingly suffering with the sickness affecting so many players when the transfer window opens.

The next week or so should be interesting, there's little value in waiting until the last minute and Hughes will be keen to address the side's shortcomings as soon as humanly possible. Given the side's precarious position in the league, this period could well dictate the club's fortunes come the end of the season. That said, if the transfer team could take a little of the resolve and tenacity shown by the players today in the pursuit of their targets then that would be a great start.


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