Shawcross and Huth still a shoe-in for Stoke?

Posted by James Whittaker

Ryan Shawcross and Robert HuthGettyImagesRyan Shawcross and Robert Huth have been key players in Stoke's defence.

Since the signings of Erik Pieters and Marc Muniesa there have been some fans questioning why additions are being made to the defence, an area where most believe Stoke are strongest. There seems to be an absolute assumption that any defender who arrives that can play in the middle would be on the bench, but I'm not sure that is necessarily the case.

There's no doubt that Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross have been the foundation on which much of Stoke's recent successes were built, but I find myself wondering if that partnership has a long term future under a manager who has often employed at least one ball player in the middle of his defence alongside a more traditional 'unit'. In fact, he was lucky at Fulham to have both in one player with Brede Hangeland:

- Hughes: Begovic going nowhere

"As a ball-playing centre-half, Brede is as good as they come," said Hughes. "He can see the type of passes he played in the build-up to our goal. He doesn't just want to clear his lines."

At Manchester City it was Vincent Kompany, and more recently at QPR he also made use of Stephane M'Bia in the middle of his backline so it could well be the case that the signing of Muniesa is recognition of the need to rectify Stoke's somewhat limited, but imposing, duo at the back. I'm not suggesting Muniesa is anywhere near to walking into the starting XI, but I'm sure it's a concept Hughes will extend to Stoke whether it's the young Spaniard or someone else.

In the meantime, I expect Huth and Shawcross will be seeing more of the ball than they are perhaps used to and with Ryan, I'm hopeful his game can improve with some possession and distribution coaching. He's shown glimpses of ability on the ball but it was not a talent he was ever encouraged to develop or display under a manager barking 'Angle!' from the sidelines for 90 minutes.

In fact, in one of the last matches of the season, with the crowd growing tired of punt after punt, Ryan tried a pass to midfield which was met with a look of anxiety on Tony Pulis' face. A swift telling off ensued and a visibly annoyed Shawcross reverted to his manager's instruction to the dismay of his strikers and those in the stands.

It's not that Huth or Shawcross are poor players, far from it. I just think that both players have been given an unprecedented platform to shine under the uber-defensive shape of Hughes' predecessor and a more expansive style could expose any frailties. You get the impression that this will be an important season for the (previously) untouchables as they won't have the luxury of static full-backs and the entire midfield sat on their toes to help out when the opposition come forward.

To be fair to both players, they are deceptively quick given their size, but with the dawn of a new approach, mobility and agility will perhaps become more of a requirement for a Stoke City centre-back.

This is, of course, not set in stone. But with the type of player Hughes has used in middle of defence over his managerial career and with promises of more attacking football it's certainly something the fans should be conscious of as Stoke's latest Welshman ushers in an exciting new era.

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