Trial and retribution

Posted by James Whittaker

Andrew Yates/Getty ImagesMark Hughes is trying to infuse a little bit of Barcelona into his Stoke side.

The preseason is well under way and early noises coming from the Stoke City camp would indicate that all is well with those who have been retained as they get used to the ways of the new management team.

- Crouch: 'I'm happy at Stoke'

I've seen nothing but support for the signings made thus far, and with the sudden influx of foreign players through the doors of the Academy, there would appear to be more on trial than at the Old Bailey. We've got lads from Sweden, Spain, Hungary and what would appear to be one of the hottest properties in Europe from Belgium in the shape of Julien Ngoy.

It's a foreign invasion, but one most welcome as the new men in charge start to make their impact on an Academy so desperate to progress and take advantage of their Category 1 status. But it's not just the revolving door at the Academy that has been used more than usual as a round thing made an appearance as well as a stir in pre-season; the footballs were out.

Retribution, indeed, following many of the crimes against football of the previous term as the players balked at the prospect of not being flogged to within an inch of their lives getting straight to work on ball heavy drills. Hearing Hughes' reasoning and, in fact, hearing any of the management team speak out over the last few weeks has given me great confidence that there has been significant, well-thought change afoot at the club; it's been a breath of fresh air.

Eager fans have been doing their best to catch a glimpse of the new regime in action at training with some speaking about how the drills included winning back possession within a set period of seconds, a tactic made famous by Barcelona who are equally as impressive off the ball as they are on it. This is often referred to as the Six-second or three-pass transition. When you watch Barca play, in the rare event of them conceding possession, the closest two or three players hound the ball down to get it back, but do so for that first six seconds only before reverting to shape.

It's a concept we're seeing more and more in the modern game and while we sometimes saw that intensity and hounding of the opposition under Pulis, it wasn't as precise and sought only to tire the players out who spent the majority of the game chasing shadows. That intensity, discipline and teamwork that Pulis instilled in the current squad will be key to implementing such tactics, which, coupled with the application and methods of the current management team, with improved possession thrown in, would point to there being plenty to be positive about.

It's not long until fans get to see the new look side with the Potters making their way to the United States for a series of games against MLS opposition over the next couple of weeks. On their return to the UK and with the clock ticking down to the Premier league kick off, they then find themselves hosting Genoa at the Britannia on the 10th August, a rare pre-season treat to give thousands of fans the chance to see the almost finished article barely a week in advance of the side's first game of the season at Anfield.

Having willed the season to end just two months ago, I now find myself desperate for it to start again. The last season is a welcome distant memory and the positivity and hope is back, but such is the life of a football fan. We never learn, do we?

Vis Unita Fortior


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