Vive la revolution at Stoke

Posted by James Whittaker

Mark Hughes' first game as Stoke manager ended in a 1-0 defeat to Liverpool in the curtain raiser to the new Premier League season.

In his 271st game as manager, Hughes will have learned plenty about his side in its first competitive outing, which will perhaps dictate the level of activity in the remaining weeks of the transfer window. Former Stoke boss Tony Pulis, a guest in the BTSport studio, stated that Hughes wouldn't change the style overnight, but what transpired on the pitch would suggest he's done exactly that. The rendition of "we're passing the ball" to the same tune of "we'll play how Stoke want" showed the fans were in agreement and enjoying every minute.

- Walsh: Mignolet saves more than three points
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- Report: Mignolet saves the day

The main talking points for me were as follows:

Asmir Begovic - What can you say? Asmir had another great game and kept Stoke in it right to the end. He was the safety net for the new defensive shape and Stoke needed every millimetre of his six foot six (and three quarters) frame as he protected his goal with the kind of fervour reserved for the opposition fans and their bitey striker. It was reported last week that the in-demand Bosnian has grown a couple of centimetres over the last year (due the plaudits lavished on him) and that extra height counted on Saturday with one save in particular. The one shot he didn't manage to get to would need an even more impressive growth spurt though I think it might be easier and less painful to get Robert Huth to close down the striker more readily (unless Huthy disapproves of course).

Team shape - The shape of the side was always going to be the biggest change given Hughes' predecessor concentrated on little else in every single training session. The side lined up in a 4-3-3 and were nice and high up the pitch, meaning numbers were able to join in with the attack. That said, on the back foot there seemed to be a huge gap between midfield and defence where Liverpool kept picking up possession. This is where Hughes wants Wilson Palacios to play and whether Wilson was supposed to be there or not I'm unsure, but it's not a habit the side will want to repeat, especially against quick moving teams of Liverpool's ilk.

Marc Wilson - A late inclusion for the injured Palacios following the warm up, Marc had the perfect opportunity to stake his claim for a starting role in what he constantly insists is his favoured position. As regular readers will know, I've always been wary of Wilson in the middle following a few appearances there under the previous manager and it seems little has changed. He is simply too slow of mind and foot to excel there, and I found myself getting increasingly frustrated after his 34th drag back when the player was actually nowhere near and his 'trick' sought only to put the ball closer to him. Sloppy in possession, suspect on the back foot and caught ball watching far too often. I see little future for him at the club if I'm perfectly honest.

The front three - This was the biggest concern. I'd suggested in my pre-season reports that for the most part Hughes can manage with the defenders and midfielders that he has but the attacking options available to him appear to be in no way suited to the shape or game he is trying to get the side to play. That lack of pace and movement as well as invention in the final third was alarming and it's a miracle Stoke saw so many shots on the opposition goal. It would appear that Hughes would agree given that he missed his first post-match interview to catch a flight to "conduct urgent transfer business".

The reaction on the forums was all too inevitable, swinging wildly from "we're doomed" to "we're great"; neither are the case, but the fact the side were much improved in attack with the paucity of options available can only be seen as positive. I too was alarmed at how open Stoke looked at the back and the ease at which Liverpool were able to create chances, but it's the first game playing a new system under a new manager at a side with Champions League aspirations.

The fact is that Stoke had more shots on target and the same number of corners in this game than on their last three visits to Anfield combined. Yes, they conceded more shots but that's the job Hughes and indeed every other manager in the world has on his hands. It's about finding that balance between defence and attack to get the best return possible and given he is one game into that process, this fan is prepared to give him time to do so and I'm hoping others will do the same.

Vive la revolution!


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