Mark Hughes’ decision to change to a 3-4-3 system at the start of the season looked to be a smart one after picking four points up in difficult matches against Arsenal and Manchester United earlier in the season.
However, they have started to slide down the table, and are in a relegation battle with no team having conceded fewer than Stoke City. Recent results have cast doubts over the sustainability of such a formation, especially when it was clear the former Wales manager has been shoehorning players into positions they weren’t ideally suited for.
While Xherdan Shaqiri flourished in his new central role, Mame Biram Diouf has been a ious weak link at right wing-back. If Hughes hopes to use his new system for the entirety of the season then shopping in the winter sales is a necessity.
Wing-back reinforcements aren’t the only need if they’re to get their season back on track. The Potters, who are sitting in 15th position, are averaging just a 1.2 goals per game. Saido Berahino is goalless since his January move to the bet365 Stadium and Jesé has netted just once since arriving on loan, his debut strike against Arsenal.
With this in mind, we’ve taken a look at five players Stoke could target this January to ensure they finish in the top half of the table.
Weiser could be quite the coup. The 23-year-old came through the youth ranks at Köln before catching the eye of Bayern Munich.
He got a chance with Bayern Munich and made 21 appearances for the club in all competitions over two seasons, including the odd substitute appearance in the Champions League. Initially a right winger, the move to Hertha Berlin at the start of the 2015/16 season saw him deployed in a right-back role and he’s since excelled there.
He’s not as physical as the stereotypical Stoke player, winning just 1.2 aerial duels per 90 minutes, but he makes up for that defensively and, on average, wins 2.1 tackles and three interceptions per game. He’s quite handy in the final third and has averaged 1.9 key passes per 90 this term. For context, Diouf has averaged 0.7 key passes this season.
Weiser may view a move to the Premier League as a way for him to break into the German national team and Hertha Berlin are unlikely to demand eye-watering amounts of money.
Arias, a Swansea transfer target in the summer, ticks many of the boxes for a modern-day full-back. He’s positive on the ball and aggressive in his style, often ignoring a safe pass if there’s a chance he can take a risk to make something happen.
The Colombian can play the intricate passes but also has the ability to mix the play up with a 60-yard switch.
When in the final third Arias is far from one-dimensional. He gets into dangerous areas and mixes his crossing up — from whipped in, to floated, to a measured pull-back. For the most part, he’s got a calm head when in matters.
The PSV right-back is rumoured to be available for £13million, and has been quoted in the past as wanting to play in the Premier League: “My agent knows I want to go to Germany, England or Spain and is working to make that happen.”
The 22-year-old Dutchman can play anywhere down the right flank, though PEC Zwolle have used him exclusively at right-back this season. He would be a bit of a wildcard but his quality, and potentially small transfer fee, warrant Hughes taking a risk.
He’s good in the air, winning 1.1 aerial duels, he’s averaging 2.3 tackles and 1.5 interceptions, he’s also managing to play 1.5 key passes per 90 minutes. As all-rounders go he’s definitely up there.
There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding Walcott’s future at Arsenal. His starts this season have been kept to a minimum, coming almost exclusively in the Europa League even when Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez weren’t starting.
It speaks volumes as to where he ranks at the Emirates. But, despite this, he could be somewhat of a masterstroke signing for Hughes because he knows where the goal is.
Last season he finished with 19 goals in 37 appearances in all competitions. If he was given a sustained run in the starting XI, Stoke would have a proven goalscorer at their disposal.
Another wildcard. Before his torrid run of injuries, Ings was courted by Spurs before eventually opting to join Liverpool. He was an instant cult hero on Merseyside after scoring in the derby before injury stopped his momentum. He was averaging one goal every three games in the Premier League.
He works hard off of the ball and puts in a shift defensively. What’s more, Ings has a point to prove after missing so much football over the past two seasons. He’s going to give his all if given the opportunity to play football at a high level again and Stoke could reap the rewards because of it.