Stoke City host Blackburn Rovers on Saturday needing to respond to their 1-0 defeat at Cardiff City in midweek, which saw Michael O’Neill suffer his first defeat in charge of the club.
The Potters’ defeat at Cardiff would have highlighted to O’Neill the problems that exist within O’Neill’s squad, with Stoke suffering through a lack of creativity going forwards and also a lapse in concentration from their defence that allowed the hosts to score the only goal of the contest early on.
Stoke secured a vital 2-1 win from behind against fellow strugglers Wigan Athletic in O’Neill’s first home game in charge last weekend, and he will be hoping to make it two wins from two at the Bet 365 Stadium at the weekend against Blackburn.
O’Neill, though, will be wanting his side to produce better quality in possession against Blackburn, who will be a very difficult opponent considering they have secured three wins in their last four Championship matches, and the 50-year-old might be needing to make a couple of alterations to his line-up to help the Potters’ improve in the final third.
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With that in mind, here, we take a look at TWO changes that O’Neill could consider against Blackburn on Saturday…
Bringing Nick Powell back into midfield
Against Wigan last weekend O’Neill elected to hand a rare start this season to summer signing Nick Powell in midfield, and the 25-year-old did manage to help provide some attacking spark and creativity to the midfield, allowing Ryan Woods and Joe Allen to set the tempo and sit a little deeper to protect the back four.
However, against Cardiff O’Neill brought Badou Ndiaye into the side in place of Powell, and the Potters were lacking a creative option on the ball in midfield, and Lee Gregory did not get enough support from runners breaking into the penalty area from the middle of the pitch.
That suggests that Powell could well be an ideal option for O’Neill to bring back into his starting line-up, allowing him the freedom to get forwards to support the lone forward up front at times to add an extra threat in the penalty area from crosses – and of the 25-year-old is given the chance he will need to perform with both Peter Etebo and Ndiaye both back fit and ready to challenge for places.
Bringing Tom Edwards back into the side
Edwards start Stoke’s first two Championship games under O’Neill, helping to provide an outlet down the right-hand side on the overlap from right-back against Barnsley and Wigan, which helped the Potters’ retain some more width going forwards when Tom Ince was drifting inside.
However, against Cardiff, Edwards was dropped to the bench with Cameron Carter-Vickers coming in at right-back, that was done in order to help sure up the Potters’ defence after conceding three goals in O’Neill’s first two matches, but after they fell behind early on in the game it meant that they lacked an attacking option down the right-hand side to help get them back in the game.
That suggests that O’Neill should consider bringing Edwards back into his starting line-up on Saturday, with the Potters likely to be the side under the pressure to play on the front foot and take the game to Blackburn – and the 20-year-old would offer an extra attacking outlet to help them break down their opponents.