Stoke City have endured a torrid start to their second season in the Championship.
Losing two of their opening three games in the season, the Potters find themselves 23rd in the league table.
Nathan Jones was given the benefit of the doubt after he failed to rectify Stoke’s season after his appointment in January. However, it looks as though the manager is still struggling to get to grips with the demanding nature of England’s second tier.
So, where has it gone wrong for Stoke and what have we learnt from these opening few fixtures?
We take a look…
Who makes up Stoke’s best team?
In his opening two Championship matches, Jones made an astonishing six changes, which was more than any other club in the division. Admittedly, some were forced such as Benik Afobe after his move to Bristol City.
It seems as though Jones is still experimenting with his team which is creating a real inconsistency and area of uncertainty around the club. So far, Ryan Woods and Jordan Cousins have both started in the holding midfield role and Liam Lindsay and Nathan Collins have both started a centre back alongside Danny Batth.
It is hard to establish a strong defensive connection and understanding if the players don’t know who they are going to be playing with. Jones may need to establish his favoured starting 11 sooner rather than later.
It may come as no surprise then to hear that Stoke have already conceded five goals in their opening two league matches – the joint most in the division.
Stoke have at their disposal some of the best striking options in the Championship. With Scott Hogan, Lee Gregory and Sam Vokes in their ranks, it is hard to understand why they are not a free-scoring side.
They can’t blame the service they are receiving either; they are surrounded by clever, creative players like Tom Ince and Joe Allen who will undoubtedly create even more spaces and chances between now and the end of the season.
Staggeringly, in their first three games of the season, the side have managed 48 shots with just 10 hitting the target and only three hitting the back of the net. Jones’ team are clearly making chances and have scored in every game they have played so far this season which is more than can be said for a lot of other Championship teams.
They just need to be more efficient and prolific.
A change in shape
For their only win of the season, Jones changed his formation from a narrow 4-1-2-1-2 to a much wider 3-4-3. The former has been his regular formation with the Potters since his arrival, however, the latter seemed to install something new into the side.
The three central defenders managed to keep Stoke’s first clean sheet of the season in a 1-0 away win over Championship opposition Wigan Athletic. The EFL Cup experimentation could serve as one of the best things to happen to Stoke this season if they have indeed discovered a new way to play and win.