Stoke City have endured a fairly miserable 2019, with the Potters starting the year with a 2-0 defeat at home to Bristol City on New Years Day and Gary Rowett sacked the following week.
Rowett’s successor Nathan Jones could not inspire an upturn in fortunes for Stoke on the field during the second half of last season, winning just three matches for the Potters during the second half of the campaign, as he guided the club to a disappointing 16th place finish in the Championship.
Stoke’s poor form continued into this season, with Jones winning just two of the Potters’ opening 14 Championship matches and being sacked following a 2-0 defeat at Millwall, with Michael O’Neill taking over and so far securing three wins from his first seven matches in charge as he looks to get the Potters to improve their form.
Here then we take a look at THREE things that Stoke need to get in order as the New Year approaches…
Find a way to keep clean sheets consistently
One of Stoke’s main problems so far this campaign has been their frailties in defence, with the Potters shipping 35 goals in their opening 22 Championship matches, which is the joint third most amount of goals conceded in the division so far this term.
Michael O’Neill will be needing to solve that problem during the rest of the campaign if he is going to be able to guide the club to safety during the second half of the campaign, and having built a well organised defensive unit during his time in charge of Northern Ireland, the 50-year-old will be needing to do the same thing at the Bet365 Stadium.
There have been signs in the last few weeks that O’Neill is beginning to make the Potters more difficult to break down, with Stoke recording back to back clean sheets against Luton Town and Reading which ended a run of eight matches without a clean sheet – and Stoke will be needing to build on that heading into the New Year.
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Sort out the futures of key players
Heading into the January transfer window Stoke will be needing to sort out the futures of a number of first team players, with Jack Butland one crucial player whose future the Potters need some clarity over – and the keeper endured a difficult start to the season having failed to secure a move away in the summer, but he has re-found some form during the last few weeks.
The futures of midfield duo Peter Etebo and Badou Ndiaye will also need to be solved ahead of the January transfer window, with the pair not really featuring regularly since O’Neill to over at the Bet365 Stadium, which could well mean that they will be looking to move away from the club in the winter window.
Stoke will also need to sort out the future of striker Tyrese Campbell, with the forward yet to make an appearance under O’Neill, having emerged as a key player for the Potters during the opening months of the campaign – and the forward could potentially be another player to leave the club in January.
Find a settled starting line-up
One of the biggest problems for the Potters during the first half of the season has been an inconsistency in terms of team selection under both Jones and O’Neill, with both managers searching for the right balance in the squad to start picking up consistent results.
O’Neill has changed Stoke’s system to a 4-3-3 with and given chances to the likes of Jordan Cousins, Stephen Ward, Liam Lindsay, Sam Vokes and Mame Biram Diouf in the last few weeks, with those players having found minutes hard to come by under Jones.
Stoke now need to find a consistent starting line-up now for the rest of the campaign to give themselves a platform to start picking up results, and having picked up four points from the last two matches O’Neill should stick with most of the players who have featured in the last few games and give them a chance to develop some consistency.