Following a lavish summer of transfer spending under Nathan Jones, Stoke City were understandably in no position to make any real waves in the January window a few months ago, with the club’s new boss Michael O’Neill having to stay wary of budget constraints.
As a result the Potters were relatively quiet in the winter, with the Stoke-on-Trent club only real marquee signing of any note being the addition of James Chester on loan from Premier League side Aston Villa.
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Having played a key role in Villa’s promotion season last term, the signing of Chester was ideal for the Potters who prior to the 31-year-old’s arrival had been shipping goals at an alarming rate, thus seeing them slip further and further towards the relegation zone.
The need for a consistent defensive partnership at the heart of the team’s backline became almost immediately obvious to O’Neill as he assessed his squad after taking over the reigns back in November from Jones, with the Potters having employed the use of numerous partnerships during the first half of the campaign.
Ultimately said partnerships didn’t alleviate their defensive frailties and as a result O’Neill has brought in a player who he can rely on to build a strong relationship with players of the same position as himself.
An experienced player at Football League level, Chester has played over 230 Championship games, whilst he also boasts a record of 35 caps for Wales at international level.
As a result he has forged a brilliant partnership alongside the equally experienced figure of Danny Batth in recent weeks, with the former Wolves man operating as more of a ‘sweeper’, whilst Chester takes on the role of a ‘stopper’, who acts as the first line of defence whilst Batth deals with any balls that get in behind.
With both players being comfortable in possession of the ball to boot, O’Neill is now able to ask his side to build attacks out from the back as opposed to just going long from goal kicks, which as a result has seen the Potters average a much higher percentage of possession in games that they had enjoyed previously under Jones.
After appearing on seven occasions for the Bet365 Stadium club, the Potters will surely be eyeing a permanent move for Chester this summer, with the defender’s future largely up in the air due to the fact his current deal at Villa expires this coming summer.
In conclusion, if the Welsh international continues to impress for the club, O’Neill’s hand could well be forced in the next transfer window.