Former Stoke City full-back Mike Pejic thinks the Potters need to target a defensive midfielder as their top transfer priority during the upcoming winter window, speaking to Stoke-on-Trent Live.
The Potters endured a productive summer transfer window this year, managing to offload some of the players they had deemed surplus to requirements including high earners and recruiting wisely in a bid to push up the second-tier table.
A spending spree in the summer of 2018 following their relegation from the Premier League didn’t work out for the best and they suffered from that recruitment failure for the following three seasons, finishing in the bottom half of the Championship table in all of them after spending time competing in midtable in the top tier not so long ago.
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But their previous window was arguably their most successful one in years as the Staffordshire outfit managed to build a team capable of competing at the top end of the second tier.
Nonetheless, there are areas they may need to address as manager Michael O’Neill looks to solidify his side’s place in the top six, with a long-term injury to Harry Souttar potentially putting a new centre-back at the top of the Northern Irishman’s list going into the next calendar year.
However, Stoke legend Pejic has suggested his former team need to target another injury-ravaged position, with setbacks to key players currently making life difficult in central midfield with a lack of depth in that position at this stage.
He said: “With Romaine Sawyers, Nick Powell and Jordan Thompson out, we are short of options in midfield.
“Anything happening to Sam Clucas or Joe Allen would certainly make things difficult, even if all teams have to deal with injuries over the course of the season.
“The difficulty is bringing in someone of a similar style that would mean we were overloaded when they all get back.
“To think longer term as well, I would still be looking for a sitting midfield player. All through the history of football you have that important player in all successful teams.
“They are hard to find but they give the team understanding, particularly when a team has possession against you. A player who understands that role and its discipline can make a crucial difference.”
Mario Vrancic and Powell simply have to be the two more advanced options in midfield when both are fit and on form, because they have the required goals and creativity in their locker to fire the Potters to a play-off place.
Whilst Powell has consistently been one of the club’s main source of goals in recent seasons, Vrancic has recorded an impressive three goals and five assists in 20 league appearances this term, and you could definitely see the Bosnian extending his stay at the club.
So any attacking midfield player that could come in during January would probably have to play second fiddle to those two.
The second-tier side are also reasonably well-stocked in defensive midfield when Sawyers, Allen, Thompson and Clucas are all available, but a specialist defensive midfielder could be something they could look at in the summer if not before.
If Powell and Vrancic are given the license to push forward, an effective operator who can sit in the middle and turn the ball over could be crucial, even with three centre-backs also able to deal with danger.
Getting that balance between defence and attack will be key, so this is definitely an area to look at in the future.