After adding Sam Surridge to their ranks for a £5.5m fee last week, there’s one more area Stoke City need to address: the wing position.
Tom Ince and James McClean’s omission from the first team’s pre-season trip to Northern Ireland so they could find new clubs has all but confirmed they will leave the bet365 Stadium this summer – and this might not be a big deal considering the latest transfer development in Staffordshire.
Brighton & Hove Albion defender Leo Ostigard has just joined the club on season-long loan move, which could signal Michael O’Neill’s main formation this season.
Although Ben Wilmot already came in as a replacement for Nathan Collins on the same day the 20-year-old departed for Burnley, the Potters have signed Ostigard now which may signal the Northern Irish manager’s intent to play three at the back throughout the next nine months or so.
The Norwegian has become accustomed to this system after spending a season on loan at Coventry City during the 2020/21 campaign, where he made 39 league appearances alongside the likes of Dominic Hyam and Michael Rose, so it shouldn’t take him too long to adapt to life at the bet365 Stadium if O’Neill adopts a similar formation.
Having Ostigard, promotion-winning defender Ben Wilmot and the Australian international Harry Souttar at the heart of defence with Danny Batth as another option could potentially enable more attack-minded midfielders Nick Powell and Mario Vrancic to both start alongside Welsh international Joe Allen in midfield, providing the team with more creativity to the two forwards up front in the absence of wingers.
You have to wonder whether they would benefit from just one more arrival up top to provide competition to Jacob Brown, Steven Fletcher and Sam Surridge, potentially making a loan move for Liam Delap an ideal option to pursue with father Rory currently part of the Potters’ first-team coaching staff.
But there’s one more attacking department they need to address before the window closes – and that’s the wing area.
The second-tier side may not operate with advanced wingers if they adopt a 3-5-2 formation throughout the campaign – but can they afford to stick to that system every week if they want to retain their unpredictability?
A different option going forward will always be needed and that’s why it was pleasing to see Tom Ince on the bench against Reading on Saturday as a threat on the wing.
Without this wide option, they risk becoming one-dimensional in the attacking third and this is exactly the sort of thing that will consign them to another midtable finish.
Thankfully for Stoke fans, they look revitalised after three mediocre seasons with their new signings and a much-needed clearout in the last few months, allowing them to invest in someone like Sam Surridge for a multi-million pound fee.
This means just recruiting one or two wingers after bringing in 21-year-old Norwegian Ostigard and another forward could put them right up there as contenders for the top six at the end of the 2021/22 season.
Quiz: Do you remember which player scored Stoke City’s first goal in each of the last 15 seasons?
But they will also be mindful of their wage bill – and may decide to avoid spending fees on players to ensure they can cope with a higher wage bill from these additions.
Ostigard will only be on the books for the season after joining on loan, along with Liam Delap although Manchester City may even be prepared to pay a chunk of his wages on the condition he secures a regular amount of first-team football.
Another cheap option they could pursue, albeit a permanent one, would be Kamil Grosicki.
Although the 33-year-old rarely played for West Bromwich Albion in his 18-month spell at The Hawthorns before he was released this summer, he was superb at Hull City and produced an amazing 21 goal contributions in 40 second-tier matches for the Tigers during the 2018/19 season.
He may not be able to fully replicate this stunning record in Staffordshire, but he would definitely be worth a one-year punt as a cheap option and one they should be able to complete ahead of a struggling Derby County side.
At 33, Grosicki may only be expecting a one-year deal anyway, so it could be easy for Stoke to sever their ties in less than 12 months if he fails to make a real impression.
And with the Potters’ likely adoption of the 3-5-2 system, he would only be a squad player anyway, reducing the club’s reliance on him to perform. His arrival would also allow the likes of current wingers Ince and McClean, who are both likely to be on sizeable wage deals, to move on and make room for the likes of Delap and any others to join.
The Polish winger might not be the most spectacular addition, but it’s a punt worth taking and could be a very shrewd move if he can even regain just some of his ruthless form in the Championship.