Stoke City are on the cusp of the Championship’s top six after securing back-to-back home victories at the Bet365 Stadium.
A run of nine league games without a win meant that the Potters were in danger of sliding out of play off contention, but Michael O’Neill has steadied the ship and a win against in-form Barnsley tonight could see them just a point off sixth spot.
With such a crucial game though comes big decisions for O’Neill, who has a few dilemmas to run his mind over before selecting his line-up for the trip to Oakwell.
Let’s look at what the former Northern Ireland boss has to consider ahead of the 7pm kick off.
4-2-3-1 or 3-5-2?
Some would say that this decision is an easy one on paper – O’Neill hasn’t played a three centre-back system since mid-January and the last two wins have come whilst using the 4-2-3-1 formation from the start.
However Barnsley do play a very similar system to what O’Neill sometimes does – it is more of a 3-4-3 that Valerien Ismael deploys – and the Stoke boss could choose to match up with the opposition and go with an extra centre-back.
They say never change a winning team, but sometimes it’s necessary.
Quiz: Can you remember how many league goals each of Stoke City’s last 15 top goalscorers scored?
A recall for James McClean?
Speaking of changing winning teams, O’Neill made two changes from the line-up that started the one-goal win against Sheffield Wednesday for the 3-0 victory over Luton on Saturday, with Rhys Norrington-Davies and Josh Tymon coming in for Morgan Fox and James McClean.
It meant a complete reshuffle down the left-hand side of the pitch and despite Tymon naturally being a left-back, he’s been accommodated in both central midfield and on the wing this season.
You can’t beat experience though and James McClean provides just that, and with the 31-year-old making 23 Championship appearances this season you’d expect that he probably comes back into the team tonight if O’Neill goes with a 4-2-3-1.
The Ireland international has had a tough time of things in recent weeks and that has been made very public. It that may have played a part in him getting a bit of a rest, but there’s no doubting that he will be ready to step back in – if he’s fit.
O’Neill revealed yesterday that McClean had to come out of training due to an injury and he’s racing a race against time to be fit.
Central midfield rotation?
Stoke’s last two wins have seen the evergreen Joe Allen partner Jordan Thompson in the engine room, but with the games coming thick and fast, O’Neill might change things around.
John Obi Mikel is waiting in the wings, as is Sam Clucas – although like McClean he came out of training yesterday with an injury.
Jordan Cousins and Tashan Oakley-Boothe are also pushing for more minutes, so there’s a lot of options for Stoke and squad rotation may be a big thing in the next few weeks.