Michael O’Neill will be looking to further reshape his Stoke City squad in the summer in preparation for the 2021/22 Sky Bet Championship campaign.
This season was always going to be a steady one for the Potters, with O’Neill continuing to steer the ship after a couple of turbulent years back in the second tier. They finished 16th in 2018/19, and finished one place higher in 15th despite having relegation worries for the majority of last season.
Stoke currently occupy 10th spot in the Championship table, and whilst you can never rule out a late bloomer at this level, it does look as if a mid-table finish will be on the cards for the Potters.
O’Neill has done well to arrest a policy of spending big on high-profile players – a strategy which Gary Rowett certainly complied with following their drop from the Premier League.
In January, we saw O’Neill put further faith in younger players, with Jack Clarke and Rabbi Matondo arriving on loan from Tottenham Hotspur and Schalke respectively.
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With finances bound to be tight in the summer due to current events, the loan market is likely to be explored once again, and sources have told FLW that Manchester City striker Liam Delap could be on the Potters’ radar in the summer.
Delap has been a regular goalscorer for City’s Under-23s’ this season, but he has also been given three first-team appearances and the next step will be for him to get regular game time under his belt.
In terms of attacking options, Stoke have seemed to cope well in front of goal despite Tyrese Campbell’s injury before the turn of the year. Nick Powell is their leading goalscorer with 11 goals to his name, and their first-choice striker, Steven Fletcher, has netted eight times this term.
Campbell is likely to be right at the forefront of O’Neill’s plans once he recovers from his injury, but long-term alternatives may have to be considered for the experienced Steven Fletcher, who is fast approaching the age of 34-year-old.
Fletcher will keep himself fit and work hard to make sure he stays in good condition for next season, but there is certainly scope for a younger option in Delap to arrive.
Fletcher is renowned for his aerial threat and physical prowess in the final third, and at 6-foot-1, Delap would certainly add height and presence to the attacking line.
He is a young, hungry prospect looking to impress Pep Guardiola with a view to a place in the City side in the next few years, and he will be keen to follow in the footsteps of those who have thrived on loan at the bet365 Stadium this season.
You get the feeling that this would be a coup, with AFC Bournemouth and Derby County also believed to be waiting in the wings, and could be the next step on a progressive, steady journey for the Staffordshire club.