At this point in the season, Stoke City fans are rightfully becoming more distraught as their club flirts with relegation. They currently sit in 17th in the table with a mere 23 points, just one point more than the Saints, who sit in 18th.
But when looking at the Potters’ record and form this season, it’s no surprise that they’re in the position they’re in. They’ve only managed to win six games while drawing five and losing 13. And half of the games they’ve won have come against the bottom of the table (Southampton, Swansea and West Brom).
But the main reason Stoke have struggled so much recently relates to their extremely poor goal difference. The Potters have the worst goal difference of any team in the Premier League with a whopping minus 25. In their 13 losses, seven have been by three or more goals (Chelsea 4-0, Man City 7-2, Liverpool 3-0, Tottenham 5-1, West Ham 3-0, Chelsea 5-0, Man United 3-0).
Granted, five of their seven losses were against top clubs, but there’s no excuse for giving up that many goals. Yes, their defense is a shambles, but this statistic points at the lack of effort and discipline within the club as a whole. Although he may not have been the fans’ first choice, Paul Lambert’s arrival at the bet365 Stadium as Stoke’s new manager last week was a positive as it had become clear that the players had given up on Mark Hughes.
After Tony Pulis left the club in the summer of 2013, Stoke had aspirations of strengthening the club, completely evolving its style of play, transitioning from route one football to a more technical style.
Following Hughes’ first season in charge, the Potters started to play more attractive football and finished ninth, their highest finish ever in the top flight. Hughes should rightly receive credit for this achievement.
But as his reign wore on, the club’s progress stalled. The next two seasons, in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, the Potters finished in the exact same spot as they did in Hughes’ first season (9th) followed by a 13th place finish last season in 2016-2017. With Stoke’s awful form this season, it was time for a change.
Perhaps the primary reason for Stoke’s consistent lack of improvement? Letting go of Tony Pulis in 2013. It may not have been pretty, but Stoke formed a true identity under Pulis that the players bought into: Big, physical players, combined with intense discipline and a sheer determination to battle.