In the run up to the new season, there was an intriguing managerial change at the Britannia Stadium as Mark Hughes replaced Tony Pulis. This posed many questions: can Hughes repair the damage that the stint at QPR did to his career? How will the Stoke players adapt to a new style of football? Can Stoke survive in the league without Pulis’ style? Will the managerial change improve the club’s position in the league table?
Of course it’s too early to conclusively answer any of these questions but early indications are that the Welsh manager has changed the ‘Stoke style of play’ successfully. Moreover, the early performances have been good and the results have followed. In fact, some would argue that they have been unlucky to only have 7 points from their first 5 games, with Jonathan Walters missing two vital chances which would have pushed the side’s points total up to 10. The striker saw his penalty saved late on against Liverpool, while he should have scored a free header in the match against Manchester City.
The change in style of play is evident when you compare last season to the early part of this season. So far Stoke have an open play pass completion rate of 80% which is superior to last season’s which was 70%. Also, the passes per minute increased from 3 (2012/13) to 4 (2013/14). The final third pass completion rate has gone from 56% last season to 66% so far this season. Furthermore, the minutes per chance created has also decreased to 10.84 from 12.84.
On the other hand, Stoke have seen their chance conversion rate decrease from 11% to 8%. Additionally the clear cut chance conversion rate has reduced more drastically from 36% to 17%.
The stats show that Stoke are passing the ball more and the accuracy has also improved. It’s quite incredible that Hughes has managed to make these changes in such a short time. The better style of play has led to Stoke being more efficient in the final third which is illustrated by the side creating more chances than they did last season. The only area that Stoke have failed to improve on this season is their finishing, as their conversion rate is decreasing. With the manager being a ex-striker, this is an area he will be keen to improve as the season progresses.
The turnaround is even more amazing when you consider that Hughes hasn’t signed a great amount of players, so he is improving the style of play with the players Pulis had to work with. He has signed Marc Muniesa, Oussama Assaidi, Stephen Ireland, Erik Pieters and Marko Arnautovic, all players who promote a better style of play. Muniesa is one for the future but the other four will all prove to be excellent players this season. They are also players who Pulis wouldn’t sign, which shows the club is moving forward with it’s transfer policy as well as its playing style. Arnautovic is a maverick who will provide the Stoke fans with plenty of entertainment in the coming years. If Stoke manage to get him settled and playing his best football, he will be the bargain of the summer.
It won’t be until the end of the season that we can make a fair judgement of Hughes, but the early signs are certainly promising for Stoke fans who can expect the most exciting Premier League season in their history.