Why Stoke City must adapt to help struggling striker shine
Even after an uplifting 1-1 draw at Old Trafford last weekend, Stoke City remain lodged in a relegation battle. But despite an underwhelming start to his time in Staffordshire, on-loan striker Wilfried Bony can be the man to revive their fortunes.
As recently as 2014, the Ivory Coast international was the Premier League’s top scorer, comfortably ahead of challengers Sergio Aguero and Daniel Sturridge in the calendar year, with 18 Premier League goals.
That he managed that feat with Swansea, a side who scored just 46 Premier League goals in 2014-15, should be of great encouragement to Potters manager Mark Hughes, whose charges have chalked up a meagre five goals in their opening seven games.
Additionally, though Bony’s nine goals in all competitions last season might not sound like a lot, the Ivorian only started 16 games, and he fitted perfectly into Manchester City’s attacking setup at home, scoring eight of his goals at the Etihad.
He’s a reliable goalscorer. So where does the issue lie? The answer appears to be ‘service’.
Bony has averaged just 1.87 shots per game this season, while City provided him with 42 shots in his first 20 games of the previous campaign (2.1 a game), despite the fact that many of those outings were fairly short substitute appearances.
Not only do the overly-conservative Stoke midfield need to get the ball to Bony more quickly, they need to keep it on the ground.
While the tall and robust Marko Arnautovic and Mame Biram Diouf are rightly employed as target men, the smaller and slighter Bony needs the ball to his feet, having won just 49 per cent of aerial duels this season.
And there’s no doubt the Stoke midfield – who boast a 75 per cent pass completion rate – can give him that service, and that the man who netted 26 Premier League goals in 54 games for Swansea City can significantly boost Stoke’s meagre goal tally.
There could also be an argument to employ Bony in a slightly deeper role if Arnautovic and Diouf are required against more physical opposition, with the former Man City forward having produced 10 assists in the English top-flight, as well as 14 during his three years with Vitesse Arnhem in the Eredivisie.
Stoke welcome Sunderland to the Potteries next weekend, with both sides looking for their first league win of the campaign.
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