A promising start for Hughes

On Saturday, Stoke City’s opening game of the 2013/14 Barclays Premier League season proved to be a very busy day for Asmir Begovic. The goalkeeper was forced into making 10 saves as he tried to keep Liverpool at bay in what was a tight game, if you believed only the score line.

A promising start for Hughes

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August 22nd, 2013

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The Bosnian made more saves than he made in any single game last season in the Premier League; and in that single statistic is evidence of the difference between Mark Hughes’ Stoke City and that of Tony Pulis.

The two Welshmen have very different ideas on playing football, and though the personnel will remain pretty much the same – Dutchman Erik Pieters was the only new signing to start the match for Stoke – the attitude, shape and intent were very different.

The Potters shied away from the rigid, compact banks of four and five that previously occupied the space in front of their own area; and that allowed Liverpool to cut them open at will. Only the heroics of their inspired ‘keeper kept the scores tight and allowed Jonathan Walters the chance to rescue a point from the penalty spot.

Unfortunately, the Irishman’s usual habit of firing low to his left was well scouted by Simon Mignolet, and Brendan Rodgers’ side held on to claim all three points.

For Mark Hughes, there will be positives to take from just a single game. Stoke’s record at Anfield in the Premier League is pretty poor. They are yet to score there and have previously measured success by leaving with a 0-0 draw to their name.

To their credit, there was more attacking intent about the side on Saturday afternoon. They attempted 416 passes and attempted 12 shots. Last season in the same fixture, they tried 296 passes and mustered just five shots. Should that upward turn improve through the season, Stoke will score goals. Peter Crouch, Jonathan Walters and Kenwyne Jones can all score double figures in a single Premier League season.

The difference for Stoke this season will be keeping hold of the ball. Having abandoned the mentality of last season, Mark Hughes’ men will offer up more and more opportunities to their opponents the longer they spend without the ball. The former Wales manager will be desperate for his players to retain as much possession as possible in the coming weeks, so he can ensure a steady start to his time at the Britannia Stadium.

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