Can Stoke City complete the Great Escape?

Somehow optimism runs through my veins still, with just three games left to play you’ll struggle to find any other Stoke City fans who feel the same as I do.

At 1/25 relegation favourites, my club are seen by everyone as a sure bet to be relegated from the Premier League to the Championship next season, but with three games to go, the question many people ask, is HOW can I think we can avoid the drop.

Well I’ve looked at the remaining games for ourselves, Southampton and Swansea, with West Brom needing the greatest of great escapes to stave their impending doom, and I genuinely CAN see a path that sees us remain a Premier League side come May 14th.

Next weekend sees Stoke travel to Merseyside to play the free scoring Champions League semi-finalists Liverpool, and let’s be honest not one single Potter is holding out for anything in that game, to keep the score respectable is all I ask of Paul Lambert’s men. But, on the same day fellow relegation candidates Swansea host Chelsea, again you’d expect no points to be dropped by last season’s champions. Former Stoke City manager Mark Hughes and his Southampton side host Bournemouth in an all-south coast clash, and from that I can see a Bournemouth win or a draw for the under-performing Southampton. Meaning that barring any shocks, next weekend’s table from 17th down is likely to remain the same.

With four points still separating 19th to 17th in Stoke and Swansea, the following weekend will be the turning point. In their final home game of the season, Stoke host Crystal Palace who not that long ago were involved in the fight themselves, but with 35 points look to be safe. I can see Stoke winning that game, scraping it by the skin of their teeth in fact, it will be the most IMPORTANT game of their Premier League history. That puts them within one point of the Swans who travel to Bournemouth, a strong team at home who can (hopefully) brush the Swans aside, meaning the gap would remain one point come the end of the weekend. As for Southampton, they visit Everton who are tough to beat under Sam Allardyce so I can see that as another loss for Sparky and his side.

Both Swansea and Southampton have a game in hand, and lo and behold it’s a stand-off between the two in an evening kick off on the 8th May, a game that could ultimately relegate both Stoke and Southampton or leave the fight to the final day. A Swansea win would mean both Stoke and the Saints would be consigned to Championship football next season, but a draw or a Southampton win would leave a tasty final day.

A tasty final day that sees Stoke end their disappointing season in South Wales against, you guessed it, Swansea. Not necessarily a happy hunting ground for Stoke in recent years but nevertheless an opportunity for Stoke to seal their own fate. A Stoke win following the outcomes mentioned above would mean they would save themselves and send former boss Mark Hughes down, as well as the Swans. However if it is that Southampton beat the Swans in their midweek fixture it would mean that if Southampton were to pull off a miracle on the final day and beat Manchester City at St Mary’s, due to a far inferior goal difference both Stoke and Swansea would be relegated, a desperately sad day it could be at the Liberty Stadium.

If you’re a Stoke fan and you’re reading this, I know it’s tough and this has been a dismal season, but let’s really rally behind the team for what could be a final three games in the Premier League for a while and maybe, just maybe, we can pull off the great escape!

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Nine cup finals for the Potters as Lambert previews Everton game

Paul Lambert has somewhat halted the slump that Stoke City found themselves in, with only two of his games ending in losses, but only one resulting in three points with the other four games giving his side a point.

Everton are the visitors to Stoke-on-Trent tomorrow and Paul Lambert challenged his side to take the game to the Toffee’s; “If we win on Saturday and get out of the bottom three, psychologically that would be a great thing for us.”

Having been in the bottom three when he joined, Stoke have resonated there since but the Scot was keen to quash any thoughts of relegation, “We have been in the bottom three for a number of weeks and we’ve handled it, but we’re only six points off 12th. There is nothing in it.”

“It is well within our capabilities and some of the run-ins some teams have got are extremely difficult. I am thankful it is in our hands and we don’t have to rely on other teams.”

Stoke lost 2-0 to champions elect Manchester City on Monday but the Stoke manager knows how hard his team worked, “We came up against an extraordinary team, a team from another league, they have fabulous footballers, their speed is incredibly high.

“But we never wilted, we stayed in the game for as long as we could.”

And finally, the new boss praised the fans at the bet365 Stadium, before acknowledging that his side’s performance had to excite the fans, “The fans have been absolutely brilliant, home and away, and we’ll need them on Saturday – but it’s up to us to give them something as well.

“We have to entertain, it’s our home game. We have to go on the front foot. There is no time for fatigue. You have to be ready for it.”

 

Stoke City take on the impossible in Monday Night Football clash

Champions elect Manchester City are the visitors to the bet365 Stadium tomorrow night on Sky Sports as Pep Guardiola’s side look to re-establish their 16 point lead over rivals Manchester United at the top of the table.

Paul Lambert spoke before the game of his experience with Guardiola in the past, when the Spaniard was in charge of Bayern Munich where he took the opportunity to study his training methods, “I had a really good chat with him – it was a really good education just sitting with him and talking about football and then I watched a training session. I thought he was brilliant.”

On whether his side can defy all odds and come away with something from the clash, Lambert recalled his playing days; “If I go back to my own playing career, did anyone give Borussia Dortmund a chance against the great Juve side in 97? Probably not. Probably everybody and their dog thought Juve would win. In a one-off game you can win, and that is the beauty of football. We’ll do everything we can to try to win.”

“I know it will be incredibly tough, but also we have to try to entertain as well and try to make it a game that they don’t really want.”

Before adding “If we try to play football the same way they do, then we will be beat, that is the reality. We have to have an idea of another way to try to beat them.”

Guardiola will fly his side out to Abu Dhabi following the game on Monday night, thanks to the two week break his side have following their embarrassing F.A. Cup defeat to Wigan, he spoke to the press before the match.

The Spaniard spoke about his dislike for Monday night clashes in his Friday press conference, “I have bad experiences playing games on Mondays. You have to be focused because Stoke away is always complicated, they’re fighting to be in the Premier League.”

His first experience of the bet365 Stadium was a 4-1 win in the opening month of his first season in England, but the former Barcelona manager was quick to deny a walk in the park, “We were lucky last season to win there. When we face teams who are fighting to stay in the Premier League it is complicated.”

In team news City are hopeful that in-form Raheem Sterling will return to the side as well as midfield stalwart Fernandinho but the Blues will be without striker Sergio Aguero it was announced today.

Stoke will be without utility man Mame Diouf following his injury suffered last weekend against Southampton but following their rigorous fitness programme’s Said Berahino and Kevin Wimmer could be in line to return to the matchday squad.

Stoke are without a win against Manchester City since December 2015, where they scored two and kept a clean sheet.

The game will be showed live on Sky Sports with kick off at 8pm.

Guardiola looks to get his hands on first English trophy

Its Cup Final day tomorrow in the capital, as Manchester City and Arsenal prepare themselves to play under the famous Wembley arch.

A sea of blue and red will descend upon the national stadium come Sunday afternoon at 4:30pm and here’s what each manager had to say in preparation for the first big final of the football season in England.

On his teams route to the final, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has spoken of how free scoring his side have been, “We have certainly been economic [scoring six times en route to the final], because we’ve faced some good teams.”

Wenger accepted the fact his League Cup team selection has sometimes not been his strongest available XI, “It’s true that I always used to use this competition with a youth team. For us it’s an opportunity. We’ll play with all the regular players. We go to Wembley and you want to win it, you want your fans to go home happy.”

In the Gunners last visit to Wembley for the League Cup final, Wenger’s men lost 2-1 thanks to an Obafemi Martins winner for Birmingham City, and the Frenchman acknowledged mistakes were costly in that final; “We gave soft goals away basically, I remember that incident between Koscielny and Szczesny in the last minute of the game where we made a mistake at the back.”

“Overall, I believe that the game was of quite good quality and Birmingham produced a good performance. I think we’ll be more in a position where Manchester City is favourite this time, so of course we have to raise our level to create the surprise.”

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola approaches what is his first visit to Wembley for a cup final in England, and it could kick start the route to the treble for the blue half of Manchester.

Guardiola’s men could be boosted by the return of Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus from his injury suffered on New Years Eve, “We will see tomorrow whether Jesus is fit enough, he made the third training session and every day he is better. His return to fitness is so important.”

The pressure continues to grow on Manchester City to capitalise upon the obvious dominance this season in English football especially following the recent 1-0 defeat to League One high-fliers Wigan in the F.A. Cup and Guradiola is aware of that, “Every game we played, when we won, we were happy the day after. Of course, we’ll be judged on trophies and for the club it’s so important because it’s a club that needs to grow and grow and win titles.”

It could be accused that the Spaniard doesn’t take the cup seriously following accusations in September that it was a waste of his players energy, but the former Barcelona coach defended his word, “The Carabao Cup is in October, November, December and January, it’s one of the toughest schedules, but if we were not interested in the competition, we’d have gone out in the first game. That did not happen. We played every game to win. We deserve to be in the final and we want to win it.”

In terms of injuries, other than Jesus, it looks like City could be without in form winger Raheem Sterling who has a muscle problem. Fabian Delph, who has found a new lease of life this season, is also unavailable for selection following his red card at Wigan last week.

Arsenal look to have no injury worries but perhaps some fatigue following Thursday night’s Europa League loss to Swedish side Osterunds, meaning Alex Iwobi is Wenger’s only real worry. Wenger will also have his medical team assess midfielder Aaron Ramsey to check he is up to scratch.

 

Stoke City go three without a win as they edge perilously close to the drop

Stoke City saw a last minute penalty from Charlie Adam saved by Brighton ‘keeper Matt Ryan in controversial fashion in a 1-1 draw at the bet365 Stadium.

Spanish attacker Jese was judged to have been pushed by Dale Stephens in the Brighton penalty area and the Spaniard was adamant he was going to take it, only to see Adam collect the ball leading to a teenage-like strop from Jese, who was soon surrounded by team mates in a bid to calm him down.

After the game, Paul Lambert was quick to deflect any blame from either player, saying “Who’s to say Jese would score. Nobody knows. Charlie felt confident enough to hit it, but I never blame anybody. It’s not blame culture.”

Brighton boss Chris Hughton felt the decision to award a penalty be awarded by referee Bobby Madeley was a harsh one; “My impression at the time was it was soft and my view hasn’t changed. If anything, Dale is pushing Jese off, but not in an aggressive way. It was soft.”

“Charlie felt good because he scored the last one. You could be the most talented footballer on earth, but if you don’t want that penalty you won’t hit it.”

The Potters saw their first half domination quashed by Colombian mercurial Jose Izquierdo after a lovely passing move in the 32nd minute, but in the 68th minute, the Potters own enigmatic winger Sheridan Shaqiri scored a trademark long range goal, evading ‘keeper Ryan in the bottom corner.

 

Paul Lambert speaks ahead of a six pointer in the relegation battle

It’s full steam ahead for Paul Lambert and his Stoke city side, as reports suggest the Scotsman has introduced a six-day working week in a bid to up his sides fitness levels.

Lambert acknowledges the importance of the remaining fixtures in the league for his side, as they battle against relegation; “I said when I arrived we had 15 cup finals and Saturday is no different.”

He also spoke highly of the opposition and their manager, “We know it will be a difficult against Brighton who have a good manager.”

On his sides defeat last time out away at Bournemouth, the still relatively-new Potters boss said “We are in a good place at the minute in terms of how we are playing. We just need to go out and pick up some wins.”

“I have no problem with the way we played the game and last weekend we produced some of the best stuff since I came in.”

On injuries, Lambert has no worries and spoke of how PSG loan star Jese will return to the squad, “We don’t seem too bad at the minute in terms of injuries. Jese will be back in the squad. He played in the U23s match on Monday and will come back into contention.”

The 3pm kick off sees Stoke host a side who twice came from behind in the reverse fixture in November on the south coast.

£14 million midfielder in line for Potters debut

New Stoke City man Badou N’Diaye could be handed a debut when the Potters visit the south coast to face Bournemouth tomorrow.

Having completed a deadline day move to the bet365 Stadium on Deadline Day, Stoke manager Paul Lambert says the Senegalese midfielder could be in line to start against the Cherries.

Speaking in his press conference on Thursday, Lambert said “Badou Ndiaye hasn’t trained today because he has to tie up a few loose ends, I will see him tomorrow when he will train.”

Lambert also spoke of how happy he is with his return to Premier League football as a manager; “I’d have snapped your hand off with four points from six in my first two games. We’ve also kept two clean sheets as well, which matches the same amount all season.”

Bournemouth host Stoke off the back of a surprise 3-0 victory away at champions Chelsea, where Eddie Howe’s side played extremely well. Scotsman Lambert said “I don’t think Bournemouth’s result will have any bearing on Saturday’s game.”

Stoke have no fresh injury concerns, and following Wednesday nights 0-0 bottom of the league clash with Watford at the bet365 Stadium, Lambert could shake up what has proven to be quite a successful formula in his first eleven selection.

“We will cause them problems by playing the way that we do and will go out to win.”