The transfer deadline passes at 11pm on Monday, February 1 and Stoke City have already brought in four new players. What else can we expect?
We have gone through the squad, department by department, as Michael O’Neill and his recruitment team prepare for the end of the window.
BETWEEN THE STICKS
Stoke’s goalkeeping department is in its healthiest position since 2015 when Mark Hughes had Jack Butland, Asmir Begovic and Thomas Sorensen at his disposal.
Joe Bursik has seized an unexpected early chance at the age of 20 and, with the return of Adam Davies and Angus Gunn, is now number one on merit.
He could, theoretically, still sign for another club on loan for the rest of the season – the rules which prevented players from representing more than two clubs in a season have been changed due to the pandemic – but don’t expect that.
Gunn is on loan for the season and it would be interesting to see how long Davies would remain on the sidelines before a top end Championship club came knocking.
O’Neill said: “It’s nice to have that strength in that position and it gives us options but, like anything, you don’t change your goalkeeper for the sake of it. I think if the man in possession is doing well, it’s up to him to hold onto the jersey – and down to the other guys to put pressure on him as well.”
AT THE BACK
The Nathan Collins situation makes things interesting, having stood in pretty expertly at right-back since November. An out-and-out right-back might be on the agenda when available but his form has made sure it’s not quite so urgent as it was on the left.
There is plenty to weigh up, including his value, the loss to the squad and the team and the financial fair play rules.
It’s better to have players who are wanted in the Premier League than not. It’s even better to be in a position to say no. Until Stoke can win promotion and escape the EFL’s restrictions, everyone will have a price tag.
Liam Lindsay hasn’t played for 12 months and it is hoped he can find a new home. There is encouragement that Kevin Wimmer might attract late interest, too, having not played for Stoke since Paul Lambert replaced Hughes three years ago this month.
In the middle, James Chester only signed a one-year deal last summer, Ryan Shawcross is in the final few months of the contract he penned in 2017 and talks are ongoing with Harry Souttar about improving and extending his terms beyond 2022.
Stoke have been credited with interest by the Scottish press in Hibernian’s 18-year-old left-back Josh Doig.
IN THE MIDDLE
Stoke are overflowing with central midfielders as Joe Allen, Sam Clucas and John Obi Mikel all return to the squad following various degrees of injury.
Jordan Thompson, Jordan Cousins and Josh Tymon’s stock had lifted in their absence. Tashan Oakley-Boothe hasn’t been able to make a big enough impression when given the chance.
That’s before you consider the senior men out on loan: Peter Etebo, Ryan Woods, Badou Ndiaye. There is scope for some serious trimming in the summer.
Stoke have looked more of an attacking force since the arrival of Rhys Norrington-Davies allowed for a switch to 4-3-3 – but they still to need that killer ingredient in the final third.
The return of Steven Fletcher is a blessed relief even if still he needs a little bit of time to be back in top gear at his elbow shaking, aggressive and energetic best. Lee Gregory is returning to training this week too.
Jack Clarke and Rabbi Matondo give O’Neill different options out wide – and Neil Warnock still bemoaning Premier League clubs making it very difficult to bring front men highlights how tricky it was to get that kind of player in this month. Any further arrivals would be a surprise.
Tom Ince could have options overseas and Sam Vokes isn’t doing himself any favours in terms of getting into the Wales squad with cameos from the bench.
Nick Powell has been linked with an inquiry from Newcastle United but, at 26 and so important to O’Neill’s plans, any suitor would have to wrestle him away.