Who could stop Michael O’Neill going back to market? Stoke City state of play before transfer deadline



Stoke City have wrapped up pre-season with two wins over Premier League opposition and now there’s just a week to go before the Championship curtain raiser – and only a month to go before the first transfer deadline.

The transfer window will close for international deals on October 5 – and the deals done before then could help dictate how much space remains for Michael O’Neill to act in a domestic-only window which will then run for another 11 days.

There is still a fair bit of manoeuvring to do before the clock strikes 5pm on Friday, October 16.

Here we look at the business already done by Stoke this summer, assess the prospect of more new recruits and take a look at who could be going through the exit door.

Stoke City’s pre-season record

Amid all the transfer comings and goings, here are the friendlies that Michael O’Neill has fitted in to his first pre-season.

Linfield 0 Stoke City 1 (Tymon)

Stoke City 0 Burton Albion 1

Stoke City 5 (Oakley-Boothe, Mikel, Ince, Afobe, Campbell) Shrewsbury Town 1

Carabao Cup first round: Stoke City 0 Blackpool 0 – Stoke won 5-4 on penalties

Stoke City 3 (Collins, Gregory, Ince) Leeds United 0

Newcastle United 0 Stoke City 1 (Clucas)

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What’s happened so far?

Michael O’Neill has brought in four free agents so far as he reshapes the squad he inherited last November, while also trying to keep an eye on numbers.

Adam Federici (who has joined Macarthur in Australia), Stephen Ward (Ipswich Town) and Mame Diouf (Hatayspor, Turkey) were released at the end of their contracts while Julien Ngoy has joined KAS Eupen in Belgium.

Youth graduates Jake Dunwoody and Cameron McJannet have also left to join Derry City while Ollie Shenton has gone to Chorley.

Stoke couldn’t tie down 16-year-old hot prospect Mo Sankoh, who turned down a lucrative first contract offer to head to Stuttgart.

Ryan Woods has immediately returned to Gary Rowett’s Millwall on loan, where he will be ineligible to feature on the first day against Stoke, and England youth keeper Joe Bursik has joined Doncaster Rovers on loan to further his development while Lasse Sorensen has gone to MK Dons, where he turned in a man of the match performance on debut.

The smallest shock of the summer has been the return of James Chester as a free agent. He had spent the second half of last season on loan from Aston Villa, where his contract ran up.

O’Neill has filled the left-back void by bringing in Morgan Fox from Sheffield Wednesday – and then snapped up Fox’s old Wednesday teammate Steven Fletcher too.

Stoke also won the fight for John Obi Mikel, who left Trabzonspor in March.

Just let Mike Pejic try to explain how big he things this one could be.

“John Obi Mikel is an excellent signing,” he said. “Hopefully he plays every game in the season in the league. He’s the main man, a winner, a really good character who has had a very successful career for club and country.

“He’s the one who protects behind him, covers the defenders in those central areas. He’ll slot over where he is needed, he’ll sit in and support.

“He also supports those in front because he gives them a licence to do what they need to do to. He can fill in gaps communicate with them. In possession he sits in again with two centre-backs and keeper. It’s really important to have a player who understands that role and does it well.

“Look at successful teams over the years, from Nobby Stiles with England in 1966 to Jordan Henderson in the current Liverpool side, getting this one sorted is a big job.

“It’s so important and takes a lot of understanding about what you do and when you do it, when to pass players on and when to take responsibility. Mikel obviously does understand it. He’s going to be the main player. With him in the team, I can see us doing well.”

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What has Michael O’Neill said about his new signings?

“We’ve looked for quality and the players we’ve brought in demonstrate that,” said O’Neill.

“They’ve all spent a large portion of their careers at the top level of the game, particularly John Obi. You don’t last 12 years at Chelsea unless you have quality.

“The main thing when we met the players was that they had other options but they were prepared to buy into what we are trying to do here.

“The likes of Steven Fletcher and John Obi Mikel want to try to finish their careers in the Premier League. That’s their ambition and they see Stoke as an opportunity to do that.

“James Chester is the same. He has come back from a long injury at Aston Villa but he has spent a lot of his career at big clubs and in the Premier League.

“Morgan Fox is a player who has a different profile, coming from Charlton and Sheffield Wednesday and now Stoke. He wants to try to play in the Premier League, he wants to try to break into the Wales squad.

 “The main thing was the character of the players. Having spent a lot of time with them before they signed, we got a good feel for them and they got a good feel for us.

“We’ve also walked away from deals because players’ wages were unrealistic or the valuation of the player didn’t meet our valuation of the player and that’s something we’ll continue to do so we get the right players in the building.”

More outgoings expected

This is key to both give O’Neill the streamlined and competitive group he wants – and for all the reasons behind financial fair play.

Four senior players who went out last season on loan are all expected to depart: Peter Etebo, Badou Ndiaye, Moritz Bauer and Kevin Wimmer.

Badou, who helped Trabzonspor challenge for the title alongside Mikel last term, has been wanted by Besiktas and linked with Galatasaray. Again.

Jack Butland’s future has also been up for debate. His contract is up next season and he is currently behind Adam Davies in the pecking order, even if he’s finished pre-season with clean sheets against Leeds and Newcastle.

His agent Paul Stretford said: “Talks have been ongoing with Stoke City for the past two years since Jack made it clear his preference was not to extend his existing contract. Last season there were some very interesting opportunities for Jack but, due to differing reasons, they did not materialise.

“Relations between Jack, the manager and the club remain in a good place and if we are able to find the right fit for Jack then I am confident that conditions are right for a deal to happen.” 

He added: “[If no move materialises] either in the summer or next January’s window – Jack will stay with Stoke City until the end of his current contract at the end of next season.”

Butland missed the Blackpool game through injury but was back to play in a 3-0 friendly win over Leeds on Tuesday.

O’Neill said last weekend: “The club haven’t received any bids so Jack is working away well, he’s trained extremely hard since he’s come back in and looks in a good place. That’s the only way we can approach it at this minute in time.”

Other players on the fringes are subject to speculation.

Tom Edwards, who hasn’t played a league game since mid-December, is a wanted man – even if he is still keen to try to win over O’Neill.

Liam Lindsay has also been linked with Championship rivals, as has Lee Gregory. Bruno Martins Indi almost left in January but even whispers have been thin on the ground recently.

Who else could be for the cut?

A quick check of the current numbers should give a strong hint about where O’Neill might be tempted to let people leave.

There are seven centre-backs (Batth, Chester, Collins, Lindsay, Martins Indi, Shawcross, Souttar) even before Wimmer is taken into account or an emerging talent like Will Forrester. Collins was used at right-back against Leeds but Martins Indi’s time covering left-back has been relieved by Fox, who can also play as the left centre-half in a back three. Shawcross still has to prove his fitness.

O’Neill will use a back three pretty regularly this season, it is expected, so he has to weigh up how many he will need to cover such a hectic run of fixtures.

There are five strikers (Afobe, Campbell, Fletcher, Gregory, Vokes) and the manager will rotate between a sole centre-forward and two up front. Campbell has also been used wide right.

The pecking order there remains to be seen.

There’s also a big group of bodies in central midfield, especially with Joe Allen nearing a return after that Achilles tendon rupture. He’ll join Sam Clucas, Mikel, Tashan Oakley-Boothe, Jordan Cousins, Nick Powell and Jordan Thompson. There’s Etebo and Badou too somewhere on the horizon – and youth captain Adam Porter is very promising.

Oakley-Boothe and Thompson will get plenty of minutes to speed their progress after arriving in January while Cousins now has Mikel as competition for the holding role.

Departures in any of these departments are needed to open a space for O’Neill to tinker with the balance of his squad.

What other signings are needed?

If Jack Butland does leave, expect a goalkeeper to arrive as competition for Adam Davies.

Blondy Nna Noukeu is highly regarded coming through the ranks but still only 18 while Bursik is out on loan. David Marshall was linked but then left Wigan for Derby.

Similarly, at right-back – one out could mean one in, although we discuss one might stop that below.

Tom Edwards hasn’t featured this week.

Stoke still look short of senior depth out wide. Campbell is fighting with Tom Ince to start on the right while Josh Tymon and Thibaud Verlinden, returning from injury, are competition for James McClean on the left.

This window is also a chance for a rare bargain as clubs try to navigate crises. An opportunity to improve the starting XI in any position would be seized.

Who might stop Michael O’Neill looking in the market?

Right-back Kieran Coates was promoted to the first team bench against Leeds after training on and off with the seniors over the last couple of weeks. The 18-year-old Stoke fan from Smallthorne is quick and aggressive.

His progress last season was stalled by injury near the start but he was productive during lockdown to make sure he has returned in top condition and bursting for any chance.

Thibaud Verlinden is a huge talent and he’s due a massive dose of good luck, having had to handle a series of bad injuries and then a manager who didn’t like wingers. How he returns from a knee ligament injury could be a huge boon. He can operate on either wing, has a decent cross and a fierce shot – but he has to be productive. He has it in him to be a real star.

Adam Porter is an energetic and disciplined midfielder. He’s captained Stoke at every level through the junior ranks and he’ll be a leading figure for Kevin Russell’s under-23s this time, as will Will Forrester.

Nathan Collins is waiting for his big run of games in the middle of defence. The 19-year-old’s potential is obvious and he has had to be patient. Once he’s in, he could stay in for a long time.

O’Neill has been working with Harry Souttar for the first time after the defender returned from 18 months on loan at Fleetwood Town. There are clubs who are keen to snatch him if Stoke can’t promise him regular action.

Josh Tymon has raced into contention thanks to his Nottingham Forest-season-wrecking cameo on the final day of last term. He can be used at left-back, wing-back or on the wing – and had a run out on the left of a midfield three against Leeds.

The 21-year-old is exceptionally quick with a good cross. Wing-back might be his natural role. He’ll have a big job competing with Morgan Fox and James McClean but any more performances approaching what he showed at the City Ground will make him impossible to ignore.

Having read all that, what odds on Stoke to win promotion?

Watford 5/2; Brentford, Norwich 8/4; Bournemouth 10/3; Stoke 7/2; Nottingham Forest 4/1; Cardiff 5/1; Derby, Swansea, Middlesbrough, Millwall 6/1; Blackburn, Bristol City, Preston 8/1; Barnsley, Birmingham, Huddersfield 9/1; QPR, Luton, Reading 11/1; Coventry 14/1; Sheffield Wednesday 16/1; Rotherham 33/1; Wycombe 66/1.

Stoke City fixtures 2020/21

September 12 (Saturday, 3pm): Millwall v Stoke City 

September 19 (Saturday, 3pm): Stoke City v Bristol City

September 26 (Saturday, 3pm): Preston North End v Stoke City

October 3 (Saturday, 3pm): Stoke City v Birmingham City

October 17 (Saturday, 3pm): Luton Town v Stoke City

October 21 (Wednesday, 8pm): Stoke City v Barnsley 

October 24 (Saturday, 3pm): Stoke City v Brentford 

October 27 (Tuesday, 7.45pm): Swansea City v Stoke City

October 31 (Saturday, 3pm): Stoke City v Rotherham United

November 4 (Wednesday, 7.45pm): Watford v Stoke City 

November 7 (Saturday, 3pm): Reading v Stoke City 

November 21 (Saturday, 3pm): Stoke City v Huddersfield Town

November 24 (Tuesday, 8pm): Stoke City v Norwich City

November 28 (Saturday, 3pm): Sheffield Wednesday v Stoke City

December 2 (Wednesday, 7.45pm): Wycombe Wanderers v Stoke City

December 5 (Saturday, 3pm): Stoke City v Middlesbrough 

December 8 (Tuesday, 8pm): Stoke City v Cardiff City

December 12 (Saturday, 3pm): Derby County v Stoke City

December 15 (Tuesday, 7.45pm): Queens Park Rangers v Stoke City

December 19 (Saturday, 3pm): Stoke City v Blackburn Rovers

December 26 (Saturday, 3pm): Coventry City v Stoke City

December 29 (Tuesday, 8pm): Stoke City v Nottingham Forest

January 2 (Saturday, 3pm): Stoke City v AFC Bournemouth

January 16 (Saturday, 3pm): Blackburn Rovers v Stoke City

January 19 (Tuesday, 7.45pm): Rotherham United v Stoke City

January 23 (Saturday, 3pm): Stoke City v Watford 

January 30 (Saturday, 3pm): Huddersfield Town v Stoke City

February 6 (Saturday, 3pm): Stoke City v Reading 

February 13 (Saturday, 3pm): Norwich City v Stoke City

February 16 (Tuesday, 8pm): Stoke City v Sheffield Wednesday

February 20 (Saturday, 3pm): Stoke City v Luton Town

February 24 (Wednesday, 7.45pm): Barnsley v Stoke City 

February 27 (Saturday, 3pm): Brentford v Stoke City 

March 3 (Wednesday, 8pm): Stoke City v Swansea City

March 6 (Saturday, 3pm): Stoke City v Wycombe Wanderers

March 13 (Saturday, 3pm): Middlesbrough v Stoke City 

March 16 (Tuesday, 7.45pm): Cardiff City v Stoke City

March 20 (Saturday, 3pm): Stoke City v Derby County

April 2 (Friday, 3pm): Bristol City v Stoke City

April 5 (Monday, 3pm): Stoke City v Millwall 

April 10 (Saturday, 3pm): Birmingham City v Stoke City

April 17 (Saturday, 3pm): Stoke City v Preston North End

April 21 (Wednesday, 8pm): Stoke City v Coventry City

April 24 (Saturday, 3pm): Nottingham Forest v Stoke City

May 1 (Saturday, 3pm): Stoke City v Queens Park Rangers

May 8 (Saturday, 3pm): AFC Bournemouth v Stoke City





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