Stoke City and Mark Hughes surprised everybody by snapping up a defender from Barcelona earlier this week.
When you think of players that have graduated from the Barcelona academy to make appearances for both the Barcelona first team as well as the European under-21 champions, there is a certain expectation for the kind of career you believe they will have.
Marc Muniesa is no different in that fact. As a centre back comfortable with playing the ball out from the back, you could be forgiven for thinking that now his Barcelona contract was up that he would move to a team that matches his skill set, especially with so many Liga BBVA teams interested.
In not doing so he has indicated the direction in which Mark Hughes is trying to take this team. His desire is to make Stoke a passing side but this will take some time to implement. Muniesa does reflect the start of this shift and despite being an absolute coup on a free transfer he faces the problem of breaking up the two strongest elements of Pulis’ side, the centre backs.
While Shawcross and Huth won’t be split immediately, Muniesa’s ambition will be to form a partnership with one of the two in order to add a more balanced approach at the heart of their defence. The natural candidate to partner up with would of course be Ryan Shawcross, especially if the end goal is to become free flowing.
However, Muniesa is just one piece of the puzzle in this challenge that Hughes has decided to take on. This challenge for Hughes however isn’t simply down to changing the way Stoke play; he will also be looking to silence the critics he earned from his dreadful performance in charge of QPR, all while trying to not only match, but exceed the fantastic job that Tony Pulis did at the Brittania Stadium.
With that in mind, Mark Hughes has made a magnificent start to his tenure. To continue the shift in football philosophy Rory Delap, Mamady Sidibe, Matthew Upson and Dean Whitehead have all been released.
In addition to these releases, Hughes has signed Erik Pieters for slightly more than £3million, thus adding even more quality to Stoke’s back line while only parting with a relatively tiny sum.
Nonetheless, if Hughes wants to continue building on his initial good work he will have to address Stoke’s midfield and attack, as this is where a new style of play will truly be reflected.
I have no doubt that Hughes will already be on the case to deal with this but he will also have to utilise the full extent of his management ability in order to ensure that there is no drop off in performance while he oversees this transition.
To be frank, the integrity of his role as a Premier League manager at this time depends on it.
image: © jad99