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Premier League Weekly: Can Paul Lambert pull off a salvage job at Stoke?

Stoke City boss Paul Lambert (PA)
Stoke City boss Paul Lambert (PA)

WITH the FA Cup quarter-finals taking centre stage this weekend, there are only four Premier League matches taking place.

But for all eight of those teams, there is something to play for, and the focus of PREMIER LEAGUE WEEKLY is one club with more than most, Stoke City.

Can Stoke regain their bite at home?

STOKE CITY have now been Premier League residents for a decade. It’s to their great credit that their identity has even coined a whole idea of football. The Bet365 Stadium (formerly the Britannia) is probably the most inhospitable venue in the Premier League. It is cold and invariably windy and it’s not usually a nice place for opponents to visit.

All of the Premier League’s elite clubs have suffered at the hands of Stoke. The two Manchester clubs, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham have all made miserable return journeys from the Potteries at times in the last ten years. Being able to do the business on a cold, wet night in Stoke has been the epitome of what it takes to be Champions of England. It’s the question jokingly bandied about on the topic of Lionel Messi coming to the Premier League. ‘Yes, we know he’s a great player. But could he do it at Stoke?’

Sadly, this season, even Stoke have stopped performing at Stoke. For a team whose Premier League presence has been based on their home form, this is worrying. Only five wins from 15 matches and just seven from 19 last season. Manchester City came to town on Monday night and passed the exam with flying colours – they had even left the examination room with half an hour to spare having answered all the questions.

Paul Lambert replaced Mark Hughes as manager in January as the Welshman’s tenure had run aground, but there has been no marked improvement. When Lambert took over, they were 18th. They are now 19th after a run of seven points from seven games, including only one win. If they carry on that form, they will be relegated come May.

That is why winning their home matches is so important. Starting with Everton tomorrow, then they welcome Tottenham, Burnley and Crystal Palace in the weeks ahead. And given that their away record is wretched, they may need to win three of those games to have a realistic chance of retaining their top-flight status.

One problem is that on top of their poor form on the pitch, the team has lost its identity. Hughes may have wowed with his magic front three of Marko Arnautovic, Bojan Krkic and Xherdan Shaqiri a couple of years ago, but only Shaqiri remains. Possibly even more detrimentally, the likes of Glenn Whelan and Jon Walters have also moved on. Their time was up on the pitch but their influence in the dressing room and understanding what was required to be a Stoke player have been lost. It has left a void meaning Stoke have turned into a team that is struggling for both flair and feistiness and as a result is in real trouble with eight games to go. So, there has never been a time in the last few seasons when that Stoke spirit has been needed more than now.

Stat of the Day

4 – Four teams have finished as runners-up in the Premier League, but have never been Champions (Aston Villa, Newcastle, Liverpool, Tottenham).

Adam’s Saturday Scores

Bournemouth 2 West Brom 0

DON’T expect Alan Pardew’s West Brom misery to end here. A comfortable home win for the Cherries.

Huddersfield 1 Crystal Palace 1

THE proverbial relegation six-pointer. With talisman Wilfried Zaha back in the team, Crystal Palace should have enough to return from West Yorkshire with a point.

Stoke 1 Everton 0

THIS could be the game for Stoke to launch their survival bid against a side which has lost six on the bounce on their travels.

Liverpool 3 Watford 0

BEFORE Liverpool can focus totally on their Champions League quarter-final with Manchester City, they need to nail down their top-four spot, starting here.