Stoke City Analysis and Opinion

The international break really can come at an inconvenient time for a team can’t it? Having just started to get a grip of things in the Championship after two consecutive victories against Bolton and away at Norwich, frustration loomed as another international break was around the corner.

However manager Gary Rowett did not look fazed by any potential halt to momentum as he arrived for his pre-match press conference on Thursday, and was ready to speak to the media ahead of this weekend’s meeting with former employers Birmingham City.

Here’s everything you need to know from this week’s conference.

TEAM NEWS

With a number of the first team squad out on international duty over the past fortnight, Rowett was on hand to give updates regarding the squad ahead of the weekend.

He said:

“It’s [international break] always a challenge because you can get plenty of work done, but the reality is that you only have 10 or 11 players.”
“We had probably eight or nine return this morning [Thursday], with a variety in terms of how long journeys were and how they feel, but they’ve all trained.”
“There are one or two knocks but we won’t know until tomorrow. They’re all back and no one with immediate absence.”

USE OF EXPERIENCE

After having two weeks off, the Potters return to action with three fixtures in just seven days. With a schedule much different to that of the Premier League, Rowett was asked whether his experience in the division can help his side through more demanding periods of the season.

“The division is what it is, you have to have certain elements and for those who have forgotten what the Championship is like you can see that now. It’s a physically tough league, not just because of the proximity of the games, but also the opposition.”
“We haven’t had many clear weeks. It’s felt like you either have three games in a week or an international break.”
“I think this opening period is about putting the right team out, making the right decisions, keeping continuity where you can and riding with the period when you have a lot of players go away and come back.”

PREVIOUS EMPLOYERS

Saturday’s fixture will be the first against one of Rowett’s former clubs in the division this season, and despite a somewhat unsavoury ending, the Potters boss reflected fondly on his time at St Andrews.

“I had a great time there. Birmingham were 22nd and we got them very quickly to 10th. We had an unbelievable rise up the table early on, I think we won seven out of the first eleven games.”
“It depends how you define success but we did OK and I had a great time there. Great people, really good club and really enjoyed my time there regardless of how it ended, which is kind of immaterial now.”
“But I’m not the kind of person who when I play against an old club I become all melancholy about the whole thing. It’s a game we want to win and it’s our next opponent.”

ANOTHER FORM SIDE

Defeating a Norwich City side who had previously been unbeaten in eight games was a huge statement of intent for Stoke prior to the international break. With Saturday’s opponents in a similar vein of form, what does Rowett expect from his former employers?

“They’re a good side, whilst they’re below us in the table they’ve only lost two games. They’ve drawn a lot of games but in truth in a lot of those games they’ve performed better than their opponents.”
“For me, Garry [Monk] has got their identity back after a pretty turbulent time for the club. It looks to me now that he’s got a team which is very, very hard to play against.”
“It reminds me a little bit of when we were there in terms of mainly a counter-attacking side, very good at it, they’ve got some good players. There’s certainly more than them just counter-attacking but that is the predominant style that they’ve played.”
“It will be a tough match. They’re a good side and it’s going to be a physical game.”

EXTRA SUPPORT

With improved performances, there tend to be improved attendances. Saturday’s game against Birmingham is expected to be in front of the largest crowd so far this season, with over 27,000 fans set to attend. Rowett explained just how vital this support can be going forward.

“I think the biggest thing for me is that it’s on the back of some good results for us, on the back of improved performances.”
“We know how tough the game will be but the fans coming in their numbers will add to the atmosphere and add to the game and help us massively.”
“Fans can have a massive influence, just like the 3,000 travelling Blues can influence their team.”
“That’s what football’s about. We want some great games at the bet365 Stadium. We hope we’re successful in them but ultimately that’s what we all want to be a part of, those hotbed atmospheres that are enjoyable to go to and watch hopefully not too frenetic a game but a really feisty Championship affair.”

Momentum may have possibly halted for Rowett and his side over the past two weeks due to the international break, but there is no doubt that a victory on Saturday would help to resume their steady climb up the table.

Three points for The Potters could see them climb as high as 5th place, whereas a win for the visitors could see them up to 11th.