Can you name Stoke’s five Champions League winners?
It was the quiz question de jour on the jour in August that Stoke signed Jese Rodriguez on loan from Paris St Germain, with most non-Stokies stumbling over the name of Ibrahim Afellay. Less than five months later, only two of those Champions League winners started the Potters’ much-needed victory over Swansea, with Afellay coming off the bench, Jese stuck on said bench and Bojan marooned at the bottom of La Liga on loan at Alaves.
The two Champions League winners deemed worthy of playing for a very middling Stoke side without a win since October were of course steady Darren Fletcher and Xherdan Shaqiri, the creative force currently keeping the Potters out of a relegation battle and protecting Mark Hughes from total revolt. Without him, the Stoke fans patiently waiting for the end of season and the possibility of change would be chanting for heads to roll before Christmas.
Of the 18 Premier League goals netted by Stoke this season, nine have been scored or assisted by Shaqiri. He has created 33 chances this season; next on the Potters’ creative list is Fletcher with a pretty measly 16. The statistics back up the feeling – growing in Staffordshire and beyond – that the only entertaining thing about this forgettable Stoke side is the effervescent Swiss. After all, you don’t pay good money to watch an on-loan Chelsea defender.
They too know we are Xherdan Shaqiri FC pic.twitter.com/N5SNRkRm6R
— Harry (@hecairns) December 3, 2017
Shaqiri is increasingly not just the odd man out at Stoke – where Peter Crouch is once again the first, vaguely depressing option in attack – but the odd man out among other creative forces in the Premier League. Nobody else this good is at a club this stale.
As documented in Winners and Losers, the only Premier League players to claim both four goals and assists this season are Alvaro Morata (Chelsea), Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United), Leroy Sane (Manchester City), Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City), Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool) and a gatecrashing Shaqiri.
The November nominations for Player of the Month were De Bruyne (Manchester City), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Ashley Young (Manchester United), Richarlison (Watford), Mo Salah (Liverpool) and Shaqiri, who found himself in excellent company despite Stoke’s failure to win a single match in that month.
“I want better trophies!” was Shaqiri’s reaction to his nomination, which inevitably makes you wonder how long he will be content to be the oddly shaped big fish in this small, stagnant pond. Stoke have not won back-to-back Premier League games since January, and even those victories – over a soon-to-be relegated Sunderland and a plummeting Watford – sandwiched a third-round FA Cup exit. After over four years of Hughes, Stoke seem further away from those ‘better trophies’ than ever.
Ask any Stoke fan whether they would rather keep Shaqiri or Hughes, and you will barely find one voice making a case for the Welshman. Journalist Mark Holmes, a man of previously grating optimism about his beloved Stoke, now claims that 95% of fans would like to see a managerial change by the beginning of next season; they have once again arrived at that juncture where they crave something new.
Right now, there are only two reasons why Stoke fans will go to Wembley this weekend with anything other than a sliver of hope – the knowledge that Tottenham currently have a raft of their own problems, and the belief that they boast the fixture’s only in-form attacking midfielder. Where there is Shaqiri, there is hope.