Stoke City vs Birmingham preview: Downtrodden Potters must recover from Leeds thrashing
LEEDS, ENGLAND - JULY 09: Stoke City's Jack Butland takes a goal kick during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Stoke City at Elland Road on July 9, 2020 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport/CameraSport via Getty Images)

Stoke City, fresh from a gut-wrenching 5-0 loss away to top of the table Leeds United, host Birmingham City with Michael O'Neill's side are in pursuit of three points as they aim to avoid the drop.

After suffering a 3-1 loss at home to Swansea City, the Blues will head into this game without Pep Clotet - after the manager was relieved of his position four games earlier than previously agreed upon.

Key Battles

Jude Bellingham, Blues' latest wonder-kid, has set the Championship alight this season at the age of 17. Bellingham has managed to amass four goals and two assists this season.  Averaging a 6.78 rating so far this season, the midfielder has proven to be a valuable asset in the heart of the midfield during his breakout season in professional football. 

Such performances have earned the midfielder his first professional contract, with each passing game linking the teenager with moves to clubs like Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund

Bellingham will be met in the middle of the park by Stoke's Sam Clucas - since the midfielder signed from Swansea in 2019, he's often suffered as a scapegoat by the Stoke fans - who have deemed his performances haven't quite lived up to the hype. 

Despite this, Clucas is Stokes top scorer of the campaign, with ten goals and three assists and has averaged an impressive 7.02 match rating (via WhoScored). Clucas will aim to contain the teenage wonder-kid and the thread he possesses for Birmingham. This battle will prove to be important during the clash as Stoke aim to beat the drop.

Previous Meetings

Birmingham are unbeaten in five games against the Potters, winning four and drawing one encounter with the Blues. Their most recent win came at St Andrews back in August, as the Blues edged past Stoke 2-1. 

Liam Lindsay drew first blood for the Potters in the 58th minute - Birmingham fired back on the 73rd minute, with Lukas Jutkiewicz putting his side level. It didn't take the hosts long to take a lead, as Bellingham scoring only three minutes after their first goal. 

Team News

The Blues are without any injury concerns, though Maxime Colin, Dan Crowley and Bellingham are all one yellow card away from a one match suspension. 

Joe Allen remains injured for Stoke, with a achillies tendon rupture, Ryan Shawcross is also still sidelined with a fractured foot. 

Predicted Line-up

Stoke XI: Butland; Smith, Chester, Batth, Indi; Clucas, Cousins, Powell; McLean, Campbell, Ince (4-3-3).

Birmingham XI: Camp; Colin, Roberts, Clarke-Salter, Pedersen, Crowley, Bellingham, Sunjic, Bela, Hogan, Jutkiewicz (4-4-2).

Managers Thoughts

O'Neil praised Leeds for their hunger in their last game and provided a scathing review of his sides level of performance.

"They're hungry players. That's key and we are a long, long way from where they are. It will take time to change that.

"Tonight you saw the difference between a team at the top and one which for two seasons has been at the bottom end of the table, a long way off where they need to be.

"We gave a decent account in the first half, but you can't give them a leg up, which we did with the penalty. Once behind, it was always tough."

After Pep Clotet was relieved of his duties, Steve Spooner has taken over the Blues as caretaker manager - but has insisted that he will look to the future of the club when selecting his starting eleven.

"We have prepared the players for that. Obviously we have prepared beyond that because that would be poor caretaking from us if we did not look beyond the one game.

"If we were to be in charge for just the one game, if anyone else comes in, we would like to think we have given them a kind of platform in terms of organisation and routine for them to build on.

“We plan for beyond Stoke but not looking any further beyond that game.

“I am excited, I love this club, the people at Birmingham have become very special to me, this is a certain kind of football club."

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