Mark Hughes’ Stoke City side will be looking to get back on track at the Britannia Stadium as Swansea City make the trip over the border to Staffordshire on Saturday. The two teams previously met on Monday Night Football where an early Bojan penalty was enough to secure all three points for the Potters.
The home side will be without first choice shot-stopper Jack Butland who is now out for the rest of season after fracturing his ankle in England’s dramatic win over Germany during the international break, much to the dismay of all the on watching Stoke fans.
This gives boss Mark Hughes a dilemma between the sticks. He could pick the young Danish shot stopper Jakob Haugaard, who has previously impressed in FA Cup ties against Doncaster Rovers and Crystal Palace.
The other option is the more experienced Shay Given. If given the nod, it would be to the delight of Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill. He would see his first choice goalkeeper for the European Championships get some much needed first-team action after missing four months through injury.
Big game for both
Swansea will also be hoping to carry on their winning ways after a scrappy 1-0 victory before the international break over relegation certainties Aston Villa.
However, the Swans have failed to win at the Britannia Stadium since returning to the Premier League after a Victor Moses header and a controversial penalty was enough to separate the two teams last season.
A win for the Swans could take their points tally up to 39, with all threats of relegation averted. Whilst three points tomorrow afternoon for the Potters could elevate them to seventh with 49 points, only a point behind Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United.
Are the Potters European outsiders?
With the unpredictable Premier League season this year, Stoke fans could find themselves jetting off across Europe for another European tour next year.
Yes, the Potters are outside shots to finish in the top six or seven of the League, but Leicester find themselves top with seven games to go, so why shouldn’t they believe that their European dream could become reality?
However, they would have to collect all three points this coming Saturday and put their poor home form, by usual standards, behind them and firmly push on in the latter stages of the campaign. Marko Arnautovic will be influential as he looks to set to be top scorer for Hughes’ side this season, a remarkable achievement having spent most of the season out on the left.
Nevertheless, when he doesn’t play well, Stoke City don’t tick. Swansea could focus on him throughout the game and attempt to mark him out of the game, meaning Stoke's other key players having to pick up the workload.
Giannelli Imbula will also be vital in the run to help Stoke leap frog Southampton into seventh and potentially Manchester United. The former Porto man has bought a new lease of life to the Potters midfield, the retainer they have been missing since Steven N'Zonzi left for Sevilla in the summer transfer window.
How they could line up
Mark Hughes would have been hopeful of being able to name an unchanged side for two games running. However, due to Butland and Jon Walters’ both missing out, the Welshman is forced into changing his side that beat Watford last time out.
With the latter not being able to feature due to undergoing surgery on his knee, he is out for the rest of the season and in a race to be fit for the Euros in the summer.
Xherdan Shaqiri should come back into the line up after limping off in the defeat to Southampton, and Erik Pieters to slot back in at left-back after missing his only game all season away at Watford. A long trip back from international duty could mean American Geoff Cameron may find himself on the bench with Marc Muniesa returning to the heart of the defence.
Swansea are likely to be unchanged after a win last time out. Francesco Guidolin will be hoping his side has the craft to break down a weakened Stoke back line and take away a much needed three points and secure their Premier League survival.