Stoke City could hand a debut to record signing Giannelli Imbula in a bid to turn around a poor run of form when they host Everton in the Premier League on Saturday.
Stoke have not won for five matches in all competitions, losing away to Leicester City and Manchester United in the Premier League, bowing out of the League Cup semi-finals with a penalty shootout defeat to Liverpool and exiting the FA Cup in the fourth round at Crystal Palace.
Prior to that sequence, though, they claimed a credible 0-0 draw at home to title contenders Arsenal.
And manager Mark Hughes will be hoping a return to the familiar surrounds of the Britannia Stadium after four unhappy matches on the road can elicit a positive response from his depleted team.
The attacking trio of Xherdan Shaqiri, Marko Arnautovic and Bojan Krkic have snatched all the headlines for the Potters so far this term, while the capture of midfielder Imbula from Porto for a fee of £18.3 million in the mid-season transfer window will make rival teams sit up and take further notice of the Midlands club’s intent.
But it is at the back where this weekend’s match may be decided, given Philipp Wollscheid (calf), Ryan Shawcross (back), Geoff Cameron (ankle) could all be absent for the hosts, while long-term knee injury victim Marc Wilson is certain to miss out.
That leaves Marc Muniesa as one of Stoke’s few available experienced defenders and the former Barcelona man will be hoping Frenchman Imbula – a player he rates highly – can make an immediate impact ahead of the makeshift back four, should the new arrival feature against Everton.
“I just knew that in pre-season when we faced Porto that he played really, really well,” Muniesa said.
“I was really surprised by how good he was. We’re lucky that we have him now and I hope he brings a lot of quality and a lot of presence in the midfield. I think he will be a very good signing for us.”
Stoke, also expected to be without injured midfielder Charlie Adam (calf), will be facing an Everton team buoyed by a 3-0 victory at home to Newcastle on Wednesday, Ross Barkley having lit up Goodison Park with an accomplished performance in attacking midfield and two late goals from the penalty spot.
Aaron Lennon opened the scoring for Roberto Martinez’s men and the winger is hopeful the result will prove to be a watershed momentum for the inconsistent Merseyside club, who go into the game one point below 10th-placed Stoke.
“It’s been a tough season so far and we’ve been a bit unlucky,” he said.
“Hopefully we can kick on from here. If you see how good this squad is and the players we’ve got, I don’t see why we can’t go on a run now.”
Everton are not without fitness problems of their own, as they wait on the availability of striker Romelu Lukaku (knock) and defender John Stones (hamstring).
Joel Robles could deputise again for goalkeeper Tim Howard, who missed the Newcastle game with a knee problem.
Muhamed Besic has been ruled out until the end of February with a hamstring injury, while Kevin Mirallas has also been battling a tendon issue.
Key Opta stats:
-Stoke City have won five and lost just two of their last nine Barclays Premier League games at home (W5 D2 L2).
-Everton have lost just one of their last 12 Premier League away games, but seven of these have ended in a draw (W4 D7 L1).
-Peter Crouch could make his 400th Premier League appearance in this match and will become the 25th different Englishman to reach this landmark.
-Stoke have won a league-low one point in games that they have conceded the first goal in this season (10 games, W0 D1 L9).
-The Potters have failed to score in any of their last three Premier League games – they have not gone four top-flight games in succession without scoring since March 1985 (eight games).
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