Despite a very busy summer, life hasn’t planned out as Stoke City would have liked so far this season, but should the Championship side consider parting ways with Alex Neil before the next international break?
The 2022/23 season saw Alex Neil’s side finish 16th in the division, finishing closer to the relegation zone than the top six, with the club sitting nine points clear. This placed a significant amount of pressure on the club’s recruitment team ahead of the summer window and it’s fair to admit that the manager has been firmly backed.
For starters, the club released 16 players after the Championship season concluded, with the likes of Nick Powell, Phil Jagielka, Sam Clucas and Morgan Fox amongst those that were let by the club.
However, with the pressure firmly on, Stoke City made 18 additions to their squad with a host of players from experienced Championship players to upcoming European talents joining the football club, massively improving the quality within the first-team squad.
Full-back Ki-Jana Hoever rejoined Alex Neil’s side on loan, whilst the likes of Enda Stevens, Ben Pearson and Luke McNally joined to add further experience and leadership to the Championship side. Elsewhere, the club’s best piece of business was in the European market with several talented players such as Bae Jun-Ho and Wouter Berger completing seven-figure switches to the club.
On paper, despite Jacob Brown’s move to Luton Town, Stoke City had arguably one of the best transfer windows in the Championship and that should have set the club up for success but so far this hasn’t been the case.
What’s gone wrong?
Admittedly, signing 18 new players is always going to create the difficult task of settling them all into the building, but they also aren’t the only side that have recruited a high number of players. For example, Birmingham City had 12 new additions and have enjoyed an outstanding start to the current campaign.
Similarly, the club ended the 2022/23 season in poor form, beating Coventry 4-0 before finishing the campaign with a seven-match winless run. Things began to recover after the club won four of their opening six matches in all competitions this season but have since slipped to just one point from their last four matches including a 3-1 loss to Hull City at the weekend.
The other issue for Alex Neil is that he doesn’t appear to know which formation/system to use after using four different formations in the club’s last five games. During the club’s 6-1 win against Rotherham United in the EFL Cup, Stoke played a 4-2-3-1 system, which allowed the likes of Josh Laurent and Wouter Burger to stand out. However, following a defeat to Preston, Neil changed formation to a 4-1-4-1, with Burger struggling in the central midfield role. This was then changed to a 3-5-2 with the two wide players being played as left/right midfielders rather than wing-backs, but this was once again changed against Hull with the two wide players playing as full-backs.
The constant changing of formations also appears to be a direct response to how Alex Neil thinks the opposition squad will line up instead of focussing on trying to put together the best squad that he can on the day, which is an extremely worrying prospect to consider.
Stoke City currently sit 2oth in the Championship after their first eight league matches, but are already 14 points behind the top two and unsurprisingly the club supporters are demanding answers, ahead of their next outing against AFC Bournemouth in the EFL Cup on Wednesday.
Is it time for a change?
Taking a look at the club’s recent Championship form, Alex Neil’s side have won just two of their last 15 matches. Intriguingly, Stoke City have also played 15 away matches in the Championship since their victory against Saturday’s opponents Bristol City in December 2022, but have won just three of them.
After making the surprise switch from Sunderland to Stoke City, Alex Neil has lost 24 of his 53 matches in charge and averages just 1.23 points per game given the money that the club have spent so far, it isn’t surprising that their supporters are far from impressed.
Admittedly, Stoke have only played four times since the transfer window concluded, but including the end of last season the 42-year-old has had more than enough time to turn things around and he has struggled to do so.
Therefore, I do believe the pressure is firmly on Alex Neil and given the amount of talent at their disposal, the club simply have to be doing better than they currently are. For that reason, I agree with the club’s supporters that I don’t believe Alex Neil is the right man to take Stoke City forward and his current run of form alone would justify his dismissal.
Who could come in?
If Stoke City were to part ways with Alex Neil, it would be intriguing to see whether the Championship side look to follow the summer trend and appoint a European manager who may have an understanding of some of the players or whether they look to stick closer to home.
For example, Chris Wilder is currently available and has admitted that he is keen to return to management. Wilder has experience in taking clubs into the Premier League and has also worked with the likes of Enda Stevens before as well as having a style of play that would better suit the majority of Stoke’s first-team squad.
However, there is likely to be a whole list of options should the managerial position become available before the next international break.
A difficult run
One thing that doesn’t help Alex Neil is the club’s difficult fixture schedule between now and the international break. Stoke City begin with a trip to AFC Bournemouth in the EFL Cup, before travelling to Bristol City. The Potters will then host Russell Martin’s Southampton before travelling to the league leaders Leicester City.
Alex Neil’s side could find themselves in the bottom three of the Championship if results don’t begin to change and this puts the managerial position at risk, especially with a lot of the club’s supporters making their feelings known both in the stadium and on social media.
Stoke City fans, are you Alex Neil in or Alex Neil out? Let us know on Twitter @TheRealEFLNews!