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The failure to make anything of the immensely talented Giannelli Imbula has been a great loss to Stoke. Aside from the financial impact, the downfall for the Potters is the indifference of their midfield in his absence.
Glenn Whelan has finally departed, but Darren Fletcher provides nothing more than a short-term, safe pair of hands type solution. The limited Charlie Adam is only one injury away from becoming first choice, too.
Joe Allen carries a lot of the expectation, especially offensively. He popped up with the odd goal playing in an advanced role last season, but his future has always been from a deeper position. It was where he thrived at Swansea and where he is expected to play for the majority of his career.
The Welshman is now paired with Fletcher on a regular basis in the middle of the park. Fletcher does the sensible work, and spreads play from deep.
Allen, meanwhile, is meant to provide a little more attacking impetus and link play with the front three. His industry can never be questioned, but Allen’s contribution in the defensive or attacking third of the pitch is marginal.
He provides energy alongside the veteran Fletcher, but there is no defence-splitting passes, no match-transforming ball-carrying, and no tempo-dictating performances.
For all that Allen provides, it is hard not to ponder what Stoke’s midfield could look like had they accepted the hefty offer from Swansea City this summer.
It would mean that Mark Hughes was playing two new signings together from the off this season, but it could have enabled the Potters to reinforce their depth in central midfield, too.
Should have been upgraded
Allen is a solid midfielder, he covers a lot of ground, he is reliable.
He could – and perhaps should – have been upgraded on by Stoke over the last window, however. Even in this inflated transfer market, the reported fee of around £20 million could have revamped a Stoke midfield desperately in need of a spark.
Fletcher and Allen are solid, but the puzzling year and a half of Imbula in the Potteries remains a frustrating ‘what could have been’.
Written by Sam Cox
Follow Sam on Twitter @SamRCox_
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