Can Mark Hughes be a success at Stoke?

Before he went to QPR, Mark Hughes’ reputation was still strong after a good single season at Fulham, which followed what was widely regarded as an unfair sacking by Manchester City. The reason he had gotten the job at City was because he had managed Blackburn to a top-six finish in 2005-06, and he got that job because he very nearly took Wales to Euro 2004, which would have been their first tournament for 50 years.

This is a man with proper managerial pedigree. Really, Stoke are appointing him for his achievements in all his other positions. He did amazingly well with tiny budgets at Blackburn, with inferior players with Wales and maintained the Roy Hodgson momentum at Fulham. Blackburn and Fulham were mid-sized clubs who needed a steady hand at the tiller and a good eye for a bargain in the transfer market. Sounds like Stoke right? Well, not necessarily.

Mark Hughes

Hughes failed spectacularly at QPR and underachieved to some extent at Man City. Both of those jobs had exactly the same remit; big money, take the club on to the next level. At City, he tried to ease in Premier League players such as Joleon Lescott, Craig Bellamy, Gareth Barry, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Roque Santa Cruz so that City could more smoothly transition from mid table to top table. Also snuck in there were Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta. His plan was actually working pretty solidly, and despite the heinous amounts these players cost, they were heading in the right direction. However, they weren’t getting there quick enough for the new owners, and he was sacked.

At QPR then, baring his previous experience in mind, he tried to do things much quicker and at a club with much smaller cache than Man City. City had already been growing under Sven-Goran Eriksson so Hughes was adding better players to an already good squad. At QPR he was adding wholesale to a squad that barely survived relegation. He had to sign, or chose to sign, players who were only coming to the club because of the money offered. He went on a trolley dash, picked up whoever he could and tried to see what he could make of it. Unlike at Blackburn or even City, there was no plan, no end game.

This is what makes his arrival at Stoke so interesting. Stoke sacked Pulis because he can’t take them to the next level. They are the third highest net spenders in the league over the last five years and still haven’t cracked the top half. So, this is kind of similar to Hughes’ Man City job because at Stoke he will have a relatively big budget. The problem is, what is the next level? The top ten perhaps? The trouble is that the Premier League mid table is so congested and teams can’t sign from each other as they all have similar budgets and ambition.

Tony Pulis

Because of this, he will have to pay bigger sums to get minor improvements to his squad if he shops domestically, which is a very dangerous path and immediately puts a target on his back. It won’t be easy for him to decide on a coherent market strategy. However, he has now got the experience of this type of job and should now know what not to do, which gives him a real advantage. Stoke have more pedigree than QPR and thus this is more like the Man City build.

The other question is about the type of football he will play and in this sense he is a good bridge to better stuff. His teams never played beautiful football as such, but it was much nicer than what Stoke fans are used to seeing. But importantly, it’s not too different. He doesn’t need to change things wholesale to get them playing better, as someone like Roberto Martinez would. He will be comfortable with the more industrial players and more tolerant of the creative players. As a former striker he has an empathy for creators and goal scorers, something Pulis never had, always preferring industry.

Stoke City have a rock-solid defence and goalkeeper, which is a good foundation, similar to what Hughes had at Blakcburn and Fulham. If he can find the right attacking weapons then there is no reason why he can’t get Stoke playing better football in the top ten. He will have the money available to do so and in all his previous jobs has shown he can spend adroitly. He needs to remember what he’s learned about pacing the change properly and he can be a big success.


Manchester City all over again? Mark Hughes could be in trouble at QPR

Mark Hughes has seen it all before – an ambitious and wealthy owner and heightened expectations. When Sheik Mansour took the reigns at Manchester City and pledged to turn the mid-table side into world-beaters, Hughes was not given the time to steer the rather expensive ship, and was replaced by a more glamorous alternative. With the money spent by current club QPR in the summer, is the Welsh trainer in danger of suffering the same fate?

Looking in from the outside, Tony Fernandes looks more reasonable and patient than the ambitious Mansour, but given the amount of money the entrepreneur has poured into the Loftus Road outfit since his August 2011 takeover, a certain level of success is expected. The R’s sit rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table after six games with a lowly tally of two points, with the fans rightly concerned that their side are once more set for a relegation dogfight.

Hughes must take a large portion of the credit for keeping the London club in the top-tier of English football at the first time of asking in 2011-12, but his new signings have failed to settle in initially. With no wins, pressure starts to build, and football fans and owners have little room for sentimentality in the modern game.

From a neutral point of view Premier League survival would appear like a favourable outcome this season for QPR, but the Loftus Road faithful have entered into the campaign with high hopes after the last-day heroics of last term. However it would appear early thoughts of a mid-table finish will now be scrapped in favour for avoiding relegation.

QPR escaped the drop last season due to excellent home form after the turn of the year, with some of the big boys coming unstuck at Loftus Road. However, defeats to Swansea, West Ham and Reading in the Capital One Cup, all at home, will have alarm bells ringing.

Given the fact that Rangers have all but a new team after eleven purchases in the summer transfer window, it is natural that the team have taken time to hit their straps. The logical thing now is to back Hughes and give him time to lead the club in the right direction. However, with the amount of money invested in the club and the calibre of player at the Welshman’s disposal, the first win for QPR this season is already well overdue.

Manchester United, Liverpool and the biggest Premier League losers of 2011-12

Despite a fantastically entertaining season with a raft of Premier League winners this term, it has been a campaign to forget for some teams and individuals. Euro 2012, the Olympics and the summer transfer window are approaching, and for some 2011-12 could not come to an end quick enough. Here are Ninety Minutes Online’s biggest losers of 2011/12.


Despite lifting the Carling Cup with victory over Cardiff, 2011/12 has been the worst campaign for Liverpool for quite some time. The Anfield outfit’s fans expected their side to be challenging for a top four berth, but a eighth place finish, 17 points adrift of Tottenham in fourth, has been a massive disappointment.

From Fenway Sports Group’s ill-fated home-grown transfer policy, to Luis Suarez’s racism ban, defeat in the FA Cup final to embarrassing home defeats to some of the division’s lesser lights, Liverpool fans will want to forget 2011/12.

Andre Villas Boas

After leading Porto to an unbeaten league title and lifting the Europa League in 2010/11, Andre Villas Boas was heralded as the next Jose Mourinho and the man to lead Chelsea back to the summit of the Premier League. However, an at times bullish squad rotation system saw the senior players at the club alienated, the Blues floundering outside of the top four and Villas Boas given Roman Abramovich’s axe.

The £13 million Chelsea paid Porto for AVB’s services was not rewarded, and the young trainer is still out of work after seeing his stock drop in west London.


Wolves have been in a fight to stay in the Premier League over the last number of seasons, but Mick McCarthy has led them to survival and commanded the respect of the squad. Steve Morgan’s decision to sack McCarthy, despite a poor run of form, was an ill-sighted one, and the appointment of assistant Terry Connor a disaster.

The Molineux club reportedly interviewed the likes of Alan Curbishley and Steve Bruce for the role, but were reluctant to offer the experienced pair long-term contracts. The appointment of Connor has backfired, with the club finishing bottom with a woeful five wins all season.

Sir Alex Ferguson

2011/12 will be a season to forget for Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United. The Old Trafford outfit are known for their will to win and mental toughness at the business end of the season, but the relinquishing of an eight-point lead is sure to give the legendary Scottish manager nightmares for years to come.

A lame Champions League exit in the group stages, a 6-1 hammering from City at Old Trafford and FA Cup elimination to Liverpool have been hard to take for the defending champions’ fans.

Alex McLeish and Aston Villa

Alex McLeish was a shock appointment at Villa Park last summer given his links to rivals Birmingham City, and the club’s supporters have not warmed to the Scot since. A toothless tally of seven wins, weak defending, a lack of creativity and the division’s second-lowest goal tally have had the Villa fans with their heads in their hands.

McLeish’s position as Villa manager must come under scrutiny this summer, but Randy Lerner must also invest in new players if the team are to have a better 2012/13 – Stewart Downing and Ashley Young have simply not been replaced.

Honourable mentions

  • Venkys – With Blackburn relegated this term, Steve Kean has received most of the flack from the media and the club’s fans. However, the Lancashire outfit’s Indian owners Venkys have not given the Scottish coach any funds to spend, and the side are now reportedly in financial trouble.
  • John Terry – Due to stand a court case in July for reportedly racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, the Chelsea skipper has lost the captaincy of his country and there is a train of thought that Terry may be excluded completely from Euro 2012. Add to this a sending off against Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals for petulantly kneeing Alexis Sanchez, and Terry has had better years.
  • Jermain Defoe – The diminutive striker has proved time and again that he can score goals at the top level, but has simply not been given enough time on the pitch this season. Harry Redknapp’s preference for Emmanuel Adebayor and Rafael van der Vaart could cost Defoe a place at Euro 2012.
  • Jack Wilshere – The talented Arsenal midfielder has not seen one minute of action this season, with consecutive knee cruciate injuries keeping him on the sidelines throughout. Wilshere will also miss Euro 2012 due to injury.
  • Joey Barton – Barton is no doubt talented and able when in the correct mindframe, but stupidity, ill-discipline and a terrible attitude have continued to blight his career. A red card against Manchester City on Sunday cost his team the game and his constant abusive and opinionated Twitter comments should see Mark Hughes ditch his troubled ‘captain’ this summer.

Published – Soccerlens

Tottenham and Manchester City: Beware the wrath of the former manager

With the last day of the Premier League season on Sunday, all is still to play for in the race for the Premier League title, top four and in the battle to avoid relegation. Manchester City and Tottenham are in the driving seat in their respective ambitions of winning the league and qualifying for the Champions League. However, one thing stands in their way; a dedicated former manager.

City sit top of the standings on goal difference and need three points against QPR this weekend to seal their first top-flight title since 1968. Roberto Mancini’s men have been imperious at the Etihad Stadium this term, winning 17 out of their 18 games at home and remaining unbeaten as hosts. On paper City should have the quality and motivation to dispatch the Loftus Road side; however, Rangers still need a point to ensure their Premier League status for next season, as a Bolton win away at Stoke would see the London team drop back into the bottom three.

Rangers’ fortunes have taken an upturn since Mark Hughes replaced Neil Warnock as the club’s manager. The newly-promoted side have beaten Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham since the Welsh trainer’s introduction, and have looked like a stubborn and solid side of late.

Reports in the press indicate that QPR owner Tony Fernandes will reward Hughes with a £1 million payout should he keep the club in the top flight, however the head coach will be motivated to prove a point for other reasons this Sunday. Hughes was treated harshly in his stint at City, dispatched by the club and their lofty ambitions after Sheik Mansour’s takeover, and the Rangers boss will feel that Mancini has taken advantage of the groundwork set by him.

Hughes did not have stars such as David Silva, Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and others at his disposal during his time at the club, and in the early stages of the City revolution patience was not in abundance. Hughes has excelled since leaving the Manchester team, both at Fulham and QPR, and will be keen to show that City’s current success may originate from his initial underpinnings.

Meanwhile, in north London Tottenham are on the verge of reclaiming a top-four spot, and need three points at home to Fulham to confirm fourth place at least. Although finishing in third is also possible if Arsenal slip-up at West Brom, Harry Redknapp has admitted that he will be happy to claim fourth place.

Spurs’ early-season heroics have hit a sizeable roadblock over the last two months, and the White Hart Lane club have dropped from potential title challengers to scrapping for fourth. However, Martin Jol and Fulham stand in the way of a successful campaign for Spurs.

Fulham have had a good second half of the season, and the likes of Moussa Dembele, Pavel Pogrebnyak and especially Clint Dempsey will prove a threat to Spurs’ season. Martin Jol is a popular figure at White Hart Lane after his stint in the club’s hotseat. The Dutch trainer put the wheels in motion for Spurs’ current place as one of he country’s best teams, and led Tottenham to two fifth-placed finishes.

Jol has done a good job with Fulham also, and Spurs are by no means guaranteed an easy three points. Similar to Hughes, Jol will feel that his departure from Tottenham was slightly unjust, and the headhunting of Juande Ramos to replace him will have left a slightly bitter taste in the mouth. Jol will look to prove a point to Daniel Levy and the rest of the Tottenham board this weekend, and in doing so could well end the north London club’s hopes of Champions League football.

Tottenham: Easier April on paper for Harry Redknapp’s men

Tottenham will be glad to see the back of March and their tricky fixture list against some of the best sides in the Premier League. A stuttering period has been costly, with Spurs relinquishing their grip on third place and falling to fourth, behind Arsenal. However, with a more agreeable five fixtures in April, Harry Redknapp’s men will look to close the three-point gap on their bitter rivals and take back the automatic Champions League qualification place.

Swansea home

Tottenham take on the progressive Welsh side at home this Sunday, and will look to get back to winning ways in the league after only two points from their last five games in the division.

Brendan Rodgers has instilled an exciting passing style in the Liberty Stadium outfit, who have surpassed all expectations this season in their first season in the top flight. The Swans are generally better at home than on the road, but have nothing to lose and will go out to compete.

In Gylfi Sigurdssson the visitors have a dangerous attacking midfielder who can score goals also; Spurs must watch the on-loan Iceland international carefully. However, with the bulk of his players fit and available for selection, Harry Redknapp will urge his men to show their quality and get three points.

Sunderland away

Not an easy fixture by any means, Sunderland are always a tricky opponent in front of the passionate Stadium of Light crowd. The Wearside club looked like relegation contenders back in December, but new manager Martin O’Neill has given The Black Cats confidence and powered them up into the top half.

The Bantams have taken their foot off the pedal slightly in recent weeks, and Spurs will be buoyed on by Everton’s comprehensive 2-0 win over Sunderland away from home in the FA Cup quarter-finals. However, O’Neill will motivate his side to be at their best as they look to finish as high as possible in the league.

In James McClean the hosts have a tricky and fearless winger, who has lit the Premier League up in his debut season, whilst Stephane Sessegnon is difficult to mark as he plays in the hole between teams’ midfield and defence. Redknapp should adopt a three-man midfield and hope the likes of Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart can inspire the London side to victory.

Norwich home

Another home clash against a newly-promoted side, this on paper is a game Tottenham must win. Despite the relative inexperience of the Canaries’ players in the top flight, the Carrow Road club have, like Swansea, got their teeth into their campaign back in the big time and not looked out of place.

Paul Lambert’s men have already guaranteed their safety, and Tottenham will hope to catch Norwich cold after a long, hard season. At White Hart Lane the visitors will most likely set up a defensive line-up and look to counter on the break, so Spurs must be patient in attempts to breaks their opponents down.

Targetman Grant Holt will provide a threat in attack, and the bulky striker must be given little space by the Spurs centre half pairing. Enforcing some strong and fast like Younes Kaboul to counter Holt’s physicality may be a good move.

QPR away

London rivals QPR are fighting for their lives at the bottom of the Premier League, and are right in the mix with four other teams in the battle to avoid demotion to the Championship. Mark Hughes has a raft of January signings at his disposal, and the Loftus Road crowd will be desperate to pick up points.

Despite their position in the bottom three of the division, Rangers have shown some steel at home at times, beating Chelsea and overturning a two-goal deficit to get three points over Liverpool in a recent 3-2 win. The fact that the fixture is a London derby will also motivate the hosts.

The Hoops’ frontline of Djibril Cisse and Bobby Zamora has the ability to hurt any side, and the former France international in particular has the pedigree and experience to score goals. However, Spurs will look to get a grip of the game in midfield, and if they do so should be on top.

Blackburn home

A home game against Blackburn completes the Premier League schedule for April, and the White Hart Lane faithful will hope that their side have strung together wins and all but sealed their place in the top four by this point.

Rovers are likely to be panicking by the time this fixture comes around, and any team fighting to avoid relegation are dangerous to play towards the end of the season.  Steve Kean has given a relatively young group confidence, and they have the ability to spring a surprise; they have beaten both Manchester United and Arsenal this term.

The visitors’ hope will rest on veteran striker Yakubu and young prospect Junior Hoilett. The Nigerian has re-found his goal-scoring form this term, whilst Hoilett has an assurance on the ball that will most likely see him move to a bigger club in the summer.

All in all Tottenham will want to put their bad run of form behind them, and will believe that they have the ability to win all five of these games. Sunderland away will be the most difficult fixture, but it is imperative that at least all games at White Hart Lane result in three points for the hosts.

Published – Bleacher Report

Hughes’ ability to deal with Barton and Taarabt crucial for QPR’s chances of success

QPR have installed Mark Hughes as their new manager after the hasty dismissal of Neil Warnock, and Sparky has a job on his hands to keep the newly promoted side in the Premier League. After a couple of plucky results at the start of the campaign, a run of eight defeats from eleven league games ended Warnock’s tenure at the club, and Rangers are two points above the dropzone at the time of writing. Despite the promise of new faces in January, it may well be Hughes’ handling of controversial characters Joey Barton and Adel Taarabt that will decide QPR’s fate this season.

After Barton joined the Loftus Road outfit in the summer, the temperamental midfielder was quickly given the captain’s armband and asked to lead the team to top-flight safety. The merits of this decision, on paper, are understandable; a home-grown, determined, all-action man that may inspire less experienced team-mates to follow suit. The 29-year-old’s ability has never been in question throughout his career, and the Merseyside-born player has the skill and calibre to compete at the top domestic level. That said, his actions both on and off the field at times are not that of a captain; the controversies that shackled his time at Manchester City and Newcastle have followed him to London.

It is just not Barton indiscipline on the pitch that makes him a detriment to his employers; it is his attitude. Newcastle got rid of Barton due to his constant bickering, negativity, scathing comments on Twitter and the general pattern of going against the grain. Barton’s altercation with Gervinho on the opening day of the season was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and the midfield battler duly criticised the Tyneside club’s owners and executives for their foolhardy decision to punt him out.

In Warnock’s last Premier League game in charge before being shown the door, Barton showcased the best and worst of his abilities and character. QPR took a 1-0 lead through a well-worked goal, finished off with a powerful strike by Barton. However, the skipper was then sent off for a supposedly head-butting Bradley Johnson. Although replays show that the dismissal was harsh, a Premier League captain should not be caught in a fracas that could well hurt his team. In this instance it did hurt QPR and their manager, as Norwich went on to win the game 2-1.

Barton’s red card was harsh, and the refusal by the FA to overturn the decision also incorrect. That said, Barton’s reaction was one of a petulant child rather than a professional footballer. Deranged with anger he threatened to sue the FA, the referee, Johnson and anyone else he felt had a part to play in his great injustice. The bottom line is that he should not have put himself, or his team, in that situation in the first place; there is no smoke without fire.

Joey Barton’s baggage greatly outweighs his benefit to the team. Having someone so volatile as your captain is folly, and should Hughes desire an upturn in his team’s attitude and ultimately performances on the pitch he should banish Barton and replace him with someone more dependable and level-headed; with Tony Fernandes’ financial backing this is more than possible.

The second big personality that Hughes will have to deal with is that of Adel Taarabt. The Morocco international is undoubtedly the most technically able member of Hughes’ inherited squad, but also has a penchant for indiscipline. Taarabt’s departure from Craven Cottage at half time in QPR’s 5-0 defeat to Fulham to get a public bus home is an example of the African attacker’s mindset, and he must be brought into line, and quick. However, the playmaker is one of the few match-winners at Hughes’ disposal and has the potential to be an excellent player if correctly managed. Taarabt inspired the side to glory and promotion last season, picking up The Championship Player of the Year Award in the process, but has not played at the same level this term.

Although Taarabt may be finding the going a bit tougher against Premier League opponents, there are a number of reasons for his downturn in form. Ironically Warnock stripped Taarabt of the club captaincy upon Barton’s arrival, which would be demeaning for a normal player, but confidence shattering for someone with an ego as big as the attacking midfielder’s. Secondly, he is playing out of position, largely finding himself on a touchline and with limited space to manoeuvre.

Hughes has already identified his attack as an area of necessary strengthening, and an established front man should be on his wish list, despite the ageing Heidar Helguson’s commendable performances this season. However to get the best from his diamond in the rough, Hughes needs to deploy Taarabt more centrally. Playing the playmaker in a second striker role, similar to how Rafael van der Vaart is used at Tottenham, will get Taarabt on the ball in more critical areas of the pitch, and allow the attacker to play a more dominant role in the game. His ego needs to be fed and he needs to feel loved, but if he is given more of a free reign, he has the ability to salvage QPR’s debut season back in the Premier League.

With five points separating the bottom five teams in the Premier League, it is set to be a bitter fight to stay in the top flight this term. Despite the advantage that Hughes has in terms of investment and potential new faces arriving at Loftus Road, the Welsh manager must get affairs in-house in order first to stand a chance of success.

Chelsea’s stellar strike force out to wreck Fulham’s proud home record

Chelsea travel to Craven Cottage to take on Fulham on Valentine’s day but dont expect too much love between these London rivals as there are high stakes for both teams.

Chelsea find themselves in fifth place after Spurs won at Sunderland on Saturday, whilst Fulham are only three points above the relegation zone and will look to push towards the 40 point mark and Premiership safety.
Champions Chelsea have fallen from grace this season and are in a real battle to even finish in the top four and secure Champions League football for next season. The Blues are three points behind Spurs, and will look to bounce back after a 1-0 home defeat at the hands of Liverpool last Sunday.

The visitors main injury concerns are to defenders Alex and Jose Bosingwa, who are both ruled out of the fixture. Carlo Ancelotti faces a dilemma up front, as he has three world class strikers in Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres and Nicolas Anelka, but the trio did not gel in their defeat to Liverpool last weekend so the Italian may look to leave one on the bench, most likely Anelka.
Fulham are in good form and have recorded 11 points in their last six league matches, moving them up to 12th in the table. Due to terrible results on their travels, Mark Hughes’s men have depended on an excellent record at Craven Cottage, and have won their last three Premier League home matches without conceding a goal. Their record historically against Chelsea is terrible however, having recorded just one victory in 28 league and cup meetings.

The Cottagers are still without centre back Phillippe Senderos and although Bobby Zamora played for the reserves in midweek, he is still not match fit and will not feature. Fulham do have three ex-Chelsea men in their ranks however, and Eidur Gudjohnsen, Damien Duff and Steven Sidwell will look to impress against their former employers. On loan signing from Chelsea Gael Kakuta is ineligible to play.
Expect a passionate affair on Monday night, with both teams looking to attack and win the match. Chelsea have the firepower to win the game, and new signing Fernando Torres will look for a better performance than last week if he is to endear himself to his new supporters. Fulham’s home record is one of the best in the league however, and Mark Hughes will spur his men on to attack their local rivals and strive for three points.

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