Fulham vs. Stoke City - Three Questions

Alex Livesey

James Whittaker, the excellent Stoke City blogger for ESPN FC, has answered the three questions this week.

I have a pit in my stomach about this game, I just can't shake the feeling that it's not going to go well. It doesn't help that Stoke supporters seem upbeat, and feel good to have Sparky managing them.

CC: Mark Hughes famously left Fulham because he believed the club lacked ambition. That never sat well with Fulham fans and we were pretty giddy with his failures at QPR. How have Stoke fans reacted to him so far?

James Whittaker: There may not have been blanket support on his appointment but his words and actions since arriving have won most fans over. Playing players in their correct positions, attempting to win away games and talking up his own side over the opposition is a good start which is the opposite to what Pulis used to do. He has a huge task transforming the playing style and he's made a great start and if people are honest with themselves they would admit it's perhaps even a quicker transition than anticipated.

CC: Last year Stoke started buying up American players (Cameron, Edu, Shea). That strategy seems to have continued under Hughes (Agudelo). Is there someone higher up driving this strategy and do you think there is something to it other than Americans being undervalued?

JW: Stoke have close links to local company Beswicks Sports who have an extensive network of players including a strong footprint over in the States. Our Director of Football used to work for them too so in that respect we had a bit of an advantage over other teams who were concentrating on the more popular European leagues.

The club see the American market as an untapped resource and are impressed at their level of professionalism and of course speaking English means that there are fewer issues with them integrating or understanding their manager/team mates. Obviously there is also the incentive of American players having much lower wage demands than the other countries I mentioned so there is real value for money to be had in these increasingly prudent times.

CC: I have to admit that I haven't watched Stoke much at all this year (they haven't been featured much on American TV). Under Pulis, their playing style was never very attractive. Has Hughes done much to address this? What kind of style are they playing now?

JW: You'll certainly be in for a surprise then as the style we play under Hughes is about as far removed from Pulis' as possible! The focus is on maintaining possession and allowing the better players to express themselves. Whilst the players at his disposal are largely the same, the difference on the pitch is remarkable though the players are still getting used to it so are yet to find some consistency.

Bringing a more attacking game has brought plenty more chances (last week excluded) but it has also led to a few more nerves in defence so the games are making for interesting viewing as players and manager alike try to find the right balance.

Key players, projected lineup, and score prediction

JW: Although he was one of many who had a poor game last week I would look out for Steven N'Zonzi who has been key to Hughes' new ways of working. He's an underrated midfielder who has shined for the most part this season with most moves coming via him in the engine room.

In terms of line-up, I know we are carrying one or two injuries so anticipate the team being;

Begovic
Cameron Huth Shawcross Pieters
N'Zonzi Wilson
Pennant Adam Arnautovic
Jones

Result wise I think it will be a 1-1 draw.
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