Preston North End boss Alex Neil ponders Stoke’s change of system
Can Preston North End do the business on a cold afternoon in Stoke?
That was the litmus test applied to new signings in the Premier League – if you could produce the goods at Stoke, you could do it anywhere.
With the Potters losing their top-flight status last May after a 10-season stay, it is the turn of Championship clubs to see how they fare at the chilly bet365 Stadium.
In old money that was the Britannia Stadium, a ground PNE last won at 20 years ago and have not visited for nearly 11 years.
Both Alex Neil’s side and Stoke – who now have Nathan Jones at the helm – will go into Saturday’s clash on the back of excellent wins last week. At the same time as Preston were beating QPR 4-1, Stoke were 2-1 winners over Leeds.
Jones changed formation to out-fox Marcelo Bielsa in the fallout after ‘Spygate’.
It was Jones’ first victory as Stoke boss, having overseen two defeats after his arrival from Luton Town.
North End manager Neil said: “We went to watch their FA Cup game with Shrewsbury and at 2-0, they were cruising.
“How they lost that game was unbelievable, it shows you the nature of football.
“Stoke spent more than £50m in the summer, they have a wage budget which would dwarf most clubs in this league.
“They have got a really good squad and I’m sure Nathan will go in there and hope to get them moving up the table.
“Last week Stoke had a great result against Leeds and they will be looking to build on that.”
Neil is a manager who likes to study the opposition in great depth.
But there could well be an element of second-guessing Stoke’s intentions.
When in charge at Luton, Jones tended to use a 4-4-2 and Stoke operated that way in his first two games.
Jones switched to 3-5-2 against Leeds and having won that game, does he stick with that or revert back?
Said Neil: “It is always hard to analyse a team when a new manager comes in.
“He is having to do his own assessment of the squad he has got, seeing if they will fit into his system.
“Your preferred system might not be one which fits the players you have. Nathan changed the system for Leeds and got the result he wanted, so does he stay with it or go back to what he knows?
“We have to focus more on ourselves with this game and work from there.”
Sam Clucas and Joe Allen scored in Stoke’s win against Leeds.
That was their first victory since December 22, with the results after that leading to Gary Rowett losing his job.
After a hefty outlay in the summer transfer window and the retention of a good chunk of their Premier League squad, Rowett had been tasked with launching a promotion bid.
But with them being in the bottom half of the table, the Potters board decided they needed a change.
Benik Afobe, a £12m buy from Wolves, is their leading scorer with eight goals.