In football, without doubt, fans have their favourites and their scapegoats. There are certain players that can’t do any wrong, and others who are the excuse when something goes wrong.
At Stoke over the years there has been plenty of them, from Richard Cresswell to Danny Pugh, Ryan Shotton to Dean Whitehead, and even a player still at the club now in Jon Walters, just to name a few.
I think it’s only fair that when one of these players proves you and many others wrong they should get the credit they deserve. Step forward Philipp Wollscheid.
His loan signing this time last season intrigued many, but his performances didn’t impress. The game that swayed everyone’s minds was that embarrassing 4-1 defeat at Blackburn in the FA Cup where he partnered Marc Muniesa at the centre of defence and, as the scoreline shows, it didn’t work to plan.
When the decision came to sign him for around £3m in the summer, it is safe to say eyebrows were raised. It wasn’t just his capture that baffled most, it was the decision to sell fellow German Robert Huth to rivals Leicester City for a similar price as well.
Huth was fantastic for Stoke over his spell at the club and had built a great friendship and defensive partnership with captain Ryan Shawcross. He had his injuries, but why let him go? One assumes it involved Wollscheid’s ability on the ball to bring it out of the back four.
Leicester’s incredible form made people question the decision even more towards the beginning of the season, but it’s safe to say in the last couple of months Wollscheid has been nothing short of exceptional. It’s almost like the criticism towards him and inspired him to kick on and make one of the two centre-half spots his own.
Surely it’s no coincidence that his solid form came at the same time as the return of Shawcross, who has slotted straight back in like nothing ever happened after his back surgery.
Shawcross was named by Mark Halsey in his top ten Premier League captains ever, a list which contained the likes of Steven Gerrard, Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira.
The whole Potters back five, including keeper Jack Butland, has been fantastic this season keeping seven clean sheets in their last ten games, but as good as the other four are, that form is expected of them and tends to go unnoticed.
Wollscheid however has proven his critics wrong, and if Stoke can keep their good defensive record with the back five of Butland, Erik Pieters, Wollscheid, Shawcross and Glen Johnson, and get the forward line of Shaqiri, Arnautovic and Bojan firing, it could well be a special season.
This weekend sees Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace visit the Britannia. Palace as a team and Pardew as a manager I respect massively, and they are my surprise package to sneak into the top eight this season.
If I could choose an Englishman to be the next to run our country it’s Alan Pardew. Without doubt the former Newcastle boss has built a great side there with an array of attacking talent which is sure to cause our solid back four problems.
As much as I can’t pick between the two sides, hopefully they will produce an entertaining forward thinking game for both sets of fans to watch.