In the days since Stoke’s very disappointing second half collapse and ultimate 2-2 draw at home to Wolves at the weekend, I’ve been amazed to hear a number of Stoke fans advocating the dropping of club captain Abdoulaye Faye from Tony Pulis’s side. It’s staggering how fickle some people are. Last season, Faye was absolutely superb and took a clean sweep of the player of the season awards given both officially and unofficially by various people and groups. He also made a bright start to this season, yet after one bad result, which admittedly came about as a result of poor defending from set pieces for which Faye must be blamed, there are those saying that he is no longer up to the job.
For me, the Senegalese centre back has always been outstanding in a Stoke shirt. He’s immensely physically strong and quick, his pace at the back being a real asset to the team, while he’s good in the air and generally an impeccable tackler. He also chips in with his fair share of goals. There has, without doubt, been a slight, but noticeable, decline in the level of his performances, but what footballer doesn’t go through the occasional dip in form in his career? If everybody were dropped the moment they had a bad game the league would be full of unfit, unconfident players who would have reduced chance to build up understandings with their teammates.
We should also remember that with just thirteen goals conceded from eleven league games so far this season, our defensive record is pretty good; only seven teams have conceded fewer, and without our 4-0 drubbing at Liverpool on the second day of the season, we would have conceded the second smallest number of goals in the division, behind only table-topping Chelsea. That statistic is particularly impressive when you consider the fact that a number of those seven teams have played a game fewer than us.
In the light of that, to suggest that radical change in the defence is needed is foolish. For me, however, a re-shuffle would not go amiss, but it is not Faye that would make way, rather Danny Collins, who, since his £2.75 million signing from Sunderland two years ago has failed to make a particularly positive impression in a Stoke shirt to date. I’d go as far as to suggest that a high proportion of the times when Faye has been caught out recently have arisen when he has been forced to move over to the left to cover Collins. This would explain why we saw no such problems with Danny Higginbotham in the side last season, and also why Faye’s form has dropped of in recent weeks after a good start to the campaign.Another summer signing, Robert Huth, has impressed playing out of position at right back. He’ll return from suspension for our next game, at Hull on Sunday, and Pulis will be sure to want to put him straight back into the back four. This will probably mean that the tenacious home-grown full back Andy Wilkinson will be dropped from the side. In the eyes of me and many Stoke fans, on last season’s showings and those games he has played this season, he’s well worth a place in the starting eleven. The answer for me therefore, would be to put Huth in at left back, or indeed Wilkinson at left back and Huth on the right, and drop Collins to the bench. Do that and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Faye’s game return sharply to its brilliant best.