Liam Delap and Competition for Stoke City Starting XI

In recent weeks, Stoke City manager Alex Neil has talked about the tough, but good decisions he’ll have to make with his starters once his team is fully healthy. These decisions will likely lead to competition for who will be in Stoke City’s starting XI, including for center-forward, Liam Delap.

“…Naturally you want a full deck if you like, in terms of players to make sure you have the best choices…Albeit the lads who have been on the pitch have done great. We can still be stronger as a squad and have more depth and competition for places.”

Competition For Starting Positions

Now, that doesn’t mean Neil is guaranteed to make a ton of changes to his starting lineup week to week. But, there are bound to be a few changes given the squad’s depth when fully healthy. There’s also bound to be a lot of rotation week to week given the jam-packed schedule ahead before the World Cup.

This all should lead to a lot of competition for starting positions within the squad. Competition that will be up to Neil to decipher and sift through to decide who is deserving of those starting spots.

The simple answer could come down to who’s in form and who’s not. Which is why, one of the more intriguing players and positions to watch over the next month is Liam Delap (a player who’s been up and down in his performance over the past few weeks).

Is Liam Delap A Shoo-In To Start Every Game?

This one’s a tricky question, for two reasons. First off, the 19 year old Liam Delap is on loan from Manchester City. Normally, when a player goes out on loan from a club as big as Manchester City, the expectation is for that player to start more than not. And secondly, Delap possesses a ton of mostly untapped potential that can erupt at any moment/game.

Still though, when you’re trying to move up the table as Stoke City is, you have to put your best-in-form XI players on the field to start. Which is why this is still a fair question to dig deeper into. Does Delap deserve to start every game for The Potters with what we’ve seen recently?

To be fair, you can answer that with a yes and a no over the past couple of weeks. You’ve seen games from Delap such as the Hull City second half where he was very good. Delap in that half helped hold up and link play wonderfully. He helped The Potters look dangerous with the ball.

But on the flip side, there have also been games recently such as versus QPR and the first half against Hull City. Delap on those occasions was slow with his decision making, showed poor vision by failing to pick out the proper pass, and overall just didn’t help Stoke City’s attack flow.

Delap as a whole this season has yet to find the net with zero goals in six appearances. The analytics behind Delap’s season haven’t been much kinder either. Per theanalyst.com, Delap is sixth on the team with xG (expected goals) with 0.10. He’s also only managed to accumulate a 0.02 for xA (expected assists) this season.

Basically, not only has Delap not been able to physically contribute with goals or assists so far this season, but the analytics are also telling us he hasn’t been close either. This isn’t a case of bad luck for Delap.

Then again though, we’re talking about a somewhat small sample size. Plus, there are other ways to contribute in a football match. Delap against Hull City showed that when he’s on, he can be a real presence on the ball. Delap in that game helped give the ball to Dwight Gayle, so that Gayle could deliver the right pass to Lewis Baker for the team’s third goal.

The Ruling

It would be extremely unfair to completely write off the young Delap already. The potential with the skills he possesses is a weapon for Stoke City. A weapon that the club will need this season to help reach promotion.

Only six matches isn’t a big enough body of work to call a loan move a bust. Delap is just now getting into the swing of things. Delap is bound to break out sooner or later this season.

But in the short term, if Delap continues to struggle, Neil will be forced to start Delap on the bench for some games. Keyword being, “some” games. With squad rotation, a probable breakout at some point, and again overall pure talent as a center-forward, Delap will still start a lot of games. However, he’s becoming less of a must-start with some of the inconsistencies he’s suffered.

The presence of a healthy Jacob Brown, Dwight Gayle, and Tyrese Campbell will be a big part of this determination as well. If all three of those forwards are healthy, Brown and Gayle are the must-starts with how they have looked. Campbell when he’s firing on all cylinders can be thrown into that equation as well.

That leave’s little room for a young player like Delap to be inconsistent with his form. Some inconsistency that could cost Delap from being a must-start every game. Or at least until he flashes the talent consistently that Manchester City signed him for.

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