Ibrahim Afellay’s Rejuvenation Back On Track Within Mark Hughes’ Exciting Stoke

Ibrahim Afellay Stoke

It’s remarkable to think that Ibrahim Afellay is now 29. He seemed like the perennial wonderkid who, despite his debilitating run of injuries, was a player we were all still waiting for to fulfill his undeniable potential. While his baby faced appearance remains in tact, time has certainly passed by at an alarmingly rapid rate. It almost seems like what should’ve been Afellay’s best years of his career have been lost.

Now at Stoke City, however, he’s hoping to turn back the clock and make up for lost time. Things started off decently for him at his new home, but he hit a snag in the game against West Bromwich Albion, where his sending off was an unfortunate setback.

Since that 1-0 loss in August to the Baggies, Afellay’s been on the outer, featuring only sparingly. But Mark Hughes afforded him a chance to redeem himself in Stoke’s League Cup contest with Sheffield Wednesday last week, and the former Barcelona man repaid his manager’s faith handsomely by putting in an outstanding, man of the match performance in the Potters’ emphatic 2-0 victory.

“He started the season initially and I thought he did ok,” said Hughes. “Unfortunately, he went out of the team with the sending off, which was a little bit harsh on him.

“He hasn’t had too many starts since, but he’s always been involved at some point and so there hasn’t been too many games he hasn’t played a part in.

“I thought he played really well against Wednesday and was a big influence on the team. He did his claims no harm at all.”

Hughes’ bold decision to start the Dutchman against title challengers Manchester City suitably demonstrated just how impressed he was with his charge. No one could doubt Hughes was fully vindicated with his decision.

Slotting into the left side of central midfield, Afellay’s output was extremely encouraging indeed, as he linked up delightfully with Stoke’s dynamic duo on the left, Marko Arnautovic and Erik Pieters, while also showing how crucial his intelligence and sublime technical ability can be for his side.

Afellay completed an eye-catching five successful dribbles, with his razor sharp close control and wicked turn of speed allowing him to breeze past opponents. This was especially useful in close quarters when he was under heavy duress, where having a player able to make clear, concise decisions, despite being vigorously pressured, was vital in Stoke retaining the ball and creating openings for teammates.

Being the astute passer he is, he fitted in beautifully within Hughes’ particularly technical and attackingly geared side he deployed for the match. Hughes, who sprung an unexpected surprise when he choose to start Arnautovic, Bojan Krkic and Xherdan Shaqiri as his front three, was vindicated for his preference to go with such an exciting line-up. Add the inclusion of Afellay into the mix, and the gamble unquestionably worked out beautifully, for Afellay provided some splendid, imaginative passes into the feet of the trident to kick start many of their most damaging forward thrusts.

In Stoke’s slower, more controlled possession phases, Afellay’s slick, crisp and polished distribution orchestrated some splendid forward moves, which in the process gave the home side an additional layer of menace and unpredictability. In addition, his assured work with the ball at his feet greatly assisted Stoke’s ball retention ability.

To further illustrate what a key cog Afellay is to the Potters, upon the introduction of Marco Van Ginkel, he shifted out to play in a right-wing role. A player with such versatility and flexibility will only serve to benefit this dynamic outfit. Moreover, being capable of fulfilling a number of roles should also amplify the amount of minutes he receives.

Defensively, his PSV and Barca upbringing saw him able to utilise his well developed pressing game to energetically harry and make life uncomfortable for his adversaries. Meanwhile, in terms of discipline and concentration, he too excelled, tracking runners, helping his fullback and supporting his teammates whenever David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne drifted into his designated area of marking.

His direct opponent, Fernandinho, endured a tough afternoon, for Afellay limited his influence by doing a good job of keeping him in front of him, rarely allowing him to wreak havoc in behind him, where the Brazilian’s penetration from deep can be such a huge weapon for Manuel Pellegrini’s men.

All things considered, it’s been a fantastic week for the gifted Afellay, and one in which he’s unmistakably pressed his claim for a permanent starting berth.

Despite a rocky start to life at the Britannia, his search to rejuvenate his career in England all of a sudden looks to be right back on track.

It’s nice to see the man who only made seven appearances for Barcelona in the last four seasons, in a period where he also had loan stints at Schalke and Olympiakos, now cutting a confident and injury-free figure.

After all those years of frustration and unfulfilled promise, Mark Hughes’ new-look, forward thinking Stoke should hopefully provide the perfect platform for him to make up for lost time and show what a truly wonderful player he is.