It’s hard to think of tougher circumstances to make your Premier League debut than those which faced Stoke City signing Mortiz Bauer last night; turning out for a managerless side stuck in the relegation zone at Old Trafford against a Manchester United team refreshed by a ten-day break since their last game.
A routine and unsurprising 3-0 defeat (Stoke have conceded on average three goals per away game this season) suggested it was a difficult evening for the right-back. But amid a ninety minutes that Manchester United mostly controlled without having to hit top gear, the two-cap Austrian international showed real signs of promise.
We haven’t seen much of the former Rubin Kazan defender over in England, but it quickly became clear that he adds something valuable to this Stoke team – blistering pace in wide areas. That was put to good use in the first half when the Potters looked capable of upsetting the odds, overlapping Xherdan Shaqiri to great effect and at one point even finding himself latching onto a through ball and charging towards David De Gea’s goal.
But there was quality and intelligence behind Bauer’s forward play too. He twice provided the pass before the pass as Stoke launched efforts at goal, he created one direct scoring chance himself and launched two accurate crosses into the box – the most of any Potters player. Bauer also used his guile and body positioning to win five fouls, many of which were vital in stopping United’s momentum going forward and turning over possession to the Potters.
Defensively, Bauer – who Transfermarkt value at £.27million – was a little more suspect. Although left winger Anthony Martial eventually had to come inside twice to make his impact on the game – first curling an effort into the top corner and then setting up Romelu Lukaku for United’s third – Bauer finished up with just one tackle, two clearances and no interceptions to his name. Stoke desperately need to stop conceding goals, having let in the most of any Premier League side this season but Bauer appears to be a far more offensive-minded full-back.
Nevertheless, with Glen Johnson sidelined through injury, the ex-Grasshopper youngster has a huge role to play for Potters over the coming weeks as the only senior right-back option in Paul Lambert’s squad. Likewise, he already appears to have developed something of an understanding with Xherdan Shaqiri – simply because his pace on the overlap allows the Switzerland international to drift inside – and if he can get the best out of Stoke’s most important but often mercurial talent while improving his side’s shape defensively, he could prove to be a key influence in turning a dismal season at the Bet365 Stadium around.