Mark Hughes has admitted that club-record signing Giannelli Imbula is struggling at Stoke City, but insists that no decision over his future will be made until the summer. Having been restricted to just 14 first-team appearances so far this term, the French midfielder was left as an unused substitute for recent Premier League defeats by Leicester City and Burnley and is likely to have to make do with a spot on the bench once again for Saturday's (8 April) visit of Liverpool to the Potteries.
Imbula, whose January 2016 transfer from Porto was priced at £18.3m ($22.7m), has not started a single top-flight game since a 4-1 trouncing at Anfield on December 27 and reports from The Telegraph now claim that Stoke are ready to sell the midfielder this summer for a cut-price fee of approximately £10m.
However, while Hughes did not rule out the possibility of such an unceremonious departure, he insisted that the 24-year-old still has time to turn things around.
"It's fair to say Giannelli has struggled this year in terms of having an impact but any decision on any player won't be made during the season," he told reporters at his pre-Liverpool press conference.
"It's not fitness or injury. He's struggled for a bit of form and struggled at times to understand what is required in the Premier League.
"We all see his talent but there are other elements which aren't as strong as his ability on the ball. He hasn't had as many games as he or I would have liked – but he's still got time and I hope he will impress in those."
He added: "He had a bright start but it's about a consistent level of performance and he's struggled to maintain that. He's a good player, that's why we've invested a lot of money. There's more to come from him from a footballing point of view but at the moment there are players ahead of him who can make an impact."
Winless for a month and losers of three successive matches, Stoke have dropped out of the top half of the table and seemingly have very little to play for over their last seven games with the prospect of European qualification as unlikely as relegation.
Jon Walters is expected to be fit to face Liverpool after being ruled out of Tuesday's narrow loss at Turf Moor, while Hughes is hopeful that previous record signing Xherdan Shaqiri, who featured for Switzerland in their recent World Cup qualifying victory over Latvia, will be in contention after a calf problem that has kept him sidelined since January.
Marc Muniesa and Mame Biram Diouf, meanwhile, are both questionable with knocks sustained against Burnley. First-choice goalkeeper Jack Butland is not yet ready to return and fellow long-term absentee Stephen Ireland remains in the treatment room.
"We're waiting on a few," the manager said. "Jon Walters wasn't able to play in midweek due to a slight concussion but he's come through multiple checks okay. Xherdan Shaqiri has trained. That's good news. We've got a couple of issues with Marc Muniesa and Mame Diouf, bangs on knees, but they're down to train today."