A Man on the Post

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With all the fuss surrounding the new anti-Stoke laws concerning grappling in the box one worrying aspect of how clubs are marking at corners has been overlooked. In both the Stoke City and Manchester United games this weekend the score lines could have been dramatically different if teams had gone back to basics and set up defensively like we were taught when we were growing up.
For all three of the Manchester United’s goals scored from corners there was no player stationed on the back post. If a player had been stood there I am not saying Manchester United wouldn’t have scored but would Leicester have conceded three? And what makes this failure to do the basics so infuriating is that Leicester were not caught once or twice but three times. Surely Wes Morgan or Robert Huth have the experience to see what was happening and to change things? Then again in the Stoke match, from the West Brom corner Stoke were caught short because there was no player on the back post, if they had of been would be now celebrating three points?
The tactics of today’s modern game are constantly changing but in the rush to get one over on their opposition managers are often forgetting the basics which are known as the basics for a reason, they work. Time and time again I have watched the Boy’s team concede goals from corners because they did not have players on the post and this is because this is what they see every week on the TV. They Boy’s team have since learned their lesson and for every corner there is a man on both posts, now if only Mystic Mark could learn his.

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The Lone Striker – Just Watch Zlatan

Picking up the newspapers last Sunday morning I was shocked, if sadly not surprised, by the reaction Wilfried Bony received for his performance against West Brom. In the old days you would judge a centre forward’s contribution in one currency and one currency only, goals, but in today’s modern game the vogue is to play with a lone striker and what they bring to the team is a lot more than goals.

This current trend of a solitary target man has filtered down to the amateur and youth leagues, as every trend, good or bad, seems to do and watching the Boy on a Saturday morning I am constantly amused by the number of teams who line up with only one up front. With a striker who knows what their role in the team is, this lone striker can cause havoc amongst an opposing defence but as the Boy like to tell me, “they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Invariably the Boy and his partner are left marking a solitary, static striker who, whilst having a nose for goal, is not getting the service because they are not working the centre forwards and their midfield believes their jobs are complete once they have got the ball up to their front player. Watching Manchester United dismantling of Leicester I would argue that the man of the match was not Pogba or Mata but a player who seemingly had no contribution to any of the goals, Zlatan.

Against Leicester, Zlatan held the ball up when it was played to him allowing his midfielders to receive it back whilst their teammates ran into space behind the defence. This had the effect that the Leicester defence were being turned and their own midfield were having to expend energy to cover the gaps being created. But what sets Zlatan’s performances above most of his peers is the movement and running he does when he doesn’t have the ball.

Time and time again, against Leicester, he pulled out to the wings and when he managed to lure one of the centre-halves with him spaces suddenly appeared in the Leicester back into which the likes of Rashford and Lingard poured. Yet it wasn’t only this lateral movement which caused Leicester so many problems, when Rooney entered the fray Zlatan preceded to drop deeper, which allowed Rooney to play further up the pitch. This constant movement not only creates spaces for others to exploit but also plants a seed of doubt into the opposition’s minds because nobody knows just who is supposed to be picking him up.

Going back to Wilfried Bony and the match against West Brom, when he was on the pitch Bony held the ball up well and, whilst not as mobile as Zlatan, moved the defenders around to create the space which Shaqiri, Alllen and Arnie were able to run into. Yet when Two Meter Peter replaced him the only space Stoke was seeing was when we broke on the counter attack. Personally I am one of Two Meter Peter’s biggest fans, I think he is one of the most underrated forwards of the last ten years and his England record of a goal every two games should have brought him more than the forty-two caps it did but he is not a lone striker. As the Boy said after watching the match at the weekend, the way Stoke are set up he would much rather play against Two Meter Peter than Bony – out of the mouths of babes.

Big Sam and The FA in “What Another Fine Mess”

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If the allegations surrounding Sam Allyardyce by The Telegraph are found to be true the newly appointed England manager may be employed for about as long as Peter Taylor held the same role. The paper claims Big Sam was willing to accept around four hundred thousand pounds to offer advice on how to get around the rules on third party ownership, a practice that has been outlawed in the UK since 2008 and worldwide since last year.

Even if the allegations prove to be unfounded, if there is evidence that such a meeting did occur then Allardyce must surely be dismissed from the job he has always craved. In a world where he has seen the charges upon whose shoulders his job security has rested become richer and richer, the temptation to cash in must have been immense but Big Sam is being handsomely paid by his new employers and should have realised that any such golden cash cow was fraught with risk. If Sam did go to this meeting do you really want somebody so stupid managing the national team?

When Allardyce was appointed the media was exuberant because they finally got the man they wanted, he was English at a time of the Brexit and he had the no nonsense persona they craved after the fiasco of Hodgson. What is more the pundits all knew, and liked him, because most of them are players who have played for or against one of his teams, just like the FA who hired him the media in the UK has become nothing more than an old boys club. Now, after the Telegraph’s allegations, I wait with baited breath for the reaction from Big Sam’s one time supporters. Will the old boys club rally round one of their own or will they, like kids in a school playground, turn on him as they smell a weakness?

Whatever happens in the media, one organisation that needs to be held accountable is the FA, who may find the next few months to be a period of damage limitation. For an organisation that seems to be handing out fines every other week to players and managers for the crime of bringing the game into disrepute, this is a public relations nightmare and I suggest has brought more disrepute to the English Football brand than any incident in the last few years. Any company that hires a CEO would surely do their due diligence on their new employee but it seems the FA were less than thorough when carrying out this task. But maybe the suits at Wembley were too busy patting themselves on the back because of all the positive PR they were receiving in the British press.

Again, if the allegations are found to be true then it seems that the England team will be looking for their third manager in the space of six months and this time the FA needs to decide what is best for the growth of the English football team. Not what they think will be a popular choice or someone who has an impressive, yet irrelevant, CV. We do not need a manager who lets players do what they want on the pitch but one who devises the tactics and demands that they are implemented on the field. The current England squad is not one the best in Europe yet alone the world so it is time we stopped employing managers who are their friends and employ a manager who realises the players he selects are responsible for his job and so is willing to give them the bollocking they deserve when they don’t perform.

Some may say that Big Sam was this man but remember this is the manager who declared after the laboured performance against Slovakia that it was not up to him to say where Wayne Rooney should play!

A Bag Full of Lemons – Week 3

It’s official. I have changed my opinion about how easy Fantasy Football is, it’s not very easy at all. After last week’s 75 points this week my team was only able to muster a paltry, 11 points below the average (why did I get rid of Pogba?):

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My Bag Full of Lemons Fantasy Football Giraffe of the week has to go to arguably the best player in the Premiership this week, Kevin De Bruyne.

The Bag Full of Lemons Lemon of the week could have gone to a number of players but goes to a player whose current displays are beginning to look all too familiar. Eden Hazard started the season in the sort of form which won him the Player of the Year award a little over twelve months ago but against Liverpool and Arsenal he has returned to the sort of form which got Jose Mourinho the sack.

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I thought about bringing back Pogba for Eden Hazard but this would mean admitting to myself I am scared about the prospect of Stoke facing a rampant Manchester United so instead I have brought in Raheem Sterling who is beginning to finally justify the hype (and his price tag). With Grant likely to get the nod over Given, Jordan Pickford comes in to goal and with Bony being replaced by Azpilicueta this leaves no Stoke players in the starting XI. (I may not admit it but I am not totally blinded to the possibilities of Sunday’s match!) But do not worry they will return for when Stoke begin to rise up the table after the International break.

Stoke City 1 – West Bromwich Albion 1

With four defenders all playing in the positions they are accustomed to, the return of Shaqiri and the introduction of a more defensive minded partner for Glenda, Mark Hughes’ team selection provided me and the Boy with some much needed optimism. Missing Butland and whilst Cameron is clearly not a long term solution, the team sent out on Saturday looks more balanced than it had since the end of last season.

All that optimism however could have vanished in a puff of blue and white smoke if Stoke hadn’t withstood the initial West Brom onslaught as the visitors tried to make the most of the panic which has festered in Stoke’s defence ever since Butland got injured. But Shawrcoss and co. managed to survive and as West Brom ran out of ideas Stoke grew into the game.

With both full backs willing to support their wingers Stoke increasing caused West Brom problems and after a neat one-two it looked like Pieters had won a deserved penalty only to look up and see Martin Atkinson waving play on. When you are fighting down at the bottom of the table bad decisions by the officials become magnified and watching the referee wave play on you got the feeling that this was going to be another one of those days.

This feeling was only magnified when Johnson raced onto a clever header from Bony and after beating Foster could only watch as Dawson somehow managed to head the ball off the line. Bony has been much maligned in recent days but his showing against West Brom was easily his best in a red and white shirt, his intelligent runs and willingness to hold the ball up allowed Shaqiri, Arnie and Allen to run at the West Brom defence time and time again. At the other end the Stoke defence looked comfortable in coping with everything the West Brom threw at them and Hughes must have been pleased as the teams headed for their half time oranges.

After the break Stoke, with Shaqiri and Arnie in particular, started to play the type of football we know they can produce. Arnie crossing for Joe Allen to narrowly head over the bar before a cheeky back heel sent Pieters into the box, only for the Dutchman to trip over his own feet, and despite the protests from the Stoke fans and players Martin Atkinson at least got this one right.

Then in the sixty first minute Hughes made his first change bringing on Two Meter Peter for Bony. Ten minutes later Stoke were in front for the first time this season when Joe Allen was quickest to react to the confusion made by another deadly Shaqiri cross. No one can doubt Stoke deserved this lead and it could be argued that the goal would never have happened if Hughes had not made the substitution but with Bony off the pitch, and Shaqiri tiring, Stoke began to lose the ascendancy. Yet this wouldn’t have mattered if Two Meter Peter had the legs to latch onto a Shaqiri through ball a few moments later but his lack of pace allowed the West Brom defender to close down the threat.

A combination of nerves and tiring legs was allowing West Brom to get back into the game and Lee Grant, making his debut in the Stoke goal, increasingly found himslef called upon, most notably when palmed away a bullet header from James McLean a few minutes after Stoke’s goal. With the prospect of a first win this season becoming a reality the nervousness in Stoke’s defence became more evident and when a lack of confusion between the Beast and Grant resulted in a corner, Stoke’s new zonal defence was unable to deal with Rondon’s near post header.  On the sideline Tony Pulis, celebrating his one thousandth league match as a manager, jumped up in down in delight as his team somehow found themselves returning to the Hawthorns with an undeserved point.

Stoke’s performance against West Brom, on the back of an unlucky defeat to Hull in the EFL Cup has given me confidence that we do have the quality, and more importantly the desire, to be a Premiership team again next year but there are still issues that need to be resolved:

  • Whilst playing Geoff Cameron alongside Glenda provides a more stable base for our attackers he is not the long term solution, and with Affelay out for who knows how long, this area has to be our number priority when the transfer window opens.
  • What has Ramadan done wrong? Easily our best player against Hull no one would have expected him to keep Shaqiri out of the team but surely his pace and directness would have been a welcome option from the bench.
  • Keep working on zonal marking. I understand that with the new anti-Stoke rules our old way of defending corners is a penalty waiting to happen but we look scared whenever the opposition has a free kick or a corner.
  • Hughes needs to take the team out for a beer. The corner from which West Brom scored came about because of a lack of communication. Lee Grant should have been calling to the Beast that it was the keeper’s ball.
  • Persevere with Wilfried Bony. Stoke scored once Two Meter Peter was introduced but from the moment Bony left the pitch Stoke’s attacking trio of Allen, Arnie and Shaqiri had less space. In today’s game a lone forward is not all about scoring goals but the space he creates for his midfielders.

Stoke Giraffe of the Week           Shaqiri

Stoke Lemon of the Week           Geoff Cameron

Match Ratings

Lee Grant – 7                     Looked composed and made a couple of good saves but should have claimed the ball that led to the corner for the equaliser

Glenn Johnson – 8           Linked up well with Shaqiri down the right flank and unlucky not to score his first Stoke goal

Ryan Shawcross – 7         Almost back to his best and continues to be a menace in opposition penalty area.

Bruno Martins Indi – 7    Another confident performance and clearly has the ability to play the ball out from the back

Erik Pieters – 7                   His best game this season and looked like the Pieters who first turned up at Stoke. Should have had a penalty in the first half but did trip over his own feet for the appeal in the second.

Glenn Whealan – 7          Quiet but effective and showed he was willing to put his body on the line to keep West Brom out

Geoff CAmeron – 6         Only a short term solution but showed he had the tactical nous to fill the holes when Stoke pushed forward. His touch however was that of a centre-half not a midfielder.

Joe Allen – 8                       Deserved his goal for the amount of grass he covered and looked better suited playing further forward.

Shaqiri – 8                           Quiet in the first half but in the second tore West Brom to shreds. If the second half Shaqiri plays every week then Stoke shouldn’t need to worry about their current position

Arnie – 8                              After seeing Ramadan shine against Hull in his normal position on the left, Arnie provided the perfect repost with a display that said “this position is mine”

Wilfried Bony – 7              Looked sharper and did the hard work which allowed Stoke’s attacking trio to shine. Stoke looked less of a threat after he had left the pitch

Substitutes

Two Meter Peter – 6       Did what was asked of him but if Stoke are playing one up front he does not have the legs or mobility to occupy two centre-halves

Charlie Boy – 6                  Only on the pitch for five minutes but still able to pick up a yellow card

Mame Diouf – 6                Not on long enough to make an impression and, if you are being harsh, was at fault for the West Brom equaliser

Manager

Mark Hughes – 6               Better starting XI but the bench was questionable with no Super Jon or Ramadan. Still seems to wait until sixty minutes before looking to the bench. Does it take this long to get the Mystic Mark Bingo set up?

Referee                              

Marin Atkinson – 5          Didn’t miss just didn’t give a stone wall penalty and, especially with Arnie, seemed to be refereeing by reputation rather than what was actually occurring on the pitch. Chickened out when not sending Yacob off for a second kick to Joe Allen’s forehead.

Stoke City Need To Work Before They Start To Play

This season there has been a lot of people, myself included, criticizing Stoke’s woeful defensive displays but I don’t believe all of the blame should be focused solely on the back four. Ignoring, for now, the fact our full backs are getting pulled out of position, when they do it is up to other players to fill in where the full back should have been when the opposition attacks. This is obvious and the majority of the time the Stoke players are doing what is expected but the problems are occurring at the next link in the chain.

Against Spurs Stoke’s centre-halves were forced to push wider than they are accustomed to with the result that there were vast, gaping holes in the centre of the defence for Spurs’ midfielders to pour into. It is up to either the other centre half or the midfielders to plug these holes and the full backs or the forwards to plug the subsequent holes further down the chain, defending is a team responsibility and until Stoke begin to work, not play but work, as a team we are going to keep on conceding avoidable goals.

If you look again at the first and last goals scored by Spurs, on both occasions Joe Allen is pulled out of position to cover the gap left by the absent Pieters. This in itself is not a problem, more a part of the game, but on both occasions there is no one covering where Joe Allen should be and it is too easy for the opposition attackers to find space in our penalty area. Modern football is all about manoeuvring the opposition to create these spaces but instead of being undone by the fourth, fifth or six move, at the moment Stoke are being undone by the first or second.

One player who was in the penalty box for both of those goals was Imbula but instead of doing the fundamentals, such as getting goal side of the attacker, on both occasions he seems to be deciding what he is going to have for tea and this attitude is another factor in why we are constantly getting hammered. Almost every match this season we have conceded goals when the opposition has upped the tempo and at the moment it seems we are unable to respond when the opposition decides they want it more than we do. Against Middlesbrough, Man City, Spurs and Palace we conceded goals because the opposition were first to the ball, more resolute in the tackle and willing to run that little bit harder to get into position. Over the course of a game teams are physically unable to maintain this pace for ninety minutes but opposition managers must surely be aware that if you can put in three or four ten minute bursts against Stoke you are almost certainly going to get the ball into the back of the net.

Why we seem particularly vulnerable to these high intensity bursts I don’t know, is it physical or more worryingly mental, but one thing is sure if we don’t address this problem by the time we come up against a team such as Liverpool then we could easily see a reverse of that famous last day Britannia massacre. Jurgen Klopp’s teams have always been built around high intensity pressing and no matter a player’s ability they have to be willing to work hard before they are trusted by the manager, just ask Daniel Sturridge next time you spot him on the Liverpool bench.

Stoke’s current squad may just be the most talented to ever be assembled in the Five Towns and, on paper at least, they should have the ability to pull themselves up the table but until they start working, and working as a team, they are not going to have the chance to play.

The Sharp Stand

stoke city football club - Newly named SHARP Stand at the bet365 Stadium 7th September 2016

At the start of the season the away stand at the Bet365 Stadium was renamed to the Sharp Stand. Apart from the new sponsors presumably providing calculators to visiting Premiership footballers so they can calculate how much they earned for ninety minutes at the Bet365 this new sponsorship deal naturally lends itself to a multitude of cheap jokes at the away fans expense. Up until now I have managed to resist the temptation but with the visit of West Brom I just couldn’t help myself.

So if you find yourself in the vicinity of the Sharp Stand on Saturday be careful as no doubt it will be full of pricks:

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