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.