Stoke City 2 – Leicester City 2

With Christmas approaching some might say Mark Hughes had been sampling the sherry a little early, whilst others might have wondered if the Stoke boss had been visited by the same spirit of inspiration that brought about the tweak in formation. Whatever the reason Stoke lined up without the suspended Arnie and surprisingly without his partner in crime, Shaqiri. With neither of Stoke’s flair players on the pitch, the question about how Stoke were going to create any chances against last season’s champions seemed a pertinent one.

Yet any concerns about Stoke’s creativity seemed to be banished in the opening exchanges as Allen and Bojan combined, in a sumptuous move, to tee up Super Jon who could only manage to volley the ball into the goalkeepers relived arms. At the back whilst Vardy, Slimani and Mahrez’s pace were forcing the Stoke defence to drop deeper and deeper you had the feeling Shawcross and Bruno, screened by the returning Glanda, were more than capable of dealing with anything Leicester managed to throw at them.

Then, just before the half hour, came the incident which will define this match, James Vardy’s dismissal for a two footed challenge. Was it a red card? I know a lot of people are shocked Craig Pawson decided to dismiss the Leicester striker but Vardy did jump into the tackle, he did go in with two feet and if he had connected he it could have been a career ending tackle. The fact that he didn’t connect shouldn’t be taken into consideration, whilst I don’t believe there was any malice Vardy made a mistake and should be punished accordingly. Thankfully he didn’t connect but if you still think he shouldn’t have been sent off, try and imagine what you would have been thinking if his feet had connected a couple of inches higher?

With Leicester feeling aggrieved, and down to ten men, their sense of injustice began to boil over as Danny Simpson handled Bojan’s chip into the penalty box and the referee had no choice but to point to the spot. Again, for some strange reason, this incident has brought about a good deal of debate with talk about Simpson’s hand being in a natural position but in my all my time watching football I can’t remember too many defenders defending as if they are doing the Flamenco!

From the resulting penalty Bojan scored and this triggered a meltdown in Leicester’s discipline as one after another players got booked for dissent or silly tackles. With Leicester imploding Stoke managed to get the second their dominance deserved when Allen pounced on a rebound after Schmeichel’s save, just before half time.

Leading two nil against ten men Stoke must have felt comfortable but with comfortable comes complacency and as Stoke seemed content to sit back on the lead Leicester began to smell blood and their ten men began to dominate Stoke’s eleven. However it took a substitution masterstroke from Ranieri to finally make the breakthrough as the explosive Demari Gray’s found his fellow substitutes head as Ulluo benefited from the new technology that tells the referee in seconds whether the ball had crossed the line.

Back in the game Leicester began to pile forward and it was evident they had sussed out Stoke’s weakness to the cross as ball after ball pinged into the Stoke boss and in the 88th minute it was Daniel Amartey who benefited from Grant’s failure to collect the high ball. Grant has been magnificent deputising for Jack Butland but if there is one area of his game that lets him down it is how he deals with crosses. Too often he decided not to come and when he does he either looks spectacular or foolish. And whilst Grant has been one of the major reasons for Stoke’s climb up the table it is fair to say Butland would have dealt with both of the crosses that led to Leicester’s goals with ease.

 

After two drawn games and two red cards Stoke now travel to Liverpool and Chelsea and even the most optimistic of us would find it hard to believe we are going to get anything from these games but even so we must look to compete and with this in mind there are a few things that need to be taken into consideration:

  • Super Jon played as well as Super Jon can play once again but the need for a centre forward is evident, especially as the Wilfried experiment seems to be over.
  • Behind the striker, in Stoke’s current 3-4-3 formation we need creative players and whilst Bojan showed glimpses in the opening exchanges he is nowhere near the player we saw a few years ago and Allen looked marginalised without Arnie or Shaqiri which makes the decision to leave Shaqiri on the bench baffling.
  • At 2-0 and even at 2-1 Stoek should have been pushing for the third goal which would have finished the game, instead we sat back and were punished. Against ten men we should be looking to dominate not hold on.
  • With Leicester in the ascendency and with his team not creating anything against ten men why bring on Charlie Boy when we should have been looking at the pace and creativity of Shaqiri or Ramadan. Hughes’ substitutions are predictable, unimaginative and worryingly at least five minutes too late. We need to be proactive not reactive.

Stoke Giraffe of the Week           Glenn Johnson

Stoke Lemon of the Week           Lee Grant

Match Ratings

Lee Grant – 6                        Maybe a shock but he really should have done better with both of Leiceser’s goals.

Glenn Johnson – 8              You get the feeling Johnson is the glue which is making Stoke’s new formation work.

Ryan Shawcross – 7             Unlucky not to keep Leicester’s first out.

Bruno Martin Indi – 7         Looked good for an hour but will not be pleased that the man he was brought to replace outmuscled him in the air.

Erik Pieters – 6                     Why has no one else noticed most of the goals Stoke concede emanate from the Dutchman’s flank

Glenda – 6                             Showed why he is an upgrade on Charlie Boy but started to panic as the game got away from Stoke

Giannelli Imbula – 8           Another good game from Stoke’s record signing and looked the most likely to break down Leicester’s stubborn defence.

Mame Diouf – 7                   Did enough at wing back but didn’t attempt to beat his opposite number once during the game.

Bojan – 6                                A surprise inclusion and did well for half an hour but faded from the game as it wore on

Joe Allen – 7                         As usual worked hard but became marginalised without the movement of Arnie or Shaqiri

Super Jon – 7                        Worked hard, as usual, and is probably Stoke’s first choice forward at the moment but that doesn’t say much

Substitutes

Charlie Boy – 6                     Came on to steady Stoke’s defence but could only watch as Leicester dominated!

Ramadan – 6                        Sadly, once again, didn’t have much time to make any impact.

Manager

Mark Hughes – 6                  Unusual starting XI but sadly a predictable insipid set of substitutions

Referee

Lee Mason –  7                      Got the sending off and penalty spot on but maybe should have sent off at least one of the Leicester players who were on yellow cards in the second half.

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Love Him Or Hate Him But Please Don’t Play Him Instead of Shawcross

Reading The Sentinel’s website this week I had to take a second look when I noticed an article entitled “Fans insist Muniesa must stay . . . even at the expense of the captain”.

Now whilst I have been pretty vocal in my opinion of Muniesa’s defensive attributes, he has none, I do feel he overs the squad something in his ability to cover a multitude of positions and I still insist he has the potential to become a highly effective holding midfielder. Therefore, I agree with the first part of the article’s title as I feel it would be wrong to let the Spaniard go in this transfer window.

What amazes however is the second statement, “even at the expense of the captain” and it was these seven words which made me read and then reread the article. In this blog I often express opinions I know not everyone will agree with and in this context I cannot criticise fans for holding views contrary to my own. But what these comments got me thinking about is how the central defender’s role is currently perceived.

With foreign coaches bringing their philosophies to the Premiership we are seeing an evolution in the type of player that is required to play in the upper echelons of the modern game and no more so than in the central defence. Here we are seeing defenders being required to be the instigators of their team’s attacks and as such central defenders need to be a lot more comfortable on the ball, the obvious examples are John Stones at Manchester City and David Luiz at Chelsea and now you can add our own Muniesa to the mix. However, whilst I welcome this evolution I believe it has yet fully run its course!

The players I have mentioned whilst all being good on the ball have another thing in common, they are all prone to making costly mistakes due to overplaying the ball or neglecting their defensive duties as they attack and in Stones case in particular it is costing his team because they look nervous when teams press them. At Manchester City, Pep has the luxury of trying to fix this problem by bringing in an old fashioned defender, one who can defend, to play alongside Stones whilst at Chelsea, David Luiz has been a revelation recently because he has the added protection of playing in a back three but at Stoke, Muniesa’s case is different.

We already have a good old fashioned centre half in Shawcross and if we manage to secure his services long term in January a ball playing defender who can defend in Bruno and these two between them can be the starting point of Stoke’s attacks whilst also being the rock on which Stoke’s defence is built. Would replacing Shawcross with Muniesa really make that much of a difference going forward because I fear if the swap was made we would be considerably more fragile at the back?

But we’ve being playing a back three recently!

Again the two other players in a back three would be Bruno, who as I have stated is comfortable both with the ball and defending, and Glen Johnson, who nobody can argue is one of our better attacking defenders. So would Muniesa add more than Shawcross if he were to play as the third defender? Going forward perhaps but the benefit would be negligible compared to extra security Shawcross would provide as a defender.

Personally I like Muniesa and I was thrilled to see him score a goal but whatever happens in the January transfer window and no matter whether you love him or hate him I hope we don’t ever play him at the expense of the captain.

Stoke’s Christmas Wishlist – Full Backs

With less than a month left to one of the most exciting days of the year, yes the opening of the transfer window, I thought I would look at Stoke City’s current squad and give my opinions where we need to strengthen. This time the fullbacks:

First Choice:       Glen Johnson and Erik Pieters

Reserves:            Phil Bardsley

Any Others in or around the first team squad?

Whilst not their natural positions both Marc Muniesa and Geoff Cameron can fill in when required.

What about ones for the future?

Lewis Banks, Joel Taylor

Do we need to bring anyone in?

With the recent flirtation with a back three the traditional full back position is not one where Stoke have to be immediately invest in, we could always return to playing three at the back which players like Mame become potential wing backs. Having said that we are short of cover at left back and if a suitable player becomes available Stoke may try to bring in as back up to Pieters.

Do we need to let anyone go?

When Johnson got injured earlier in the season it showed how this we are at full back, with full back not the best positions of the two players most likely to deputise for Bardsley or Pieters if they were unavailable.

Have we been linked with anyone?

Sead Kolasinac (although I feat this one is more about the player’s agent renegotiating his client’s contract) and Linus Wahlqvist (who could be a long term solution at right back)

Any other business?

Before, and even after, his injury Johnson has been linked with Barcelona, yep Barcelona, but with Bardsley now injured I suspect Hughes would do his best to ensure the player stayed at the Bet365. If Hughes continues to persist with playing three at the back then someone like Bardlsey may find himself surplus to requirements once he returns from injury.