A Bag Full Of Lemons – Week 23

Midweek fixtures can often throw up the odd weird result but usually nothing as a bizarre as what has happened over the last few days. Arsenal losing to Watford, Costa missing a penalty and Sunderland not only getting a point but also managing to keep a clean sheet against Spurs. There was “Grab the Cash” Sam’s first win at Palace but most improbably Manchester City managed to keep a clean sheet, they did have to drop Bravo to achieve this though! In light of these strange going on I am not too disappointed my one below average 34 points.


With none of my outfield players performing anything like their potential my Giraffe of the Week goes to Tom Heaton who has to be everyone’s favourite fantasy goalkeeper this season, but a word of warning to Burnley fans, last year’s surprise goalkeeping package is currently stuck playing Pokemon Go around the Stoke City medical centre. Sadly my Lemon of the week has to go to Stoke’s captain, Ryan Shawcross, for grabbing Everton a point and giving Mystic Mark a coronary on the side lines.


With Stoke away to West Brom I would love to have Saido Berahino in my line up but with three Stoke players in my team I will have to be content to play the long game. So in preparation for bringing Berahino into my team I have got rid of Shaqiri, who is definitely out of form, and brought in Michail Antonio.


Stoke’s Christmas Wishlist – Centre Halves

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 I look at the heart of the defence:

First Choice:       Ryan Shawcross and Bruno Martins Indi

Reserves:            Geoff Cameron and Marc Muniesa both have centre half on their passports but I suspect they both entered the country under false pretences

Any Others in or around the first team squad?

Dionatan Teixeira is in the first team squad whilst Harry Souttar has been rumoured to be sniffing around the first team squad.

What about ones for the future?

Along with Harry Souttar there is also Ryan Sweeney and Kosavar Sadiki.

Do we need to bring anyone in?

Once the captain got injured, and Clumsy also unavailable due to injury, Mystic Mark looked into his crystal ball and came up with a system playing three at the back. This has demonstrated that both that Stoke are short of cover at the back and that Muniesa is not a central defender. Even if Hughes trusts Teizeira and / or Souttar to join the bench there is still a need for a third choice defender to provide cover for Bruno and the Captain and to allow the younger players to pick up experience on loan.

Do we need to let anyone go?

The lack of a defender on the subs bench for the last two matches has highlighted how light Stoke are in this position. The priority has to be hanging onto everyone, at least until a suitable third choice defender is captured. Only then would it make sense to either let Muniesa go or loan out Teixeira and Souttar

Have we been linked with anyone?

The centre halves we have been linked, Nathan Smith and Joe Worrall, are both ones for the future and if purchased I would expect them to be loaned straight back to their respective clubs.

Any other business?

The elephant in the room, signing Bruno permanently has to be the Stoke board’s first order of business.

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.

A Bag Full Of Lemons – Week 10

As hinted at last week I have decided to play my wildcard this week to freshen up my team, hopefully in a bid to continue rising up the charts.


With Lee Grant now Stoke’s caretaker number one I have decided to bring in the other wonder fantasy football keeper Tom Heaton. This means I have a Stoke City player free and I have gone for the captain, Ryan Shawcross, who I feel is a lucky break away from going on the sort of goal scoring spree that helped Stoke win promotion to the Premiership. Also in defence I have decided to swap Azpilicueta for his Chelsea team mate Marcos Alonso who I expect to be the player most fantasy football managers bring into their team between now and Christmas. Joining Shawcross and Alonso as a newbie and my fifth choice defender is Simon Francis has the dual attributes of playing every week and also being cheap.

In midfield I have further tied my fortunes to Chelsea’s defensive prowess by swapping out Capoue for Victor Moses, who will probably be on my bench most weeks but is almost guaranteed to pick up points if one of my bug guns is not playing. With most of my midfield settled I still had to get rid of Pogba and so I have decided to pair Firmino with Phillipe Coutinho, this season’s second highest point scorer whose Liverpool team have a juicy set of fixtures between now and the end of the year.

After bringing in Moses I am forced, for now, to replace Diego Costa, let’s see if Conte buys another full back in the January transfer window. In deciding who to replace Costa with I am listening to an old adage, Harry Kane never scores at the start of the season but once he does start he never stops. I just hope his goal against Arsenal is the one which kick starts his season.

A Man on the Halfway Line


Recently Leigh Griffiths, Celtic’s diminutive forward, changed his twitter name to #shorty because Gordon Strachan, Scotland’s manager, has stated he requires tall players at set pieces thus suggesting Griffiths is too small to warrant a place in his national team. Whilst sending a worrying message out to all the talent scouts scouring the globe for the next Messi or Ronaldo, it also highlights a worrying trend in how managers view and manage set pieces.

Griffiths’ place in the team, according to Strachan, is in jeopardy because he wants his centre-forwards to come back when his team are defending corners. I have no problems with the big men coming back to add their height to the defensive effort but this argument should not mean small players, such as Griffiths, should be excluded from the team.

Sadly, however, it has become a worrying trend, especially down at the Bet365, for teams to defend set pieces with every player in or around the penalty box. From a defensive point of view this may seem like a good idea, more players are able to mark more players and occupy more space, but I disagree and instead believe this philosophy is counter-productive. How many times this season have Stoke cleared their lines only for the ball to come back a few seconds later because there is nobody further up the field to chase down and hold up clearances? Leigh Griffiths may be too small to be anything more than a hindrance at set pieces but he his quick enough and clever enough to be able to chase down clearances and hold the ball up to allow his defence to clear their lines.

Stoke often have Wilfried, or whoever is playing up front, tracking back for corners and I have no problems with this but we need to keep a player on the halfway line to occupy the defenders and to be a target when we clear our lines, otherwise Shawcross and the rest of his defence might just as well pass the ball back to the opposition and invite them to try again!

The Centre-Half – Defence First

The abundance of statistics, which have flooded the game in recent years has perhaps changed the way we define a player’s contribution to the team. A defender’s contribution isn’t measured on the number of tackles made but instead by something called the CBI Index, or the amount of Crosses, Blocks and Interceptions a player makes during the game. Study these statistics and I’m sure you’ll be amazed by how few tackles a centre-half makes on average in a game. With these facts the role of the centre-half is being redefined and they are no longer seen as big burly men whose sole job is to intimidate the opposing forward line but instead they are required to be as comfortable on the ball as the centre-forwards they mark.

This is why players such as David Luiz and John Stones can command such high transfer values, because they are ball-playing defenders yet for all the money spent on these types of players there has to be a word of caution. It may be desirable for a team to play the ball out from the back, ball retention is the name of the game today, but, and it is a big but, defenders still need to be able to defend. And if this isn’t part of their natural game? Well they need a partner who can do what defenders have always been able to do, defend.

It is therefore no surprise when you think about a club’s stalwart defenders, Adams at Arsenal, Bruce or Vidic at Manchester United and of course our own Shawcross, that they are defenders who first and foremost are defenders. David Luiz may have his admirers but in recent years both Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain have both been willing to cash in on him and I fear that John Stones won’t spend more than a few years at the Etihad Stadium.

Watching the Boy’s training sessions, I find myself applauding the coaches for the hours they spend working on their charges’ passing but at the same time I find myself frustrated by how little time they spend on the less glamorous, yet just as important, aspects of the game. Young players now spend less time playing “jumpers for goalposts” or “Wembley” than we did growing up and a result the natural development of the fundamentals of the game are having to be taught instead of being learned by doing. True, the football of today may be more pleasing on the eye but how many times have you watched your team concede a goal because the defenders tried to keep possession rather than just putting it into row Z?

Modern youth football has always been about aping the latest trends in the game and today is no exception but if you are youngster who dreams of making it and especially if you are defender a word of caution. The latest trends are that, trends, and by the time you are old enough ball playing defenders and sweeper keepers may just be a thing of the past. Football keeps us addicted by constantly evolving but even within this evolution some things remain the same, attackers try to score goals and defenders do whatever it takes to stop them.