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.

The Plight Of The Kiwi Stokie

As usual Stoke’s game against Southampton was last in the Match of the Day running order but by all accounts it was a pretty drab affair and maybe this time it can be overlooked. Personally I wouldn’t be able to tell you because here in New Zealand, if you can believe it, the Stokie is looked down upon even more than their British cousins by the television schedulers.

BeIN Sports have the rights to show Premiership football here in New Zealand and they have committed to showing every match in its entirety. Of course this is good news but in the case of Stoke versus Southampton this means the match will be shown a full twenty-four hours after it had finished. Twenty-four hours where it is impossible not to find out the result, and of course Stoke versus Southampton is the last of Wednesday’s matches to be shown.

So next time you moan that Stoke are being shown last on Match of the Day spare a thought for your kiwi cousins.

Arsenal 3 – Stoke City 1

As Stoke looked to end their Arsenal hoodoo, Mark Hughes brought back Joe Allen for the unlucky Walters and decided to stick with the 3-4-3 formation which had previously seen off Watford and Burnley. With no Super Jon the captain’s armband was passed to Charlie Boy and once the match commentator informed us that it was the Scot’s birthday everything felt right with the boy as if this confirmed his theory that, in the absence of The Captain, the honour to lead the team was being based on star sign rather than footballing ability.

Indeed, this theory seemed to be confirmed as Adam misplaced a pass early on which led to Arsenal rushing forward to attack Grant’s goal and, maybe buoyed by this mistake, it was evident Arsenal had been told to press the Stoke Captain quickly every time he received the ball. Yet despite Stoke’s midfield’s tendency to give the ball away needlessly it was Stoke who looked the more dangerous in the opening exchanges with Arnie being Arsenal’s tormenter in chief as he twice laid the ball back only for Joe Allen and Shaqiri to fluff their lines. There was even a potential goal of the season contender as Muniesa forced Petr Cech to tip over after a perfectly struck volley from what seemed like the centre circle.

It was therefore no surprise to anybody, apart from the Christmas Grinch on the Arsenal touchline, when Stoke took the lead after Xhaka assaulted Joe Allen in the Arsenal penalty area and Adam stepped up to stroke the resulting penalty home. Should Xhaka have been sent off? Initially I thought no but after seeing the replays, which Lee mason didn’t have the luxury of to be fair, it is clear Xhaka deliberately elbowed the Welshman and who knows what the result might have been if the Swiss midfielder, who was easily Arsenal’s best player, had been sent for an early bath. And of course on the side line the Christmas Grinch clearly thought Lee Mason got it wrong, presumably believing that Allen should have gotten his face out of the way!

One nil up at the Emirates might have seemed a dream scenario and things might have been different if Mustafi hadn’t injured himself a few minutes before Stoke took the lead but with Bellerin coming on at right back Arsenal began to look a lot more potent and Pieters in particular will not be wanting to see the Spaniard anytime soon as Bellerin continually looked to join the attack. Potent as he is going forward Bellerin may be the weakness in the Arsenal defence that other teams will look to exploit because he does leave the Arsenal right exposed as he looks to influence the attack.

But it was the Spaniard’s attacking intent which finally undid the Stoke defence three minutes before the interval when his low cross was met superbly by Walcott who volleyed past a helpless Grant in the Stoke goal. 1-1 quickly became 2-1 five minutes after half time when Pieters, out of position after receiving treatment, could only watch on as Ozil ghosted through a disorganised defence to head past a stranded Grant.

Even a goal behind you still felt Stoke had a chance even after Grant made a smart save from Oxlade-Chamberlin and if Mame had managed to do better with a free header from six yards out we might have been lucky enough to see the Christmas Grinch throw a festive tantrum. Instead Stoke seemed to lose a little spirit after this miss and to shake things up Mystic Mark decided to turn to one of his go to men in Two Meter Peter and if Crouch’s first touch, a downward header, had sneaked in we may have talking about a substitution masterclass but instead the truth was as soon as Stoke introduced the veteran striker they began to fade from the game.

And it was left to the Arsenal sub, Alex Iwoba, to put the final nail in Stoke’s coffin as he steered a low shot past the diving Grant and into the bottom corner to seal yet another defeat for Stoke at the Emirates.

This game was always going to be difficult and in the main Stoke can take some comfort in the way they created chances against a team who are going to be up near the top of the table come the end of the season but as we enter a hectic festive period there are still a few points to consider:

  • It seems 3-4-3 is here to stay, at least until the Captain returns, and so the next question has to be who gets the nod to play in the front three. Arnie played well, at least for the first half, in the false nine role but at home where Stoke will be expected to attack a more dedicated striker will provide a greater threat. At least for the Southampton game I would bring back Super Jon.
  • I know I am beginning to sound like a broken record once more but why is Adam still playing when Glenda is fit again? The Scot may be our best striker of the ball we have but he gives the ball away too cheaply to play the covering role in front of the defence. Arsenal clearly noticed he could be ruffled and every time Charlie Boy received the ball he was closed down quickly. A tactic I am sure Southampton and Leicester will have noted produced dividends.
  • Another broken record moment! When we bring on Two Meter Peter we are broadcasting to world how we are going to change our game plan and being honest it is not working. It was good to see both Ramadan and Ngoy getting onto the pitch and both fit into the way we were playing, and creating chances, much better than Crouch.
  • Although he doesn’t get the Giraffe of the week the improvement, in such a short amount of time, in Mame’s defending has to be noted. His last ditch sliding clearance shows he is willing to do the dirty work which playing wing back entails.

Stoke Giraffe of the Week           Bruno Martins Indi

Stoke Lemon of the Week           Charlie Adam

Match Ratings

Lee Grant – 8                        A couple of memorable saves and once again couldn’t do a lot with any of Arsenal goals.

Glenn Johnson – 7              An off day for the usually impressive Johnson

Marc Muniesa – 7                Defended well enough and, as always, was eager to join the attack.

Bruno Martin Indi – 9         Giraffe of the week for the second match in a row and getting a permanent deal for the Dutchman has to be Stoke’s number one priority in January.

Erik Pieters – 6                     Must be having nightmares about the pace of Bellerin but showed if you push the Spaniard back he is not the best defender in the world.

Charlie Boy – 5                     Captain for the day, still gave the ball away too cheaply and this weakness in his game is beginning to be spotted by the opposition

Giannelli Imbula – 6           Looked good bringing the ball forward but, like his midfield partner, gave the ball away too cheaply and too often.

Mame Diouf – 7                   Played well at wing back but loses a point for not even getting a free header on target.

Shaqiri – 6                             Not the little Swiss’ best day

Arnie – 7                                Looked at home playing as a false nine in the first half but ran out of steam in the second

Joe Allen – 8                        Ran all over the pitch and his knack of being in the right place led to Stoke’s penalty

Substitutes

Two Meter Peter – 6            Could have been the ultimate impact player if his first touch had gone in but in the end didn’t bring much more to the party

Ramadan – 7                        Didn’t have much time to make any impact.

Julien Ngoy – 7                    Like Ramadan didn’t have long on the pitch but good to see a product of Stoke’s academy getting their debut

Manager

Mark Hughes – 6                  I’m more convinced after this display about the change in formation but the reliance on substitution by numbers is beginning to grate

Referee

Lee Mason – 7                       Maybe could have sent Xhaka off but the man in the middle didn’t have the benefit of television replays that we did. Otherwise refereed the match well.

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 City 2 – Burnley 0

With Glenda and Joe Allen on the bench Mystic Mark decided to stick with the formation and, mostly, with the players who managed to put Watford to the sword. Was the reason because Hughes had one eyes on Stoke’s upcoming run of tough fixtures or did he believe he had stumbled upon a way to play which has currently become the vogue this season? Although I would like to say it was the former, sadly I believe it was the latter and I only hope after Saturday’s performance Stoke’s management team look at how we were overrun in midfield and realise with the personal they have available 3-4-3 isn’t the right formation for us just yet.

Admittedly Stoke look more dangerous with Shaqiri and Arnie playing closer to the centre forward but is more of a case that Super Jon has looked like a player with a point to prove in the last two games? And how he proved that point, after a deft back heel from Shaqiri to Mame, the Senegalese whipped in a beauty or a cross only for Walters to outdo both as he deftly diverted the ball past the despairing Robinson.

Maybe that goal went against the run of play as Burnley started the match determined to get a first away win of the season as they lay siege to the Stoke goal, aided by too many sloppy passes from the home team, with Charlie Boy being the biggest culprit. But as soon as Stoke had taken the lead they began to search for a second, with Stoke’s big two, Arnie and Shaqiri, being involed in almost everything good Stoke managed to produce.

And it was the Austrian who had a hand in the second as he raced down the left wing after Muniesa had brought the ball out of defence and when Arnie looked up, after skinning his full back, he was probably as surprised as anyone to see the Spaniard at the edge of the box calling for the return ball. Undaunted Arnie found Muniesa and whilst it may not go down as goal of the season the Spaniard’s volleyed finish will surely mean it will find a place in his own personal highlight reel.

At the other end Muniesa was perhaps fortunate not to be shown a red card as he tussled with the combative Andre Gray but looking at the replays it could also be argued that the Burnley was as much at fault for the shirt tugging which resulted in the free kick.

With the teams coming out for the second half it was clear Sean Dyche had told his players to revert to the intensity which they had started the match and to target Muniesa as the weak link in the Stoke back line as they pressed for a way back into the game. However, Bruno and the excellent Lee Grant in goal were more than a match for a Burnley team who, whilst they dominated the possession, were unable to create many, if any, clear cut chances. In fact, apart from an acrobatic paw to save an Andre Gray shot Burnley looked unlikely to score and maybe it was frustration which led to Ashley Barnes leading with his elbow to floor Bruno.

As the game petered to an inevitable conclusion both managers brought on players to try and change the flow of the game but whilst Dyche’s decision to bring on Vokes and ex-Stoke player Michael Kightly to try and win the game Stoke’s inability to kill the game off has to partly be put down to the insipid substitutions by Hughes which have become his trademark. Whilst Glenda added security in the middle of the park, why wasn’t Ramadan introduced after both Arnie and Shaqiri had been substituted? Surely the Egyptian’s pace would have provided more of a threat than that of Two Meter Peter!

Nineteen points and a place in the top half of the table proves those naysayers, who predicted a tough season for Stoke, wrong but having now played all but Southampton and Leicester of the teams below us in the table, the real litmus test of where we will finish the season is before us. With Arsenal away next up there are a few things which need to be taken into consideration.

  • Although I do not think 3-4-3 is the way to go with the current Stoke squad next week may be cause for the formation to get its third run out in as many weeks, especially if the Captain is still injured. Whilst Bruno is looking like an inspired signing he does not have the electric pace which would allow him to deal with the Arsenal flyers and maybe playing three at the back will somehow compensate for this disparity in pace.
  • I hope the only reason Charlie Boy played in place of Glenda was because Hughes wanted to make sure the Irishman was fit to play against Arsenal on Saturday. The Scot does not have the defensive mind set to play as cover for the defence and too often he gives the ball away cheaply. His performance against Swansea needs to be forgotten quickly and Mystic Mark needs to take of his rose tinted glasses and realise Adam has been a liability in the last three matches.
  • I know Muniesa has been given the Man of the Match award by the Sentinel but this can only be for his influence at the wrong end of the pitch. Too often he was bullied off the ball because he does not have the physical presence of, for example, Bruno and his wanderlust is causing problems. He is not a long term answer as a centre half and unless the club and the player agree to try him in Clumsy’s role I fear the popular Spaniard will have to be shown the door.
  • Mystic Mark’s substitutions are clearly being done by numbers, with both Shaqiri and Arnie replaced for Allen and Crouch we had no outlet down the wings as Mame was being pushed back and, as well as he played, Super Jon does not have the legs. Surely Ramadan’s pace would have terrorised the Burnley defence and if, as I suspect, they dropped back to compensate it would have allowed Stoke to clear the lines more effectively.

Stoke Giraffe of the Week           Bruno Martins Indi

Stoke Lemon of the Week           Charlie Adam

Match Ratings

Lee Grant – 8                        Yet again dealt with everything that came his way comfortably and his performances have made news of Butland’s injury setback bearable.

Glenn Johnson – 8              Quiet going forward yet effective at the back and alongside Bruno dealt with most that Burnley has to throw at them

Marc Muniesa – 6                Gets a point for the goal but loses it again for the wanderlust which led to it. Needs to think about defending first before he looks to attack

Bruno Martin Indi – 9         Another top notch display and Stoke need to snap him up before someone else realises how well he is playing

Erik Pieters – 7                     Is defending better at wing back but is less of a threat going forward

Charlie Boy – 5                     Gives the ball away to cheaply and often looks a passenger as the opposition passes the ball around him

Giannelli Imbula – 7            A few surging runs but what impressed me the most was his increased physicality

Mame Diouf – 7                   I still maintain he is defensively suspect but showed what a threat he can be with his cross for Super Jon’s opener

Shaqiri – 8                             When he was on the pitch Stoke looked like they were going to score, when he wasn’t they didn’t!

Arnie – 8                               Similar to Shaqiri, looks more dangerous playing closer to the centre forward

Super Jon – 8                        Typical Super Jon display with a less typical finish

Substitutes

Joe Allen – 6                         Didn’t really do anything when he came on to replace Shaqiri

Two Meter Peter – 6            I get confused whether Hughes is bringing on Crouch as an attacking option or to bolster his defence! Still won a couple of balls in the box though.

Glenda – 6                             Brought on to provide a little calm in the middle of the park

Manager

Mark Hughes – 6                  I was worried Hughes may have seen the Watford display and thought he had found a miracle formation and so it proved. Sadly he hasn’t and now is the time for the manager to be ruthless and replace the under performing players like Charlie Boy

Referee

Mark Clatterburg – 7           The best ref in the world? Probably but had an average day at the bet365.

Watford 0 – Stoke City 1

Allen suspended, no Clumsy or Glenda and the Captain and Phil Bardsley also injured. If ever there was a time for Mystic Mark to look into his crystal ball and come up with a spark of inspiration, it was Sunday and as the Boy and I sat down to watch the match we both wondered if Mystic Mark’s crystal ball had lost its connection. Mame at right wing back, three at the back and Super Jon up front! This was never going to work.

Yet work it did, from the kick off the enforced changes seemed to galvanise the Stoke team as they fought for each other and once they had imposed themselves on the game early on the football began to flow. Imbula, back in the starting XI, was the lynchpin as Arnie, Shaqiri and the two wing backs began to pass the ball around a bemused Watford midfield and it was Stoke who deservedly had the first chance when Mame’s overhead kick was blocked before Bruno and Super Jon saw their follow ups blocked.

At the other end of the pitch Lee Grant was having a quiet Sunday lunchtime although he did have to snatch a 25 yarder out of the air after Charlie Boy gave the ball away cheaply in the middle of the park. But this was an isolated incident and Stoke continued pressing forward with Arnie nodding a cross from the right only for Super to tamely head the ball into Gomes’ grateful arms. The Watford keeper was less fortunate moments later when Charlie Boy rose to meet Shaqiri’s header sending it towards the base of the post and Gomes was only able to parry the ball back into his own net.

The expected Watford response to going a goal behind spluttered into life briefly with the hosts crafting a couple of half chances but the improvised backline of Bruno, Muniesa and Johnson looked comfortable as Watford’s woes continued. In fact it could have been Stoke who finished the half with the next goal but for an outstretched leg denying Super Jon after some neat interplay between Shaqiri and Arnie. Could of then became should of almost straight after the interval when Arnie raced from inside of his own half and squared the ball to Super Jon who has to watch in agony as the ball rolled in front of him with an open goal beckoning.

In the stands the home fans began to turn on their own players as the match’s intensity began to fall and in response Mazzarri decided to throw on first Ighalo and then Okaka in a clear attempt to get the ball in and around the Stoke penalty box but Bruno and the boys were able to deal with everything Watford tried to throw at them.

Maybe Stoke were a little fortunate that the referee waved play on after a hopeful Watford penalty shout, I have seen them given before, but whilst Watford were doing all the attacking it was Stoke who were looking the more dangerous when they broke and it was from one of these quick fire breaks when Shaqiri outpaced Britto. The Watford defender, in desperation, tugged on the Swiss’ shirt earning himself a second yellow and for the remaining five minutes it was the visitors who looked to add to their first half goal with Pieters and Imbula having shots from distance.

This win, and especially the first half display, is a pleasant pick me up after the shambles in our last match against Bournemouth. Stoke dominated one of the teams who many expect to be in and around the bottom of the top half come the end of the season, with a makeshift formation and personal but next week’s game against Burnley is another we need to win if we have ambitions to finish above the likes of Watford so as always there are a few things which need to be taken into consideration:

  • 3-4-3 or whatever it was worked well as a one off and was, in hindsight, the best formation for the players available. It may also be the way Mystic Mark wants to go in the future, it did get the best out of Arnie and Shaqiri, but a lot of thought and hard work would need to be put in before it became Stoke’s preferred formation.
  • Whilst Mame was simply Mame, hard-working, willing to play anywhere and run down any lost cause to ask whether he is Stoke’s answer to Victor Moses is a little premature. Defensively Diouf was all over the place at times and before this experiment was repeated the player needs to undergo an intensive defensive boot camp
  • Even though I don’t expect Hughes to play the same formation next week I hope the manager took note of how much more effective Arnie and Shaqiri were playing further infield.

Stoke Giraffe of the Week           Mark Hughes

Stoke Lemon of the Week           Charlie Adam

Match Ratings

Lee Grant – 7                         Another confident display

Glenn Johnson – 7               His attacking instincts were stunted by playing as part of a back three but did his main job of defending well

Marc Muniesa – 7                Got the chance he wanted as if Stoke do go with a back three would look comfortable there.

Bruno Martin Indi – 9         Immense. In the absence of the Captain put in a captain’s performance

Erik Pieters – 7                     Solid if unconvincing

Charlie Boy – 6                     Maybe a little harsh seeing as he set up the goal but gives the ball away too cheaply to play so deep.

Giannelli Imbula – 8            More like the player we thought we brought in January

Mame Diouf – 8                   Too defensively suspect at the moment to make wing back position his own. Nether the less worked his socks off and posed real questions down Watford’s left

Shaqiri – 8                             Was more involved playing closer to the striker and provided a few moments of magic

Arnie – 9                                Back to his arrogant best, the only thing that is missing now is the goals

Super Jon – 7                        Another who ran his socks off but the chance at the start of the second half showed he is missing a yard or two of pace

Substitutes

Two Meter Peter – 7            Maybe Mystic Mark is right and Crouch deserves another year but only if he realises ten, fifteen minutes at the end of the game is all he is going to get

Manager

Mark Hughes – 9                  Tactical masterstroke or a message from the other side? Whatever prompted the team selection was inspired and showed good reactive thinking by bringing on Two Meter Peter to counter the threat of Okaka.

Referee

Robert Madley – 6                  It was clear from the start he was not going to accept any dissent, the difference between the two teams was Stoke realised this and even Arnie only complained to his team mates. Also stayed strong and didn’t give either of the two soft penalty shouts towards the end of the game.

What If Glenda, Clumsy And Joe Are Not Available On Sunday?

With Joe Allen banned and our two main defensive midfielders, Glenda and Clumsy, both doubts for the trip to Watford, Mystic Mark is going to have to look long and hard into his crystal ball to come up with a solution. As always, like any good football fan, I have my opinion on who, and who should be given the three midfield berths on Sunday:

In an Ideal World                                           Glenda / Clumsy / Imbula

I know this may come as a shock as the Frenchman has been doing his best impression of Where’s Wally of late but with Joe Allen definitely out due to suspension this may be the perfect opportunity to discover if a sojourn on the side lines has given Imbula the kick up the backside he needed.

If Glenda or Clumsy is Missing                   Glenda (or Clumsy) / Muniesa / Imbula

Muniesa has the defensive nous and technical ability to shine as a central defensive midfielder and he has to realise he is nothing more than a “just in case” player in his manager’s eyes when it comes to his preferred position of centre half. If Clumsy and / or Glenda are missing on Sunday this is the perfect opportunity for the Spaniard to audition for a role I believe he is best suited and if he succeeds he could become a long term solution to Glenda’s aging legs.

If Both are missing                                        Be Bold, Play 4-4-2 with Muniesa and Imbula in the middle

Watford are going to play with three at the back which will mean Wilfried will have a torrid afternoon if he doesn’t get any support. Playing two up front may be a gamble, especially at home, but if the Ivorian had another to pressure the defenders Stoke could defend from the front. My choice would be Mame because of his extra pace which would complement Wilfried’s physical presence.

Shouldn’t Get a Look In                               Bojan / Charlie Boy

Surely Bojan’s career at the Bet365 is almost over. He was once easily our best player but ever since he got injured he has been a pale imitation of that player and if he was a beloved pet you would be considering putting him down by now. Stoke must put all sentiment to one side and let Bojan return to the continent where the slower pace will hopefully allow him to influence games like he used to do for us.

In Charlie Boy’s case I also fear his days at the Bet365 are numbered simply because Joe Allen has been such a revelation since he joined in the summer. It was plainly evident on Saturday the Scot is not even a stop gap solution as a central defensive midfielder and he deserves to be playing football regularly instead of making first team cameos and the occasional appearance in the Checkatrade trophy.