Posts Tagged ‘Stoke City’
“LONDON: When Michael Owen comes to reflect on his career, he may have cause to remember New Year’s Eve 2005 with particular regret. After an underwhelming season at Real Madrid, Owen was back in England with Newcastle United. He had missed the start of the season with a thigh injury, but since making his debut in September, he had scored seven goals in nine league games, including a hat-trick at West Ham United a week before Christmas. Aged 26, he still looked like the lean, livewire striker who had scored 158 goals in 297 games for Liverpool, but in first-half injury time of a league game at White Hart Lane, disaster struck.”
My AFP profile of Michael Owen, who announced his retirement from football on Tuesday, can be read here.
“LONDON — Jon Walters scored an unfortunate brace of headed own goals and missed a late penalty as Chelsea won 4-0 at Stoke City to reclaim third place in the Premier League on Saturday.”
My AFP round-up of Saturday’s Premier League matches can be read here.
“LONDON — Manchester United kept a firm grip on the Premier League title race by sweeping to a 4-0 win at Wigan Athletic on the first day of 2013 to maintain their seven-point lead.”
My AFP report on the Premier League’s New Year’s Day fixtures can be read here.
In the endlessly self-mythologising Premier League, it was perhaps inevitable that a visit to Stoke City’s Britannia Stadium would be cast as the sporting equivalent of the descent into Hades. It is a place, we are told, where madness and brutality reign, where identities are called into question, reputations torns to shreds, and from which only heroes emerge unscathed.
The Britannia is clearly a foreboding place for opposition teams to visit, but Tony Pulis’ side have also come to represent a pan-European vision of the most rugged extremes of English football. Andy Gray attracted widespread scorn for wondering aloud how Barcelona would handle Rory Delap’s long throws, while Rennes coach Frédéric Antonetti rebuked critics of his side’s patient approach play last season by fuming: “If you want to see us play like Stoke City, you’ll have to change coach.”
If Stoke have become a modern byword for direct, no-nonsense football, it is certainly borne out by the statistics. In the 0-0 draw at home to Chelsea last Sunday, the hosts saw just 34 percent of possession. They averaged 38 percent of possession across the whole of last season, and their pass completion rate in the opposition half of 56 percent was the lowest in the division. This Stoke side may have given their supporters mid-table stability and a first ever FA Cup final appearance, but they have not done it with the ball at their feet.
To accuse Pulis of wilful brutishness, however, is to overlook the fact that physical robustness is a fundamental prerequisite to success in the Premier League. You only have to look at the way that José Mourinho went about spending Roman Abramovich’s billions at Chelsea, or the way Roberto Mancini is constructing the current Manchester City side, to recognise that there is nothing perverse about Stoke’s approach.
Having supposedly died out halfway through the last decade, the 4-4-2 formation has enjoyed a surprising renaissance this season.
England’s unthinking attachment to the shape first introduced by Alf Ramsey’s ‘Wingless Wonders’ in 1966 (pictured) took a battering when José Mourinho swaggered into English football in 2004 and promptly won back-to-back Premier League titles with a counter-attacking 4-3-3 at Chelsea. The 2006 World Cup, meanwhile, was dominated by teams playing in a 4-2-3-1 to such an extent that hosts Germany were the only side playing in a 4-4-2 to achieve anything of note in the tournament.
Against a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, teams playing 4-4-2 conceded a numerical advantage in the middle of the pitch and couldn’t bring their full-backs into the game because of the presence in their territory of the opposition’s wingers. The great teams from the tail-end of the decade favoured innovative strikerless systems, such as Manchester United’s 4-3-3/4-2-4-0 in 2007-2008 or Barcelona’s fluid 4-3-3 from the season after. The 4-4-2, it was said, had become obsolete.
It’s not often that you see a top-level side take to the field having obviously adjusted their usual tactical plan purely to contain their opponents, but that’s exactly what Stoke City attempted to do in their 1-1 draw at Manchester City in the FA Cup on Saturday.
Roberto Mancini has repeatedly deployed his wingers on the opposite flank from their usual side since he arrived at Eastlands, with left-footers Martin Petrov and Adam Johnson typically playing on the right and right-footers such as Craig Bellamy and Craig Tevez starting on the left.
In a shrewd attempt to accommodate for this, Stoke coach Tony Pulis switched right-footed defender Andy Wilkinson from right-back to left-back, theoretically giving Stoke’s defence a much more natural means of coping with a left-footed player cutting infield from the right.
The trouble for Stoke was that Shaun Wright-Phillips, a predominantly right-footed winger, began the game on City’s right flank and unsurprisingly gave Wilkinson a torrid time by running at his left side. Pulis quickly remedied the problem, moving Wilkinson across the pitch to right-back and pulling left-footer Danny Higginbotham across from centre-back to cover Stoke’s left side.
Mancini, somewhat mischievously, reacted by sending Wright-Phillips over to the left, but the cat-and-mouse was brought to an abrupt end in the 55th minute when Wilkinson was forced off by injury.