Stoke vs Spurs is next in the Premier League, so we look at the tactical strengths and weaknesses of Mark Hughes’ men.
A trip to Stoke is supposedly the ultimate away day test. A partisan crowd and a tenacious team make for difficult opponents that cause problems for any visitor. Despite the Potters languishing at the bottom of the Premier League, Stoke vs Spurs will be no easier than normal. We take look at their tactical strengths and weaknesses.
Where Stoke concede
Stoke have had trouble in a number of areas already this season. They continue to struggle against opponents that can get men between the lines to pull their centre backs around. New for this season is their fallibility at set pieces, which for years was their strong point.
Chances through the centre
Stoke have already given up a large number of chances to opponents that can attack them through the centre.
Their problems have begun with their midfield. Giannelli Imbula and new recruit Joe Allen are yet to gel and concede too much space between themselves and their back line. This allows opponents to get in to this space and straight at their centre backs. We can see that in their 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough on opening day. Gaston Ramirez is free to collect the ball and drive past Ryan Shawcross.
Stoke’s centre back pairing are just not mobile enough when playing 1v1 with space around or behind them. With the midfield screen too high, it leaves them exposed and vulnerable to tricky dribblers or runs from slightly deeper.
Pulling the centre backs out
Getting men between the lines has exposed Stoke’s centre back’s lack of mobility. To compound this, they are also being pulled around, leaving space for other attackers.
Kevin Mirallas does that here to Ryan Shawcross. Mirallas has acres between the lines and this forces Shawcross to come out from the back line. Space is left for Romelu Lukaku who has already pinned the other centre back behind him.
Man City also used this technique in their 4-1 win. David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne gave Stoke’s centre backs fits as they drifted behind the Potters’ midfield. They were pulled out towards the two number tens, allowing Silva to spring Kelechi Iheanacho for their third goal.
Regular readers will know of how we used this ‘pull effect‘ of the Stoke centre backs last season. Mauricio Pochettino used Harry Kane to drop off and draw the centre backs out in both the 2-2 draw at White Hart Lane and the 4-0 trouncing at the Bet365 Stadium.
I expect to see Mauricio Pochettino utilise Harry Kane to drag their centre backs short. This will allow runners to go past him in Stoke vs Spurs once again. Dele Alli has to be in the team to profit. His runs past and beyond Kane are perfect for this scenario.
Set Piece strength and weakness
Stoke and their strength at set pieces are synonymous. This season they have been good at them again. In fact, their only goals scored in this Premier League campaign have come from them. A free kick and a penalty that was won from another type of set piece, a corner.
However, this season, Stoke have shown a real vulnerability in defending set pieces with the introduction of the new shirt pulling and holding laws. They’ve conceded two penalties under the new rules, but also gained one, since their introduction. Unsurprisingly, serial grappling offender of season’s past, Ryan Shawcross, has been in the thick of the action on two of the three incidents.
Its not just penalty box drama that has centred on Stoke, the new hands off laws have also seen them struggle at defending free kicks. So far this season, Stoke have conceded the fifth most shots in the Premier League from set pieces. With Spurs having the third most shots from dead ball situations, exposing the Potters here with the new rules is a real opportunity.
Switching the play
Mark Hughes has tried a number of defensive schemes during his time in charge. This season he has his team pressing to force the opposition towards the sideline. This sees them then try and hem an opponent in.
The smarter sides have been able to navigate Stoke’s press by switching the play quickly to the other flank. Middlesbrough did that on their goal for Alvaro Negredo. Stoke brought numbers and tried to hem Middlesbrough in on their right. Two passes later and George Friend was streaking forward unmarked down the left.
Friend’s cross to the back post was returned across goal for Negredo to nod in. The passage of play highlighted great navigation of Stoke’s press, something that Man City also achieved during their 4-1 win.
The Tottenham tactics for Stoke vs Spurs should focus on quick switches of the ball. Toby Alderweireld’s long diagonals should be particularly useful and destructive in this match.
Stopping the Stoke attack
In spite of their meagre attacking returns so far this season, Stoke are dangerous because they get men in the box.
They have their three forward players run the lanes between the opposition centre backs to cause confusion as to who is picking up whom.
We saw them do this throughout last season and they continue to do it this. The overload works as it often causes disorder in the back line, as split-second decisions need to be made.
Overloading the centre backs with three players running the lanes in-between them has been a key to Stoke under Mark Hughes. Stopping them from doing it is an imperative part of the Tottenham tactics for Stoke vs Spurs and Eric Dier needs to play a big role here. Dier dropping in-between Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen can stop this from happening.
Stoke vs Spurs overall
Last season’s 4-0 annihilation of Stoke was our best away performance of the campaign. It banished the 3-0 capitulation at the Bet365 Stadium the season before. The key difference is that Mauricio Pochettino seems to have figured out that we need to use Harry Kane to pull the Stoke centre backs around to create space for others. Expect to see this during Stoke vs Spurs on Saturday.
Mousa Dembele bossed the midfield for Spurs in this fixture last season. He was particularly effective against the tall and powerful Giannelli Imbula. Without Dembele once again, Victor Wanyama or Moussa Sissoko, should deputise.
Stoke vs Spurs prediction: Stoke 1-2 Spurs.