Tottenham tactics: Stoke vs Spurs preview

After a good point against Chelsea, we face a tough trip to the Britannia for Stoke vs Spurs.

Last season’s match brings back memories of former striker Peter Crouch using his hand to control the ball in the Potters’ opener. Ryan Shawcross also using an arm to clear off the line to prevent an equaliser; whilst Emmanuel Adebayor had a perfectly good goal disallowed for offside.

So, what can we expect and what should be the Tottenham tactics for Stoke vs Spurs this time?

Stoke set up and style

Tony Pulis lines his side up in a 4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2 formation at home. Recently that has involved Cameron Jerome playing off Peter Crouch, but Kenwyne Jones also operates as the target man.

Whoever their big man of choice, they are heavy users of the long ball, but this isn’t as simple as just banging it downfield. As we’ll look at in a minute, the Potters’ target the right side of the pitch to deliver the ball from back to front. From here, if they win the knockdowns or flick-ons, they are able to deliver service in to the box from their wide players.

As a result of pinging it downfield, they do turn possession over quite often, but this also creates good opportunities when it is successful. Only Sunderland, Norwich and Reading see less of the ball during matches, but Stoke’s direct play means that the possession they do have is purposeful.

When not in control of the ball, the Potters drop off and look to soak up pressure, then strike on the counter. They are not a particularly heavy pressing side unless chasing a game. In their last match, Sunderland were reduced to ten men after 34 minutes. Yet Stoke, with a 1-0 advantage, still dropped off and gave the Black Cats plenty of possession in front of them.

The reason they drop off is that they are not only difficult to play through, but also their centre backs are strong in the air. Only Man Utd and West Ham have conceded fewer chances from headers this season and as we’ll look at later, the best way to create is to play through them.

Stoke long ball

Stoke do use the long ball to go from back to front and Asmir Begovic to Peter Crouch is often their top passing combination.

The Potters like to go forward down their right. In fact, they have the biggest imbalance between left and right attack sides in the Premier League.

The idea is to get the ball to either Ryan Shotton or Charlie Adam on the flank in order to create a crossing situation. We’ll look at these two players next, but when moving the ball forward it starts by going long to Peter Crouch or Kenwyne Jones.

In two of their recent home matches with Aston Villa and Man Utd, we can see how Stoke target the right side of the field to launch it forward from the back. Also notice that when the ball is in midfield, it can often go straight down the middle.


Stoke long balls against Aston Villa and Man Utd.

In their last home match with Norwich, one of those long balls down the middle created the only goal of the game. Ryan Shawcross launched one downfield to Peter Crouch. His flick-on was in to the path of Charlie Adam who had come inside from his starring position on the right.


Stoke beat Norwich with a typical Potters’ goal.

The Tottenham tactics for Stoke vs Spurs here should see Andre Villas-Boas move Jan Vertonghen to left back. This would allow him to partner Steven Caulker with Michael Dawson in the middle and effectively get three centre backs in to the line-up. The manager has done this against teams with a significant aerial threat and it would seem to be the way to go with Stoke heavily focussing on the right flank.

Stoke’s right side

The right side is where Stoke direct their long balls, but their crossing also comes from here as well. Charlie Adam has been getting the nod recently, but Tony Pulis has also used Ryan Shotton, as he offers the ability to deliver ‘Rory Delap style’ long throws.

The two players give Stoke something different, with Adam being predominantly left-footed and Shotton preferring to use his right.

Against Norwich last weekend, we can see how Adam delivers many of his crosses in to the box from deeper, as he cuts back on to his left foot. A couple of weeks earlier against Aston Villa, Shotton gets much higher up, as he gets round the back on his right.


Shotton and Adam each give something different on the Stoke right side.

Stoke move the ball out to this side through going long to Crouch. However, when in possession, Steven N’Zonzi and Glenn Whelan also shift it to this side from the centre of midfield. Begovic to Crouch is often Stoke’s top passing combination, but after that it is frequently N’Zonzi or Whelan to the right-sided player.

The Tottenham tactics For Stoke vs Spurs should not only see us start with Jan Vertonghen at left back, but also Gylfi Sigurdsson ahead of him. As well as being able to get forward, the Icelander is a much more disciplined and solid defensive player to provide cover for his full back. This should then see Gareth Bale move back to the centre, as this is where Stoke concede goals.

Where Stoke concede goals

Despite having two big strong centre backs, Stoke concede the majority of their chances through the middle. This isn’t from crosses, as they hoover those up those; but rather from through passes that expose their lack of mobility.

Where Norwich failed in their 1-0 loss in Stoke’s last home match was that they tried to cross too often. As is the Canaries’ style, they attempted 19 crosses, which played right in to the hands of Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth.

By contrast, in the Potters’ previous home encounter, Man Utd only crossed the ball 7 times from open play. The Red Devils did score after a corner wasn’t cleared and from a penalty, but created chances by threading the ball in behind the central defenders through the channels.

The week before, Aston Villa went to the Britannia and came away with the three points. Despite having the aerial power of Christian Benteke, the Villains crossed the ball just 3 times in open play and carved Stoke open from through passes.


Man Utd and Aston Villa chances created against Stoke.

The Tottenham tactics for Stoke vs Spurs here should see Gareth Bale return to the centre to take advantage of running in behind Stoke’s back line. In the stalemate at the Lane, we attempted 28 crosses from open play, completing just 3. That appraoch can’t happen again if we are to win.

Stoke vs Spurs outlook

If we are to be successful here, we need to focus on hitting runners with through balls. Gareth Bale has to return to the centre and Aaron Lennon should be looking to cut inside from the right, much like he did on his goal at the Lane against Arsenal. The team news that Moussa Demeble will be available also provides us with a dribble-driving threat from the middle of the park.

When Stoke are in possession, we need to guard against their long ball attacks that look to operate down the right side. The ball can go straight down the middle when it is in the midfield zone, but the general movement of play is to switch it out to the right in order to cross. This allows them to get Jonathan Walters in to the box from the left to support Peter Crouch and Cameron Jerome. It’s no real surprise that 30 of Stoke’s 32 Premier League goals have come from shots in the box.

Stoke vs Spurs should be another tight encounter, but if Tottenham play it right; we should edge it by the odd goal in three.

Stoke vs Spurs prediction: Stoke 1 Spurs 2.

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4 Responses to Tottenham tactics: Stoke vs Spurs preview

  1. Alee 11th May 2013 at 11:37 am #

    Interesting article. With what you have said in mind, my team for Stoke would be:

    Walker, Dawson, Caulker, Vertongen
    Dembele, Holtby, Sigurtson (spelling)
    Defoe, Bale, Adeybayor

    Dempsey, Lennon and Hudd as options to come on to get a win later, as needed.

    Or, a front six of…

    Dembele, Holtby,
    Dempsey (or Lennon if fit), Bale, Siggurtson

    • Chris 11th May 2013 at 2:17 pm #

      They’ll sit deep and play hard – I reckon that suits Dempsey/Sigg more than Lennon/Defoe. Lennon’s not fit anyway.

      Walker, Dawson, Caulker, Vert
      Huddlestone, Holtby, Sigg
      Bale, Ade, Dem


      Tough one – wouldn’t wanna be a manager!

      • Alee 12th May 2013 at 11:10 am #

        What, no Dembele???

        Brave man!

        • Chris 12th May 2013 at 6:52 pm #

          Well, he’s clearly injured – shouldn’t be starting half fit. As a club, I think we should be aiming to never start half fit players. That means getting the quality of the squad up, definitely.

          You (mostly) don’t see the top 4 sides throwing recently injured players out. Look at how Chelsea is able to rotate over these last few months – we can’t buy lots of Bale’s, but I reckon we should be able to improve in key positions.