After two wins on the spin, Saturday sees us travel to the Britannia for Stoke vs Spurs in the Premier League.
Mark Hughes is doing a very good job re-moulding the Potters from the functional side seen under predecessor Tony Pulis. So, what can we expect from his new-look charges and what should be the Tottenham tactics for Stoke vs Spurs this time?
Hughes’ front four
Over the season, Stoke have evolved, but Mark Hughes now has himself a very settled side. This has seen him use either a 4-2-3-1 formation or a 4-3-3 but the personnel deployed are pretty much always the same.
The front four are the most interesting within either set up. This usually sees Marko Arnautovic, Stephen Ireland and Peter Odemwingie behind Peter Crouch. The four have very unique roles, but function well as a unit.
Marko Arnautovic plays more or less as a winger, who Stoke look to get the ball out to at every opportunity. This can see them pass the ball quickly to him, often over great distance, as they switch play from right to left.
In their last home Premier League match against Newcastle they did this, whilst even more so in their recent away thumping of Aston Villa.
The Austrian has a very good first touch in order to bring the ball down or under control. He is then a very tricky dribbler who can beat the opposing full back in order to deliver a cross or cut the ball back across the penalty area.
Whilst Arnautovic is plying one wing, over on the other side, Peter Odemwingie operates as more of a wide forward.
The Nigerian is very dangerous on the counter attack, but drifts inside from his starting position on the right to get in to shooting positions. This has seen him net five times in the Premier League since his switch from Cardiff in January.
With Odemwingie moving inside, this often allows Geoff Cameron to get forward from right back on the overlap. The tough tackling American has put more balls in to the box than any other Stoke player, something which they are doing less of under Mark Hughes. The Potters were a long ball and cross team for Tony Pulis, but for the new manager, they have attempted the third fewest balls in to the box in the Premier League.
Between Arnautovic and Odemwingie, Stephen Ireland is a decent complement in the number ten role.
The Irishman is not a pure passer or very good with his back to goal like a traditional trequartista. What he does do well is run with the ball at his feet and delivering incisive passes on the move. This is something that benefits the team, as Stoke play in a medium block and look to break forward in transition if they can create a turnover around the halfway line.
The Potters are aiming but haven’t become a possession heavy side just yet and still occasionally go long from back to front. Up top, Peter Crouch is used as a traditional target man to do just this, but his hold up play and knockdowns allow others to work off him, whilst his neat feet can see him get chances in the box.
Crouch’s last home outing demonstrated perfectly how the side still has some of the old Stoke style. The ex-Spurs man was the target for most goal kicks from Asmir Begovic, whilst he got on the end of several crosses once inside the box.
Crouch often comes short to allow others to move past him to work off his knockdowns. An excellent example was for Peter Odemwingie’s recent goal at Aston Villa, but the front four works well as a unit and are striking up some good chemistry.
Where Stoke concede
Having spent enough time on Stoke’s attacking assets, its time to switch our attention to where best to hit them.
The key, as we demonstrated in Spurs 3 Stoke 0 at White Hart Lane, is through the inside left channel. This is where Marc Wilson is playing as a stand-in centre back for long-term absentee Robert Huth.
The problem for many teams is that Stoke deploy Steven N’Zonzi and Glenn Whelan in front of the back four and they set up a very effective shield. The full backs also pinch in to get close to their centre backs in an effort to provide as much protection as possible. This is why Stoke have been extremely tough to beat recently, especially at home.
The last team to win at the Britannia Stadium in the Premier League were Liverpool back in January. The Reds were able to get at Stoke up by opening up and attacking through their inside left channel. They created a number of chances either with passes from or to here.
Since then, Stoke have been tough to beat both at home and on the road. Interestingly, Chelsea also created a number of chances through this channel in their 3-0 demolition of the Potters a couple of weeks ago. This was Stoke’s biggest loss since being turned over by Liverpool in January.
Whilst the inside left channel is the way to get through the Stoke defence, as pointed out earlier, this isn’t always easy. The Potters have two ball-winners in front and the full backs tuck in to protect the centre backs.
In recent weeks, teams that have had success have done so by moving the ball to get down the outsides of the narrow full backs.
Mohammed Salah opened the scoring for Chelsea doing just this. Nemanja Matic got behind a very narrow right back and cut the ball across the penalty area to Salah.
Later in the game, the Egyptian won a penalty after bursting past Eden Hazard. The Stoke defence was again caught very narrow with right back Andy Wilkinson once more tucked in and he could only bring Salah down as he charged towards the by-line.
The Tottenham tactics for Stoke vs Spurs would see us do well to go after their inside left channel. However, if this is cut off by N’Zonzi, Whelan and the full backs tucking in, then we need to get the ball quickly down the outsides of them to create shorter crosses and cutbacks.
Press for Success?
One thing we did well in the match at the Lane was press Stoke and force turnovers in their half of the field. Tim Sherwood did this through our twin strikers of Adebayor and Soldado, with Moussa Dembele and Paulinho also attempting to hem Stoke in.
Although their match was at the Bridge, Chelsea also pressed up in their 3-0 win against Stoke the other week.
Liverpool were the last team to win at the Britannia, but they are a quick counter attacking side, so their approach was different.
The Reds lured Stoke in to their half, then taking the ball off them and surging forward at great speed. This has been Liverpool’s way all season. Although they sat off in their victory, they did create turnovers in Stoke’s weak inside left channel in the Potters’ half of the field.
The Tottenham tactics for Stoke vs Spurs here should see us look to press them early in possession once again. The new-look Potters are looking to retain the ball, but they are not used to moving it around quickly under pressure just yet and can be prone to errors.
Stoke vs Spurs outlook
Stoke are an extremely difficult opponent, especially at the Britannia Stadium.
The key will be getting at Marc Wilson, but if this is not possible, then we need to get down the outsides of their narrow back four. This could well be easier said than done.
Stoke vs Spurs prediction: Stoke 1 Spurs 1.