Thursday, August 5, 2010

Stoke City FC: Still getting away with it

Stoke City play a real “man's man” brand of football. Always have under Tony Pulis. They belt the ball up the field, tackle hard – unfortunately at the expense of players like Aaron Ramsey – and as such players who've been earmarked as lower level players only seem to thrive at the Potteries. Success in staying up has derived from their constant focus on doing what they do well. Good thing too, as many would say that they only do one thing well. But does a one-note song provide enough to survive long-term in the Premier League?

The motto's clear the past two years: not many goals are scored, hard and physical defending and occasional sausage rolls from set pieces or good-old-fashioned-effort from their alleged class players like Ricardo Fuller and James Beattie (before he was allegedly headbutted by a naked Pulis). They tried to augment that style and offer a little more variety with last season's acquisition of Tuncay but he didn't mesh well and provided more questions than answers. This year's rumoured big buy Carlton Cole is again more tuba than flute and makes one ask if Pulis has abandoned variety to continue in Stoke's unsubtle ways.

Really, Stoke can continue down their onerous ways until it stops working. As always there will be adaptations, but it's the manager's job to balance playing to his team's strengths with diminishing the opposition's and with that in mind the players on hand means this year Stoke City are likely to display the same tactics. The paucity of talent in the EPL this year suggests the Potters should make a good fist of staying up. The risk they run by playing the same tactics without alteration is you become predictable. Predictability is fine as long as you remain good at what you do – to predictably deny goalscoring opportunities is a benefit, but if a team predictably denies goalscoring opportunities for 75 of 90 minutes then that's not so hot.

It's like when a young country guy is “on the pull”. Now, hear me out. If he has an angle that works, it's likely he's going to stay with that angle. A little tweak here and there but very few substantial changes. But as he moves to the city and tries that angle on more and more sophisticated & intelligent girls and is rebuffed, it's becomes like throwing copious amounts of crap at a wall and seeing some sticks.

Not evolving your tactics forces a team to remain at 100% concentration levels for every single minute of every single match. Execution is key: if for any one reason you don't execute your gameplan well – injuries, dips in player concentration, squad discontent or plain and simple brain-farts – your opposition takes control of the game. Stoke runs this risk for the season coming, especially without that “little bit of magic” signing Pulis hopes for. They'll be hard to beat, but unlikely to thrive unless something breaks the monotony.

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