Ah, that sweet feeling of success. Why, I barely knew you existed. Yet, here you are, filling me unprecedented confidence for the foreseeable future. Here, as we claw our way through the mist of Wembley delirium, we have yet another perfect opportunity to climb the league table and out of the relegation zone. Perhaps this is more perfect than those opportunities we failed to grasp.
There is absolutely nothing desirable about Stoke City’s away form. It is in fact the worst in the entire league with just five points picked up on the road.
Whilst the way both teams approach passing is quite different, there are plenty of similarities. Stoke City have relinquished themselves from Tony Pulis’s style of play and have found a much more varied approach to passing. Still not shy of the odd long ball, much like us, they conform to the Premier League average in terms of passing distance (20 metres), with a similar pass completion record to ourselves.
That’s not to say this team are completely distant from the now Crystal Palace manager’s mantra. Defensively, they are still rather astute in the air and also maintain a pretty dirty reputation with the 2nd worst disciplinary record in the league. That said, Pulis had them conceding far less goals and away from home their record is only worsened by Fulham.
In their last three away matches against fellow strugglers Hull City, Fulham and Palace, the Potters have managed to keep the ball away from their penalty area very efficiently. This was done through taking control of possession in central midfield. Sounds good, however, they only picked up one point from these games scoring zero goals. The reasons of which are plain and simple – a lack of creativity from their possession-winning midfield. Echoed further in some of the stats below.
Some Stoke Stats:
· 17th in the league for chances created away from home, averaging just 7 per game.
· Zero headed away goals and 2nd lowest away goals from inside the area.
· Best away team in the division for aerial duels.
· Most bookings for dissent.
As far as we are concerned those who graced the Old Trafford pitch look likely to turn out for this fixture with those involved against Kidderminster failing to impress on the whole. No injuries to important players once more for the home side, whilst the match may come too early for some of our visitor’s casualties. Matthew Etherington and Robert Huth look set to miss out although their defense is boosted by the return of Asmir Begovic who played in their FA Cup defeat to Chelsea at the weekend.
Key Battle – Steven Fletcher Vs Ryan Shawcross
Fletch will find it difficult to win the aerial battles with Shawcross who is statistically the third best defender in the Premier League in that department. So, it’s up to the Scot to show a little more ingenuity and guile if he is to have any influence in this match. That in itself seems a pretty tall order given the majority of his performances this season – he won’t do much in this game without working hard.
I don’t think this will be much of a classic, but it will be very intriguing. We are nearly guaranteed a spot outside of the relegation zone if we win and, with Stoke’s poor away form, this is as good a chance as we have had to finally get our heads above water. When you think that Stoke's impressive defence in the air hasn't prevented them from conceding a lot you'd assume our fluid attacking style is going to be a massive problem for them. That said, we’ve mucked up every other chance presented to us so far. I am still engulfed in cup optimism and think January will prove to be an incredible month as we go into the derby out of the relegation zone on the back of a 2-0 victory.