Originally posted on Finishers Forum  |  Last updated 12/22/12
After mustering up the drive to sit down and watch my last dvr-ed match of the weekend a couple weeks ago, Stoke City versus West Brom I believe, a peculiar thought snuck up on me like a camouflage-clad Mario Balotelli: Watching Stoke City play in the Premier League is a bit like watch a boxer make is why in the UFC… After taking a couple minutes to sort out whether or not I really believed that was a worthwhile thought, I eventually decided that it was. And it wasn’t even just because I could easily imagine Tony Pulis signing a mma fighter at the transfer window to up the ante in the physicality department and provide Charlie Adam with a realistic challenger for “most yellow cards on the team” award (really too bad he’s not playing this weekend, he’d be a solid wager for red card recipient), it was more so because the way Stoke City achieves success is through their ability to stifle a match’s overall game play and strike with brief, powerful flurries when possible (like a boxer trying to control/strike a more balanced mma-er). Stoke works extremely hard to keep the game “upright” and “off the mat” so to speak. Their strength is neither in their ability to possess the ball nor in their facility to create chances from attractive buildup, so they constantly look to disrupt the opponent’s flow and strike directly and simply when the opportunity presents itself. They win if their opponent is unsuccessful at lethally tightening the possession arm-bar around their neck  and if they somehow manage to land one or two of those knockout punches (aka header goals) via brief openings/set pieces. That’s pretty much their formula. It really shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that Stoke leads the league in draws this season, because their style of soccer emphasizes not losing over winning. And while that unadventurous strategy hasn’t translated into top of the table honors by any stretch, it has allowed them to not only lead the EPL in total draws, but goal-less draws too, and even least goals allowed (posting a stingy 13 goals conceded this season). To appropriately match that stinginess in the defensive half, they’ve also only put away 15 netters on the other end… not exactly a prolific offense. But how can they be when they don’t possess the ball for significant periods of time and don’t stress playmaking or attacking? Charlie Adam might be their most creative player, and before coming to Stoke he was cast out of a team (Liverpool) that’s currently struggling to take much more than half of their total home points available thus far. They simply don’t emphasize creating chances from open play. So when Stoke City makes the trip to White Hart Lane this weekend, expect little possession, aggressive tackling and reactionary offense from the visitors. And if Stoke somehow finds a way to frustrate Tottenham enough to prevent them from scoring… expect Pulis and Co. to frustrate their fans to equal lengths by preventing themselves from scoring too.
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