Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Rebranding Stoke.

The view that you're as good or bad as your last performance usually flourishes in the online club fora and the soundbite world of football punditry.

So it was hardly surprising that Stoke briefly rose to the dizzy heights of everyone's favourite second team following their comprehensive and visually pleasing defeat of second placed Manchester City on Saturday lunchtime.

Stokealona or my own favourite, Inter City, briefly trended.

The tendency to stereotype teams and players based often on stale evidence from seasons long gone, is a trait that continues to surprise.

On Saturday the realisation gradually dawned on the BT commentary team that even players who remained from the rump of Tony Pulis' ingeniously devised, but widely despised system, could actually participate in a passing based evolution.

Quotes from opposing managers who should really have known better suggesting "We know what to expect from Stoke", while packing the team bus with six foot plus defenders, was amusingly familiar even while the Hughes revolution stumbled uncertainly from possession poor to possession normal.

Pass completion rates for the likes of Cameron, Whelan and Shawcross were poor under Pulis not because those players couldn't pass the ball, but because they were required to implement an approach that at its most extreme coveted distance over retention.

Following the fairly amicable parting of the ways, Pulis' brand of survival at all costs football swept through the lower reaches of the Premier League, first at Palace, later in a delicious irony at WBA, sending the passing stats of competent players plummeting in the process.

Raw shooting differentials failed to spot the trade off between shot quantity and shot location, as Stoke under Pulis invited the opposition to shoot frequently from distance, while they bundled in sufficient goals at the other end from just inside the six yard box.

Shaqiri, along with Afellay, Arnautovic, Bojan, Joselu and Muniesa, "He plays for City!".
Hughes' Stoke has partly borrowed from the Pulis blueprint, recruiting flawed jewels from a wider market. Careers marked by injury, under achievement or a temperament that prefers to invite a post game red card, rather than celebrate a brace of match winning goals, has allowed the assembly of unprecedented talent in the Potteries.

But while plaudits are a welcome change, Stoke's longterm prospects should perhaps be viewed in the context of their accumulated stats. Just as Pulis' Stoke were legitimately better than a swift glance at their shot differentials implied, Hughes' infinitely more entertaining version may be better judged on their statistical achievements this term.

Individual match performance will invariably fluctuate. One or two perceived improved results do not make a trend and Stoke are more usually to be found in the lower half of current league simulations, a handful of expected points below their actual current total of 22.

The Hughes revolution hasn't taken Stoke, puns apart, into the higher echelons of European football. they've merely entered the Premier League mid table tactical mainstream.

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