A scoreless draw was played out at the Britannia stadium between Stoke and Man City. Despite the lack of quality in the final third both managers will be able to draw positives from this encounter which had contained nothing major from a tactical perspective but did show the continuation fo tactical trends that are underway.
Stoke began with a 4-2-3-1 formation under new manager Mark Hughes. Adams and Jones passed late fitness tests to take their place in the starting eleven which was unchanged from Stoke’s last Premiership outing. New signing Arnautovic was on the bench.
Pellegrini made six changes to the Man City side that had beaten Hull previously. With Kompany, Clichy and Silva all injured, Negredo made his first start for City with Jovetic making his debut. Nasri, Garcia, Rodwell and Milner all started.
City began with a 4-4-2, Nasri tucking into midfield from the left. With Milner rather than Navas on the right, City relied upon Zabeleta and Kolarov to provide width.
The midfield pairing of Toure and Rodwell found it awkward to track the Stoke trio of Wilson, N’zonzi and Adam when the home side attacked. The central defensive pairing of Garcia and Nastasic may have survived this game but it should not be tested again unless in emergencies. The pairing didn’t work with gaps between both and Garcia rather shaky throughout.
Even though they had more possession, City rarely threatened and enjoyed the ball in sterile areas of the pitch. Man City showed greater impetuous as the game drew to a close as they searched for a winning goal. Aguero coming on for the tiring Jovetic helped as he was able to drop deep and link play, driving forward from midfield.
Changing Style of Stoke
With the departure of Tony Pulis in the summer, a change in the style of Stoke was always on the cards but it would not have been expected so quickly. Last season Stoke averaged 274 short passes per game but after just four league games so far this season, they are averaging 359 short passes per game. The number of long balls and crosses hit has also declined as the move to a more patient style of play develops with average possession per game also rising from 43% last season to 48% this season.
Given that the previous four games between the sides at the Britannia all ended 1-1, we should have anticipated a tight game although maybe a game with more in the way of goalmouth incident. With just three shots on target each and only one arriving from inside the penalty area, it’s clear that both sides need to improve both the creativity within the final third of the pitch and their finishing. This is particularly relevant to Stoke who created and spurned a number of good chances with wayward finishing. Just three league goals in the opening four games highlights the capacity for improvement here.
Given the makeshift nature of the City team and the fact that they too are adapting and have been hindered by the international break, they won’t be unduly worried.
For the home side, one of the benefits of the new approach will be Stoke’s strikers who will not spend much of the game chasing lost causes endlessly hoping for a break. The team should be far more compact as they move up the pitch as a unit and this will enable players to break forward in support of the strikers. So far this season, Stoke are averaging 13 shots at goal per game with 4.5 shots on target compared to 10.2 shots at goal per game and 3 shots on target last season.
They may have only had 3 shots on target yesterday but they created a number of good openings even though they had less possession overall. Their use of the ball was far more effective than a City side who were laboured and lacked any real spark in their play. Both sides attempted 30 tackles each during the game with Stoke just edging things with 23 successful tackles compared to City’s 21. Based on the conventional stereotype of Stoke, making more tackles than the opponent would be expected. The location of the tackles is fairly even too:-
Yet consider the interceptions made by both sides as shown below. Stoke made three fewer interceptions overall but made them much higher up the pitch:-
The most interesting feature from the above graphic is the pro active nature of Stoke, pressing their opponent high up the pitch. Against a quality opponent, the natural tendency may be to retreat into the defensive phase of the game and regain structure and organisation. The home side pressed City well in high positions and forced a number of errors from their visitors with Jones robbing Nasri and forcing Hart into a good save. Stoke no longer appear to be not content to sit deep and repel attacks before launching long balls forward.
The changing face is best displayed by Steven N’zonzi. The Frenchman was Stoke’s best passer in the game, playing from a deep midfield position but still willing to do the dirty work that Stoke are known for recovering the ball on nine occasions during the game from various positions:-
The variety of passes that N’zonzi made and the location of them is significant. This wasn’t simply a masterclass in lateral passing in safe areas. N’zonzi was willing to take the ball under pressure from team mates and recycle the ball when needed. N’zonzi was central to Stoke retaining possession, constructing attacks and also provided two passes that led to shots on goal:-
It was easy to overlook N’zonzi’s contribution to Stoke given how unfashionable they were with their direct and robust style of play. His talents, and others within the squad, were not utilised fully yet the impact that he can have on games is now apparent.
Whilst the above graphics are clear positives, it’s unfortunate that N’zonzi failed to make the most of two good opportunities that came his way in the game. Presented with the opportunity to run in on goal from distance in the first half, he checked back. Late in the seocnd half, he could have played a team mate in when Stoke had a two on one situation but again checked his run. Possession was retained but chances were lost.
Reasons to be Cheerful?
Hughes will be pleased with how Stoke continue to adapt to their changing priorities. The change in style of play has begun quickly and shows good signs of progress even this early in the season. Seven points from the opening four fixtures is an excellent return for a side whom many were tipping as potential relegation candidates. Should we be surprised how quickly Stoke have adapted given that they have players with sound technical capacity within the squad that were never fully utilised? It’s still very early of course, but Hughes has many positives to draw upon.
Some may consider this two points dropped by City but recent performances here would suggest otherwise. City had no right to expect the three points here without a tough contest which is how the game developed.
Pellegrini should be satisfied. Key players rested before the commencement of their Champions League campaign even if the Chilean would protest otherwise plus game time for new signings and squad players. Last season City drew 1-1 at Stoke with more or less a full strength team before heading out to Madrid in the Champions League where they lost 3-2.A heavily rotated side drew at Stoke on Saturday before traveling for their Champions League tie this week. A much changed side is likely to face Viktoria Plzen and a victory will justify the selection process of Pellegrini. This was a point secured despite not playing well.