So after a huge result in Kiev midweek, Stoke are back in Premier League action against an under-performing Sunderland side. Stoke made eight changes from their side in midweek, dropping Wilson Palacios and Kenwyne Jones – two of their better performers on Thursday night. Sunderland, looking for their first victory of the season, are having to do it without star man Gyan and with a team who seem to be struggling to blend.
The last game between these two ended 2-0 to the Mackems, while in more recent times, Stoke beat Liverpool 1-0 last weekend as Sunderland went down 2-1 to Chelsea. Stoke went in as favourites, a sign of how far they have come, but Sunderland will be fired up in front of their home fans, looking to kick start their season. My prediction? An easy looking scoreline for Stoke City, 2-0.
Stadium of Light, Sunderland
Referee: Kevin Friend (England)
Sunderland: Mignolet; O’Shea, Bramble (Goal), Brown, Richardson; Elmohamady, Gardner (Goal), Vaughan, Larsson (Goal), Sessegnon; Bendtner. Subs: Colback for Larsson, Ji for Sessegnon, Wickham for Bendtner.
Stoke City: Begovic; Huth, Shawcross, Woodgate (Own Goal), Wilson; Jerome, Delap, Whitehead, Etherington; Walters, Crouch. Subs: Jones for Jerome, Pennant for Etherington, Palacios for Delap.
Oh dear. I should point out that I write the blurb above before kick-off, a pre-match thoughts section if you will. This is as big a surprise as Arsenal’s loss to Blackburn, or the ease at which Rangers saw off Celtic in the Old Firm derby. Despite the one sided scoreline, Stoke managed to post some very solid stats, both compared to the Liverpool game – where they won, but posted some of the worst stats of the season so far,compared to their opponents who cruised to victory in this game.
Sunderland won the battle of possession, with 56.7% of the ball to Stoke’s 43.3%. Stoke managed five shots to the Mackems’ seven, with only two efforts on target compared to Sunderland’s six. Also, crucially, Sunderland scored three of their six shots and Stoke, with £15million worth of new strikers starting, scored none. In terms of passing, Stoke made a total of 237 accurate passes to Sunderland’s 247, 110 passes more, and also with a higher accuracy rate than Stoke (80% to 75%).
In defence, apart from the obvious headline of the usually solid Stoke shipping four goals to a recently poor Sunderland side, things were relatively even. Sunderland won three more tackles than Stoke’s 12, while Stoke won three more aerial duels than Sunderland out of their 35 in total (19-16). In ground duels, things were exactly even – both teams winning 52 out of a possible 104 duels in the match. Sunderland won more the double the amount of interceptions (15-7), Stoke made five more effective clearances (20-15) and three more headed clearances (13-10) and both teams both conceded 10 chances apiece.
One stat which always surprises me – nearly as much as the poor state of accurate throw ins nowadays, is the number of accurate crosses out of total crosses. Stoke attempted 23 crosses in total, managing four accurate ones (17%) while Sunderland only managed three out of 20 (15%). In the throw in stakes, Sunderland were more successful than Stoke, with 17 out of 24 (70.83%) being successful to their opponent’s 14 out of 32 (43.75%)
So not an entirely balanced game but an unbalanced scoreline at the end of it. Is this karma balancing out Stoke’s smash and grab approach in the games against West Brom and Liverpool? Or is Pulis wrong, and the midweek rigors in Ukraine took a lot more out of his side than expected? Sunderland certainly were not expected to put in such a dominating performance and Stoke were not expected to fall apart at the back as easily as they did.
The new signings seem to have settled in well at the Britannia but there is still a lot of room for improvement. Palacios needs game time to settle in and Jerome seems the weakest of the bunch. Upson cannot be happy at starting on the bench so often – in my opinion he is the best central defender of the lot. Peter Crouch and Jonathan Woodgate will always be solid, though a goal for Crouch soon is essential for Stokes season, both domestically and in Europe.
The result leaves Stoke in fifth place, ahead of Everton who have a game in hand, and below Newcastle, Chelsea, Man City and Man United – not a bad place to be. Next up is a tough Carling Cup fixture at home to Tottenham and next weekend is the second of three home matches on the bounce, starting with Manchester United in the league. Will it be another Liverpool for Stoke, or will Stoke become the next Arsenal at the hands of one of the best United teams under Sir Alex? Whichever we see, Stoke will never be short on drama.