Stuttering Stoke struggle against the Swans

Posted by James Whittaker

It was a case of a point gained for Stoke who looked bereft of confidence and less-than-convincing in their 1-1 draw with Swansea at a wind-swept Britannia Stadium.

- Report: Stoke 1-1 Swansea

Unfortunately, it was the poor showing many feared, if not expected, after the excellent performances of the week previous. The side were poor all over the pitch and were lucky to escape with a share of the spoils against a side that looked so much more comfortable in possession than their hosts. For the most part it looked a mismatch; the Stoke players completing only 64% of their passes and "boasting" an embarrassing 36% possession overall.

The return to a more familiar 4-4-1-1 formation brought relative success against Manchester United and Southampton, but unfortunately it exposed its age old problems against Swansea. It was disappointing to see the home side surrender such initiative to their opponents; the most frequently used pass combination from the Potters was goalkeeper Asmir Begovic to forward Peter Crouch, which tells much of the story of how the game panned out.

The side struggles to move off the ball and with a lack of pace up top, they struggled to get moving in the final third to any great effect. Jon Walters was back to his ineffective self after a blip of a half-decent performance against Southampton; he was guilty of a poor miss and generally not making a meaningful impact. He managed to pass the ball successfully on only nine occasions and did not win a single header in the final third. In fact, it wasn't long after he failed to block the cross that resulted in Swansea's equaliser that he was hauled off by manager Mark Hughes; seemingly he thought if he can't attack or defend, there is little point in him being on the pitch.

We also saw the return of one of the other "W's" with Marc Wilson coming back into the side and he picked up where he left off with a number of poor decisions and turnovers in dangerous areas. Marc Muniesa will rightly wonder exactly what he did wrong to not get an extended run in the side, especially after a good game against Southampton and that Wilson had been poor in the run up to his absence.

Regrettably, it was a poor day for too many and you can't carry so many passengers in a Premier League game against a more than capable opposition. While Stoke will perhaps consider themselves unlucky not to be awarded at least one penalty, I'm not sure anyone can really complain about coming away from the game with a solitary point. On the other hand, I'm not sure anyone at the club expected much more than the five point haul from the last three matches, so on the face of it, it's perhaps not the time to be too critical. The fact remains though that the side were poor, and for Hughes I think it's a case of going back to the tactics board to work out exactly what the side should be looking to achieve. It feels like he is still stuck in the gaping chasm that sits between a rock and a hard place. Despite relative successes with different shapes and systems, he still hasn't stumbled on the one that best suits the group of players he has for the majority of their games.

At least Hughes and the players have some time away together now to work hard on their approach for the remaining dozen or so games of this season. Hopefully the Dubai sunshine will work wonders on Robert Huth's knee. The side have missed the big German and his return will be a huge boost for everyone. Given the side's next game is a trip to the Etihad, I imagine the players will be glad of an opportunity to rest in advance of what promises to be a tough game, regardless of Manchester City's recent blip in goal scoring form. I just hope that their sudden drought in front of goal continues long enough to allow Stoke to come and go; a good performance against one of the league's big boys will help to get things back on track. The Potters have often raised their game against the leading lights of the league and I'm hoping that this will be no exception. I'm also hoping that while they're sunning themselves next week, they will work out how to do the same for those teams around them too.


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