A balancing act for Pulis

Posted by James Whittaker

Following last week's stalemate with Villa, Stoke's defence was named the third best in Europe's top five leagues behind only Bayern Munich and Juventus. This is an amazing feat and nothing will please manager Tony Pulis more than a clean sheet, but it's important that these shut outs aren't at the cost of Stoke's attacking game.

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I was asked this week what Stoke's secret was with respect to clean sheets and my answer was that they are easier to achieve when you have ten players defending for 90 minutes. Whilst that reply may have been slightly flippant, it does hold more than a semblance of truth as too often the focus for the manager at 3pm continues to be to go out not to lose, as opposed going out to win.

The manager is quick to remind fans that the Potters are work in progress and things will take a long time to change, it seems that he is at least aware of the club's offensive failings but it's what he does to address that which will decide how he is judged. What he does have though is the most solid defensive base in the league to build on and whilst some will be quick to suggest if the Potters rip up the defensive playbook they'll slide down the table, I don't believe it's a case of simply choosing defence or attack.

Indeed, Pulis' biggest test for the remainder of the campaign will be to find that balance between the two, where the Potters retain the club's defensive solidity in the club's own half but also pose a threat to the opposition in theirs. That of course is easier said than done and will come at the cost of some of the manager's safety nets in the wide positions of defence and midfield.

We've seen some rare overlapping of full-backs this season in an attempt to get bodies forward and to overload the opposition and this has seemed to work better with the more athletic options - likes of Shotton - though he isn't the answer to this particular conundrum. I'd expect to see at least one full-back arrive in the January window, and by full-back I mean a genuine full-back, not a centre-back or central-midfielder converted into one.

The other safety net is Walters out wide, this one will be much harder for Pulis to come to terms with losing but is a player who is holding us back in as much as he is taking up the place of someone who could offer so much more, be that Jerome or Kightly (or dare I suggest, Pennant?)

We've seen Stoke linked with a number of wingers in the last few weeks alone and whilst new bodies coming in will lift the team, I'm not sure that simply changing who plays on the wing will solve the club's problems (unless of course they are able to beat three players on the halfway line and go on to score). This means that as much as there needs to be a balance of defence and attack, there will need to be a balance of new players and new ideas.

It's not too long to wait until the transfer window opens and, as ever, it would be great if the Potters could get players in quickly who are able to come into the side straight away. Fans will all have to start thinking of who they'd like and make sure there is a p.s. on their letters to Santa, come to think of it, he does look a bit like Peter Coates with a beard... it couldn't be, could it?

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