Whilst the concept of Tony Pulis changing his tried and tested tactics would appear fanciful, we have seen small signs of hope that he is capable of doing so, most recently against Wigan at home (before he panicked and reverted to type).
- Wilkinson desperate for away win
It's that formation that I feel would get the best out of the personnel available to the manager away from the Britannia Stadium and much like the Wigan game, Pulis should allow Charlie Adam the opportunity to be at centre of Stoke's attacking intentions safe in the knowledge that the shape should protect him sufficiently when on the back foot.
This is my proposal and rationale:
Defence - A trio of Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth and Marc Wilson seems like a good base to build on and with the added protection of the wide men in this formation, they shouldn't come under any undue pressure when defending, with the side quickly transitioning into more of a 5-3-2 or 5-4-1. On the offensive, depending on territory, Wilson could also step up to cover one of the anchored midfielders should they break rank and venture forward to support the attack. This gives the bonus of more ball-playing support at the back of the move to ensure the ball stays up field safe in the knowledge Huth and Shawcross remain behind.
Midfield - Adam is the orchestrator here and in this formation he would be given the chance to prove himself worthy of a starting spot in the position that saw him nominated for the PFA Player of the Year award. Whilst he might not have three skilful attackers in front of him as he did at Blackpool, he will have the pace of Kenwyne Jones on the break in the channels and the eager runners of Matty Etherington and Ryan Shotton on the flanks (I had to make this vaguely realistic by including Shotton). In addition to that embarrassment of riches, he would also have Jon Walters in support alongside Jones, meaning the width of the attacking and final thirds would be occupied by men in red and white when in meaningful possession for him to pick out.
This formation not only lends itself to his strengths, it also protects his weaknesses as the physical aspect of the game isn't as much of a consideration, allowing him to concentrate and exploit his creative side, something Stoke are increasingly desperate for. Naturally moves will break down and despite where Adam is, there should always be 5-7 players behind the ball within seconds, a task made easier with the opposition having to be deep to deal with our numbers moving forward in the initial attack.
Attack - Both of the strikers would be fundamental to this formation and system actually working, for different reasons. Walters would be allowed the opportunity to stay alongside his strike partner allowing him to latch on to the many flick-ons, courtesy of Adam's raking passes, or to make a near-post run should Jones take up a back-post position when the ball comes in from wide. Walters would also be important on the back foot as he would chase back and join the point of the midfield making a 5-4-1 or 5-3-2 depending on where Adam was on the pitch at that point.
Jones on the other hand would be using his pace and strength to control the moves from the front depending on how deep the eight others are behind him. The strike could either flick-on to Walters, the flanks, or more likely run the channels safe in the knowledge that at least Walters would be in the middle, with Etherington or Shotton hopefully in close attendance.
On paper, there are a plethora of reasons why this formation and the suggested personnel would flourish. Strength in defence is matched by a good shape in attack, allowing opportunities to control the game regardless of how deep the team is as a whole. It gives the side good balance and in theory should mean that they have a more meaningful and profitable outlet than usual regardless of territory.
Whilst it might be easy to pick a team and formation in the hope it might work, I appreciate that it's not quite as simple as that for the manager, but Stoke's dominance using a similar set up against Wigan gives me hope that it could be an option. Given Stoke's away record of one win in 24 games, any gamble is worth taking, surely?
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