Time for Stoke to move on from workhorse Walters

Posted by James Whittaker

Alex Livesey/Getty ImagesJonathan Walters remains a Stoke stalwart even under new manager Mark Hughes.

As Jon Walters prepares to pull on the red and white of Stoke City for what feels like the 653rd consecutive game, I find myself questioning what it is that he brings to the side to justify his continued inclusion.

It's difficult not to associate Walters with his old manager, who used him relentlessly regardless of form or injury, and many see his time in the side under Mark Hughes as a bit of a hangover from that period as he tries to make his own mark on the side. I wrote last week about how Steven N'Zonzi was a key figure for the new gaffer in the middle as he changes the style the side plays, and you get the feeling it's a similar story up front with Walters. His work rate and application has never been under question; he is an example to any footballer in respect of his professionalism and effort for the cause, but with the side now looking to move to a more expansive way of playing, is it time for Hughes to let go of his workhorse crutch?

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If you dare to suggest dropping Walters to some fans you get a standard response of "He does all the important things you don't notice" which is the age old retort when a player is an honest trier. The fact is that his much fabled defensive game is exactly that and the truth is he is often as poor on the back foot as he is on the front.

I've decided to take a look at Stoke's last three games against Norwich, Arsenal and Fulham to look at the impact Walters had up and down the pitch.

Defensively, I am looking at his contribution when the team are defending attacks. We often see him coming back into the right back area when the opposition move forward, so I expected to see him impact the game positively in that area. I was surprised to see that he didn't win one tackle or header in his defensive third in any of those three games. To put that into perspective, Oussama Assaidi, the "type" of player needed for that role did make a successful tackle in his defensive third despite only playing 30 minutes compared to Walters' 300.

Unfortunately, Walters also played his part in two of the three goals his side conceded against Arsenal, reacting slowly and allowing Aaron Ramsey to get to a rebound for Arsenal's first, and conceding the foul that was crossed in for their third on the day. He did, however, manage on average to block one shot per game in this particular set of fixtures.

In terms of attacking, what I expect from a forward in this particular shape are wide players who help build attacks on the front foot, come inside and get shots off or stay on the outside to get crosses in. In these games, Walters found himself being subjected to a number of high balls to the right wing and lost over half of his headers. On the ground, the majority of his passes were short and backwards and he only made four forward passes in the final third throughout those three games, with only one of those going into the penalty area. Disappointingly, he created only one chance, while if we compare again to Assaidi, he made three despite spending less than a tenth of the time on the pitch.

For me, that is the kind of player who should be playing in that role. All too often the ball finds its way to Walters and that instinct to finish just isn't there and he either swings a blind boot at it or has to take a touch or two to get it under control. A player in that position has to make things happen; has to be able to influence and move an attack on as Assaidi did in his short time on the pitch against Fulham. The fans were willing the ball to be passed out to him as he is a dangerous player, and the Fulham players who doubled up on him clearly thought the same. With Walters, though, it's a different story entirely. The defenders know he doesn't have the pace to get past them, and more often than not when the ball does find its way to him, the move stops there.

I've looked at all manner of statistics, but more importantly, I have watched every single match he has played in for Stoke and I remain at a loss as to why I see him on the team sheet every single week.

Attitude and application of course play a part in any team, but I'm not sure it is enough on its own. With no technically redeeming attributes and the desperate need for goals, the case for his inclusion, for me, remains unclear.

Vis Unita Fortior

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