Spurs vs. Stoke – The Premier League’s Detroit Pistons

This was a high quality win for Tottenham and gets their Premier League campaign started off well. Winning away at Stoke is a tough task, especially with Spurs playing with only one fit striker and employing a new formation and new central defensive and midfield parings.

While the first goal was fortuitously scored off Gareth Bale’s face, that shouldn’t detract from the move that got Bale in that position. In the first half Tottenham bossed the game and controlled possession and with Aaron Lennon and Bale on the wings they gave Stoke all they could handle. Bale’s second goal will be in the highlight reel EPL mashup at the end of the season. But Lennon’s threatening run from deep in the midfield and his well waited cross is one that should not be over looked. In the second half, Spurs were put under more pressure from Stoke. Spurs failed to spray the ball wide to Lennon and Bale and as a result looked less threatening.

It is no doubt that Spurs have quality and some depth, but they still lack a proper #9. Tottenham for the first time in recent memory deployed a 4-5-1 with Crouch as the lone striker. The thing with Crouch is that he is not a true #9. While he can hold up the ball, he is not a goal poacher. He lacks the pace and closeness of control on the ball to threaten defenders. But more importantly he is a player that can win aerial duels and knock down the ball to his fellow strike partner. Without a striker partner Crouch had no one to knock the ball down to and many aerial balls sent up to him resulted in turnovers.

Stoke’s dirty play.

This isn’t sour grapes, this is just stating the obvious – Stoke play dirty.

Lets start with the dirty goal mouth tactics. Any Premier League manager about to face Stoke should vigorously talk about the fact that Stoke intentionally seek to interfere with the goal keeper on set pieces. While Gomez was just marginally interfered with on Stoke’s lone goal – yes a call could have been made, but the referee wasn’t wrong for letting it go – but on almost every set piece Gomez was deliberately interfered with – and not in some “sporting” way of setting a pick. On one corner Gomez was tripped by a Stoke player who with his back to Gomez extended his leg straight back, merely to obstruct. On another Gomez went to punch and a Stoke player straight up pushed him. And on the controversial “goal” in which the ball was ruled not to have crossed the line, Robert Huth with two hands deliberately pushed Gomez preventing him from punching the ball over the bar. This was such an obvious foul that it was shocking it wasn’t called.

But it was more than just that, which makes Stoke dirty. Blatent and at times violent hacks from behind with no attempt to play the ball were Stoke’s routine method of handling speedy wingers. Ricardo Fuller, Ryan Shawcross, and Dean Whitehead all deliberately hacked from behind, some with particular malice. This gave me some sympathy to Arsene Wenger who was outraged at Ryan Shawcross’ leg breaking challenge on Aaron Ramsey last year. We were told that Shawcross is a good lad and all that and wouldn’t have intentionally broken Ramsey’s leg. I am sure that is true, but when you play a style that is about physically intimidating and bruising the opponent these things are bound to happen.

However, having said that, this is not making a moral judgment about Stoke. That is a perfectly acceptable style of play. They are the old Detroit Pistons of the Premier League and it will likely ensure that they remain in the Premier League. But let’s also not glorify their “grit” or “determination,” they play rough and at times dirty cynical soccer. Instead of diving, they try to trip the goal keeper. Just because they are English, doesn’t mean they are any less cynical about their play than those from warmer climates.


One Response

  1. […] a fast-paced, physical match with great effort by both sides.  Stoke are often given a bad rap and stigmatized as dirty etc. but in this match I saw nothing but clean, physical intensity and attack.  Jerome Pennant […]

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