Hit | Miss | Sideline: Stoke style securing the results
Stoke City continued their great start to the season with an outstanding 1-0 victory against West Brom at The Hawthorns. People go on about Stoke’s style and it’s not great on the eye but – forgive me if I’m mistaken – this is a results-driven business and Stoke look set for a best top-flight finish if they continue in the same vein.
I also believe that their style is slowly but surely evolving with the likes of Nzonzi, Adam, Etherington, Whelan and Kightly starting to pull strings in their midfield. They are a hard team to break down and they probably have one of the best centre-back pairings in the league in Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross and also the outstanding Asmir Begovic in goal.
The key now for Stoke is to keep hold of the likes of Shawcross and Begovic while continuing to upgrade on players as time goes by. Stoke is always a difficult place to play and, sometimes, the up-and-at-’em approach they have blinkers people from the fact that they can actually play a bit as well.
Tony Pulis, their manager, has done an outstanding job and it shows how important it is that chairman and manager have a good relationship. It enables the manager to get on with his business, knowing that he has the chairman’s full backing.
Stoke are without doubt a blueprint for any newly promoted team – the way they didn’t go cash crazy when they first came up and slowly bedded in players without drastically changing the team over the seasons. Instead, they added players who would fit in with the players already there.
They are already safe for another season and that, in itself, is an accomplishment for a fast-growing club that, once, was sadly used as just a publicity stunt by some bookmaker paying out on their relegation after one Premier League game.
Just what is going on with Manchester United’s defence this season? So often a rock with which the team builds on every season, it is now leaking goals left, right and centre. If you look at the personnel changes during the season through injury, that is what I would put it down to.
Partnerships are important all over the pitch and United have not been able to form them this season. All their defenders are outstanding players individually but, until a settled back four is recognised and able to grow, it’s difficult to get any cohesion.
Over the last few seasons, we have been used to seeing Evra, Ferdinand, Vidic and one of Jones, Rafael or even Smalling at right back. That helped with United’s success. Jonny Evans has been playing at centre back recently and although he is also a class act, he is too similar to Ferdinand.
Look at the best partnerships over the years in central defence. Terry and Carvalho, Pallister and Bruce, Ferdinand and Vidic, even Jagielka and Distin at Everton. There is always the ball player and the destroyer and they bring out the best in each other: one does the dirty work, the other reads the game.
But both are as important as the other. Fortunately for United, they can concede as much as they want at the moment because, up front, they look untouchable.
Tottenham are starting to click into gear and, in Jermain Defoe, they have the league’s most natural finisher. He is firing on all cylinders at the moment despite the fact that, at the start of the season, people were questioning if he would even still be at the North London club.
Defoe’s mental strength is there for all to see and he is now probably at his most prolific. Add to that the world-class Gareth Bale and the electrifying Aaron Lennon – and the unsung hero in Sandro – and you can see why Spurs are going to places like Fulham and brushing them aside, 3-0.
They are a joy to watch, when in full flow, and I can see them challenging for a top-three finish.