Match Review: Stoke 0-4 Tottenham

“Outplayed”. “On holiday”. “T*ss”. Just a couple of the many angry views from disappointed Stoke fans on social media after this game.

Stoke conceded four goals for the second time in just over a week as they slumped to a sorry 4-0 loss against a magnificent Tottenham Hotspur on Monday night. Daring flashes up front were too few and far between for Stoke to challenge the Spurs goal, meanwhile Harry Kane and Dele Alli both bagged braces. Neutrals will admire the magnificent attitude, wonderful flair and defensive solidarity of the away team, but those connected to Stoke must worry about another terrible display from a team that look impotent, dejected and didn’t give any indication that there will be an upturn in form any time soon.

There were changes aplenty to the team that started at Anfield last weekend: Shay Given (happy 40th Birthday in advance) came in for Haugaard, Muniesa for the suspended Pieters and fit again duo Whelan and Arnautovic replaced Bardsley and Crouch, Bojan moving into the false nine role and Cameron to right back. It looked like an eleven who would be certain of solving the problems that surrounded Stoke against Liverpool and could cause Spurs an upset in their title charge.

Much like the previous game, Stoke started well: good passing and a tasty looking duel between Imbula and Eric Dier looked like a promising prospect for some first half action; despite an early warning chance from Kane, which seemed to provide some foreshadowing as to what was to happen later on. Sure enough, Kane turned Wollscheid inside out (who found himself in the right back spot) and scooped a delicious shot around Given and into the far post from the edge of the area for 1-0 after 8 minutes. An early goal conceded again for Stoke, who needed to score again if they wanted to get back into the match.

The first half then petered out into a dull affair which saw very few chances for either team and a game stuck in the midfield: Spurs didn’t need to push forward and defended well, pressed Stoke and played quick counter-attacking football whenever they won the ball. Bojan seemed to struggle in the false 9 role, forcing to come much deeper than usual to have any effect like their was against the Manchester clubs at the Britannia earlier this year. Some glimpses of decent play from Stoke resulted into some half chances including an Arnautovic shot on the turn in the area, another Arnie chance from the edge of the area and a Bojan volley which headed well over the crossbar from a corner kick.

Shaqiri and Arnautovic were marked out of the game by Spurs’ wingbacks and only showed moments of flair when they did find a bit of space and the Stoke midfield were forced to pass between themselves. This meant that, despite only having 10% of the play in their own third, Stoke had only one shot on target in the first half and didn’t produce any other clear opportunities. Spurs however had a couple of good chances on the break: Alli skied over from a quick counter attack from a Stoke throw at the other end of the field, but more pointedly Eriksen missed a glorious one-on-one chance to go 2-0 up, miraculously hitting the crossbar.

Hughes responded to the lack of potency up front: Shaqiri picked up a knock towards the end of the first half and brought on Joselu for the start of the second, switching Bojan out wide-right. Again Stoke looked the aggressor at the start of the half. Joselu brought a presence which was needed and allowed Stoke to play more risky and direct balls which ended in a couple of half chances.Three long shots from Afellay occurring in the first ten minutes, none of which found the target. Spurs also had a penalty shout very early on when Rose rounded Given and went down under pressure from Cameron, but replays showed he tripped on the turf. However, it was Spurs who had an embarrassing amount of clear-cut chances on the counter-attack again, constantly finding a Spurs man in-behind the back four and had plenty of opportunities for 2-0. Spurs did make it so in the 66th minute: after sloppy play from Stoke again, Eriksen sent Dele Alli in behind a sleeping Potters defence, who chipped over Given.

As if Stoke hadn’t had previous warning, Alli was in behind the defence with the ball again after the ball squeezed past Shawcross. Alli dribbled round an on-rushing Given this time but couldn’t find the empty net from a shot from a narrow angle. But a minute later, another Spurs counter attack saw Lamela in-behind this time and squared the ball past Given to Kane who didn’t miss his chance for his brace, rolling the ball into the, yet again, empty net. 3-0 in the 70th minute. Hughes saw it necessary at this point to bring off Whelan for Charlie Adam, who saw his long range effort go out for a throw in and found himself rugby tackling Eriksen all in the space of a matter of moments. In the 81st minute, Dele Alli grabbed his second, and Spurs’ fourth, goal of the game: Stoke, although sitting deep, were caught napping as a hopeful Eriksen cross found Alli completely free in the centre of the box, the resulting volley flew into the far side of the goal past Given. The game drew out to an agonisingly painful close as three Spurs subs and a Joselu shot on target were the only highlights at the end of the match.

Like the game against Liverpool, Stoke could have conceded more than the four goals than what actually found the back of the net and there was no clear sign of a goal being scored either. It would be rude to discredit Spurs for an outstanding display which fairly represented them for the title challengers that they are this season: their pressing was too much for Stoke and their counter-attack were lethal and frequent. But Stoke need to find a solution to their slump that they are undergoing. It is tactics, fitness, mentality? That’s something that Hughes has only four days to consider before the Potters’ trip to the Etihad to play Manchester City.

With ambitions of European football all but wiped away now, alternative ways to close this season could be considered: new formations, using some fringe players, making use of the youth academy are all things that could be featured for the last four games of the season. But for now, it’s another bitter pill to swallow whilst hoping that this season doesn’t fall off the rails.

That’s two match reviews written, two games played, two games lost, eight goals conceded. I think I’m cursed. Sorry guys.

Written by Ben Rowley

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