Myth Busting: Erik Pieters

Recently there has been a large degree of criticism for our Dutch full back, summarised by Sky Sports awarding Pieters their lowest rating for all players involved on Saturday, a 4 out of 10. This reflects a feeling in the fan base that Pieters is one of our weakest links in the side. However, the statistics show that Erik Pieters is, on the contrary, one of the best players in our side.

In our two opening fixtures Pieters is statistically our best defender, along with Philipp Wollscheid (another player who often is unfairly criticised). Pieters has 4 tackles won, 3 interceptions and 5 successful aerial duels, whilst Pip has 3, 5 and 4 respectively. These are the best figures in the defence with no other defender making more tackles or interceptions, although Shawcross has 7 successful aerial duels.

Looking at the 5 goals that we have conceded so far, the furthest extent that Pieters has been involved is the giving away of the free kick for a foul on Navas for City’s second and getting turned by Friend’s ball to Ramirez for Boro’s opener. Neither of these mistakes have directly led to a goal scoring opportunity, and required other defenders to not fulfil their role to allow the Aguero and Negredo to convert.

This is defensive success is not short lived, as Pieters was without doubt the best defender in the squad last season. Erik made 91 tackles last season the 3rd best in the entire league (a stat I blurted out to a fan behind me when he questioned why Pieters had been given a new 5 year deal), behind only Kante and Gueye. At a time where our defence looked desperately inconsistent, Pieters fought against this tide and became the only Stoke defender to have a full quality season. His consistency and quality was recognised in March last year when his league form was rewarded with a call up to the Dutch national side. And this was nothing less than Pieters deserved from his performances last year.

Onto the next myth of Erik Pieters, that he is in no way creative enough. Well this would initially appear to have some fact, he hardly appears to be the pacey fullback who constantly overlaps his inside forward to deliver balls into the box. However the stats, once again prove this wrong. Last season Johnson, the archetypal pacey full back, had two more assists than Pieters, however this is a misleading statistic, due to the lack of control the ‘assistor’ has over the potential ‘assistees’ finish. A much better indicator is chances created, Pieters created 19 chances whilst Johnson only created 18 (according to Squawka, who define a chance created as “a pass that leads to a shot on goal”). Yes Johnson may have played less football than Pieters but per 90 mins Johnson created 0.74 chances and Pieters 0.55, hardly the vast difference talk on the terrace would suggest.

In fact this season Erik Pieters is currently leading chances created in the entire Stoke squad, with 3 opportunities provided. His next nearest competitor being Marko Arnautovic on 2. Pieters created one of only two clear cut chances for the Potters against Man City. His excellently weighted ball to Phil Bardsley was volleyed straight into Guardiola’s favourite Willy, and this led to Joe Allen’s claim for a clear penalty that was, unfortunately, not given. This suggests that if any criticism of the former PSV player’s creativity has not fallen on deaf ears, with himself and Sparky having focused on adding this element to his game.

Despite not having the best performances to open his 2016-17 season, Pieters is a pivotal part to our side, the most consistent member of the defense in recent times and a man who certainly provides plenty going forward. Most criticism has been unwarranted and I am certain Pieters will show this over and over again this season. If you disagree with me please write to me by scribbling your thoughts onto any piece of paper, screwing them up into a ball and depositing them in the nearest recycling bin; I will try to get back to you as quick as I can!

Written by Tom Thrower

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