The Bony Conundrum
Hailed as the answer to Stoke’s long running striker issue, Wilfried Bony has failed to truly have any drastic effect upon the side. Despite being a degree coincidental, Bony has not been present for when Stoke have scored in their last two games, an unwanted stat that is extremely concerning. The United match saw Bony fail to even register a shot on target, and what was more concerning was that he had two good chances, where he simply took an air shot. All is not lost though as the upcoming fixtures will see Bony hopefully facing sides where he will have more effect.
The one silver lining from Bony’s performance last Sunday was the Ivorian’s hold up play. A majority of the passes Bony received were long balls, most of which he managed to bring into his control with strength and skill. Unfortunately, with the deep line Hughes set, Bony spent most of the game isolated, the effect of which was for Bony to drift wide seeking out team mates (as seen in the lack of central passes in the map below, shown by the orange box).
It has to be accepted that issues such as this one are part and parcel of the game of football. In Hughes’ decision to play 2 holding midfielders and Allen he is obviously sacrificing attacking flair for defensive stability. Ultimately this has been successful with the average goals conceded per game dropping from 2.8 to 1 after the switch. This defensive focus has been essential to improved performance, yet conditions are brewing for a more attacking side and this can only help Bony.
Stoke’s next 7 fixtures come against sides currently occupying the bottom half of the league, and still without a win on the board Sparky is going to have to adjust his side. It is this likely adjustment that will provide Bony with the support he needs. Hughes will either be forced to move the side higher up the pitch or introduce a true number 10. Both of these scenarios will provide the Man City loanee with the support needed to extract his good performances. Bony’s game focuses on dropping to collect the ball, drawing out an opposition defender, opening up space for midfielder runners or Bony himself if he can quickly turn past his man.
Further to this Bony could be the answer to Stoke’s recent troubles against sides who come to the ‘has anyone else started betting against Stoke’ 365 stadium with a defensive mind set. Previously I have indicated this as one of the chief problems of Mark Hughes’ tenure, but Bony provides a difficult element. Bony’s hold up play and aerial dominance is a weapon that Stoke have not had at their disposal for a significant period of time.
Often the fluid passing style the side has used struggles against deep rigid defences, leading to Stoke simply moving the ball across the oppositions back line with little to no penetration. With a new formidable target man there is an option to go slightly more direct, something that will come as a great relief to fans who have been dismayed at the lack of attacking drive the side have shown at times. An indication of the threat the Bony may pose comes from Christian Benteke’s domination of Sunderland’s defence in their 3-2 loss at home to Crystal Palace, two matches ago.
Bony’s performances so far this season have been sub-par to say the least, and he is under great pressure to begin to perform. Coming up against weaker opposition where he will be more of a focal point and see more ball is the perfect time for him to find his goal scoring boots. If he doesn’t then his time at the club could be a forgettable one, but should he begin to find the net then he will become the first goal scoring hero the club have had for a significant period of time.
Written by Tom Thrower
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