Imbackla – The Return of the Prodigal Son

It’s always a lot easier to write about a win than a loss, but when that win included so many fantastic performances that job becomes harder once again. None shone through more than Imbula, who was selected as man of the match by Sky Sports. Before getting into the record signings’ performance, special mentions have to go to Bruno Martins Indi who dictated the defensive side of the game and Mame Biram Diouf who put his body on the line on countless occasions.

Back to the main man, who finally did not need to award himself the man of the match award as he received the official Premier League random coloured cuboid. Imbula put in one of the most commanding holding midfield performance of any player to have occupied that role this season. After the Bournemouth performance, where Stoke were punished for leaving the midfield much too open, Imbula partnered well with Adam to cover this region.

Statistically Imbula dominated. 56 touches, 40 passes (with a 95% accuracy) and 71% of duels won. After his poor performances at the beginning of the season and a long period out of the side, both Giannelli himself and Mark Hughes will be delighted to see those fantastic stats. Now if you have ever read one of my blogs before or follow me on twitter you will know that I take heat maps as scripture, and the comparison of Allen’s last week to Imbula’s on Sunday reveals how important the Belgians’ performance was.


The number of touches by Allen (left) and Imbula (right) are virtually identical, but they produce very different heat maps. Allen constantly drifted out wide whereas Imbula remained central throughout the match. Further to this Imbula’s heat map paints out a much more disciplined performance, shown by the concentration of touches around the centre circle. Despite the clear assistance that Allen’s vast movement provides to the side it leaves Stoke vulnerable when going back.

This is where a partnership between the two could be essential to future success. Allen’s vast movement and unpredictability coupled with Imbula’s central dominance, will produce a midfield pair the like of which North Staffordshire has not seen before. This will be because the pair will benefit from each other, Imbula will cover Allen’s constant running, whilst Allen will always be an outlet for Imbula after he has beaten his man.

Imbula was at the heart of the intense passing style that saw Stoke dominate possession in the first 20 minutes of the game, at whopping 66.5%. During these first 20 minutes Stoke made 114 passes, with Imbula making the most of the 11 on the pitch (19). This focus on possession retention is something that Hughes must have focused on with Imbula, during his spell on the side-lines, and it appears that Stoke will reap the rewards of this focus on the record 18 million pound signing.

It was a fantastic return for Giannelli, who on another day could have been celebrating a brace. It remains to be seen whether Imbula will continue this form into the New Year, but if Stoke are to have any success then it will be essential that the Belgian continues to perform.

Written by Tom Thrower

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