Match Review: Stoke 2-0 Burnley
Stoke will hold their place in the top half of the Premier League table once again this weekend after the 2-0 triumph over Burnley on Saturday afternoon at the bet365 Stadium. It could be argued that Stoke played their best football of the season during the first half of this match, in which both Jon Walters and Marc Muniesa both hit spectacular volleys to allow Stoke to kill the game in the second half. Despite the match statistics suggesting the game was an even contest, it was the home side who had by far the better chances and made the win look comfortable against a Burnley side which only benefited from brief spells of dominance.
Glenn Whelan and Joe Allen were both available for selection after their respective injury and ban, giving Mark Hughes a massive selection dilemma heading into a game off the back of a solid away win against Watford. Hughes opted, rather surprisingly to most, to name an unchanged side and leave both of his returning midfield warriors on the bench. They were included on the bench, meaning youngsters Julien Ngoy and Thibaud Verlinden missed out on the 18 man squad after being included last week.
Burnley started the game by forcing Stoke to play a high tempo game, they were pressing from the front and forced the Potters in a couple of mistakes early on and carved a couple of half chances, one of which forcing an intelligent clawed save from Lee Grant. The majority of their chances were rules out for offside though, being caught three times in the first five minutes. Once Stoke settled into the game, they were the ones creating the scoring opportunities and no one came closer than Bruno Martins Indi: an excellent corner from Xherdan Shaqiri found the head of the Dutchman but his bullet header crashed into the foot of the near post, denying him his first well deserved Stoke City goal. Giannelli Imbula picked up the rebound of that strike, but his bending effort whipped past the post and away to safety for Burnley.
It wasn’t much later that Stoke found the breakthrough: a wonderful one touch move involving a one-two with Mame Diouf and Shaqiri and a great cross from the Senegal international into Jon Walters who took the cross on the volley and chipped Paul Robinson with a delicate effort that nestled into the far post and to give Stoke the lead. You could feel the relief around the stadium when the ball found the net after concerns that Walters was trying to find a teammate at the far post, however, on closer inspection his body language suggests that the chip was intentional. Fifteen minutes later, Stoke doubled their lead courtesy of Marc Muniesa: the Spanish centre half jinked past three onrushing Burnley players and a quick counter attacking move ended with Arnautovic cutting back to Muniesa, who had continued his run from the back, and the sweet left footed volley that followed flew past Robinson for 2-0. After over three years at Stoke, Marc Muniesa had his first Premier League goal and his face echoed his obvious delight; but the magnificent way he took the move from start to finish would suggest to the untrained eye he’s a seasoned centre-forward. Half time followed shortly afterwards and put an end to some of the best football that Mark Hughes’ Stoke have played all season, epitomised by an imposing string of passes sprinkled with flair and ole’s from the crowd.
The second half was a much duller affair as Stoke were obviously looking to see out their two goal lead for the remainder of the game. This allowed Burnley a little more time on the ball and create a few more chances. Most notable of which was a shot from Ben Mee, who had a shot from outside the box and stung the hands of Lee Grant, but he was able to comfortably tip over the bar. In the midst of all the chances, Scott Arfield appeared to elbow Martins Indi in the face, leaving the Stoke defender in a heap on the ground; analysis after the game suggests that Bruno could be out of a couple of game with a fractured cheekbone, perhaps the Burnley man should have seen a red card for his actions. Stoke had a chance of their own: Joe Allen, who come on as a substitute, was found completely open by Arnautovic in the box. The Welshman took his shot first time and had the entire goal to aim at, sadly he found the body of Robinson and the chance to seal the game for good went begging. The game’s final chance fell to Burnley’s Gray, he had a shot from just inside the box and it was going on target, until Grant was there once again to deny Burnley with a terrific save.
Stoke have now only lost one game in their last nine and have completed their recovery from rock bottom of the table to securing top half status heading out of a matchday weekend. It was a period which Stoke fans identified as one of opportunity and reclaim the many points that were lost in the opening winless run. At full time yesterday, Stoke were one point away from West Brom in sixth place and have only conceded five goals in the last eight games; quite unbelievable when Stoke were conceding four goals a game three months ago. Now comes an incredibly tough Christmas period, with away fixtures such as Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea all coming up in December. Some may see now that Stoke have tallied a fair number of points in the last few games, they can afford to suffer in the next few matches with little consequences. But Stoke are playing some of the best football, particularly defensively, in the Mark Hughes era and it should be seen as a prime opportunity to claim some major victories against some established clubs and really send out a statement to the rest of the league that Stoke are fighting for European football. For now, it’s worth reflecting on a period in which Potters fans expect their team to come unstuck against these less established sides and recognising that their team has now found a way of scoring thrilling goals, defending tirelessly and, most crucially, winning football matches under and circumstances.
May the momentum roll on, I could get used to this.
Lee Grant: 7 – not exactly busy, but excellent when required.
Glen Johnson: 6 – wasted at centre back, but kept a clean sheet.
Bruno Martins Indi: 8 – my man of the match, once again fantastic at the back.
Marc Muniesa: 8 – great, aggressive defending and a well deserved goal to boot.
Mame Diouf: 7 – tireless work ethic and added some silky play too.
Charlie Adam: 5 – one of those games for him, but did perform in flashes.
Giannelli Imbula: 7 – another confident display and constantly getting the ball forward.
Erik Pieters: 7 – might have found his place as a wing back.
Xherdan Shaqiri: 7 – won’t grab headlines but showed his quality once more.
Jon Walters: 7 – wonderfully taken goal and played some neat stuff.
Marko Arnautovic: 7 – set up a LOT of chances but overdue a goal.
Joe Allen (30 mins): 6 – helped to settle the game down, missed a sitter.
Peter Crouch (20 mins): 6 – hold up play good again, probably just doing his job.
Glenn Whelan (5 mins) – not enough time for impact.
Written by Ben Rowley
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