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Talking Tactics

Hard yards key to Crouch's revival at Stoke

Adrian Clarke 25 Feb 2017
Peter Crouch, Stoke

No forward in PL puts in as much effort reveals Adrian Clarke's preview of match with Spurs

Having finished ninth in each of their last three Premier League campaigns, Stoke City are in that very position again ahead of Sunday’s trip to White Hart Lane.

Adrian Clarke analyses what Mark Hughes’ side need to do to upset Tottenham Hotspur and set their sights even higher this term. 

The Crouch effect

Brought back in from the cold to start the last eight Premier League matches, Peter Crouch has transformed himself from a peripheral figure to a pivotal presence in the Stoke side.

In addition to the four goals he has scored since Christmas – including his 100th top-flight strike at home to Everton – the 6ft 7in striker has lifted Stoke with his array of footballing attributes.

Perhaps Crouch's most underrated quality is his exceptionally high workrate.

His long legs cover more ground per 90 minutes than any other team-mate, which is no small feat for a 36-year-old.

Showing for the ball as a matter of course, dragging central defenders short and from side to side, Crouch outran every other Stoke player in his last two home outings against Crystal Palace and Everton, registering distances of 12.29km and 11.94km.

When you consider that Wilfried Bony has averaged 8.89km per 90 in a Stoke shirt (the lowest of any outfield Potters player), the impact Crouch has made is oustanding.

Stoke's most distance covered

Player Mins played (min. 500) Distance per 90 (km)
Peter Crouch 878 12.16
Joe Allen 1979 12.13
Jonathan Walters 929 11.12
Glenn Whelan 1652 10.89
Charlie Adam 1203 10.82

People rarely talk about his effort levels but there is a strong argument to suggest Crouch could be the hardest-working centre-forward in the division.

Peter Crouch, Stoke
Peter Crouch covers more ground per match than any Stoke player

In terms of the ground he covers per match he is second only to Swansea City’s Borja Baston, but 10 of the Spaniard’s 14 PL appearances have been off the bench, and it is easier to run around vigorously for shorter periods.

PL strikers most distance covered

PL forwards 2016/17 Mins played (min. 500) Distance per 90 (km)
Borja Baston 500 12.41
Peter Crouch 878 12.16
Shinji Okazaki 954 11.79
Ashley Barnes 967 11.75
Fabio Borini 800 11.70

Crouch's imposing presence has also improved Stoke’s aerial threat. The former England international has not started the majority of contests this term yet is still ranked 5th for most aerial duels won.

Winning 126 headers in total, Crouch has been successful in the air on average every seven minutes.

Providing a target for the goalkeeper, defenders and midfielders to hit, the striker has been a quality outlet in recent matches, as well as an asset in both penalty boxes. His former club Spurs will be wary of the threat he poses at White Hart Lane.

Bursting in behind

With Crouch spearheading the attack midfielders have had greater confidence to make forward bursts. Since the turn of the year, Stoke’s players have increasingly made purposeful runs from deep.

While there is never a guarantee your front-man will be able to flick the ball on, or hold it up for a supporting team-mate, footballers are more inclined to gamble when there is a quality target man up top.

When the ball is in flight, the Potters now believe it is worth the effort to join in.

Most successful flick-ons in 2016/17

Player Total Mins per flick-on
Troy Deeney 62 34.6
Sam Vokes 59 22.9
Christian Benteke 55 36.3
Peter Crouch 34 25.8

The long game

Hughes's players are not just making runs beyond opposition defenders to link with Crouch either.

Three excellently constructed goals have been scored in their last five PL encounters thanks to long passes played over the top for midfielders or wide men to chase:

Xherdan Shaqiri’s lengthy diagonal pass set up Marko Arnautovic at Sunderland (see below).

Arnautovic goal v Sunderland

Charlie Adam’s 50-yard ball over the top released the Austrian winger to cross for Crouch to score at home to Everton (see below).

Crouch goal v Everton

Ramadan Sobhi’s clever, angled run from an Arnautovic pass paved the way for Joe Allen to grab the winner against Crystal Palace.

Allen goal v Crystal Palace

Adam with 135, and Glenn Whelan with 110 are in the Premier League’s top 20 for chipped passes, so whenever a Stoke player shapes to hit a long forward pass on Sunday afternoon Spurs will need to concentrate and track runners.

It will be of slight concern for the visitors that they have failed to beat any of the teams above them in the Premier League. Indeed, the highest-placed side they have overcome are 12th-placed Burnley.

In high-profile away fixtures, Hughes has tried to be positive in his tactical approach, throwing men forward whenever opportunities have presented themselves.

Diego Costa, Chelsea
Stoke have struggled against top-six sides and Chelsea punished their expansive approach in December

However, results have not gone their way. Losing 3-1 at Arsenal, 4-1 at Liverpool and 4-2 at Chelsea within the last two months, their fairly expansive style of football has left Stoke too open.

Isolated at times, Stoke’s defenders have been guilty of individual mistakes in matches against the stronger sides.

Will Hughes take a more pragmatic approach this weekend?

Last five matches against top-six sides

Date Opp. Shots conceded Shots conceded in area Result
17 Jan MUN (H) 25 14 1-1
31 Dec CHE (A) 18 10 2-4
27 Dec LIV (A) 20 11 1-4
10 Dec ARS (A) 21 17 1-3
2 Oct MUN (A) 24 16 1-1

As the table shows, it has been too easy for the division’s best teams to create chances against Stoke, especially inside the 18-yard area.

Having dabbled with three at the back, Hughes has reverted to a regulation 4-2-3-1 of late, with a midfield trio of Whelan, Adam and Allen playing in front of the defence.

Allen has been pushed forward to act as a roaming No 10 but against Spurs it may be more prudent for him to form part of a more conservative three.

Joe Allen. Stoke, and Victor Wanyama, Spurs
Clarke feels Stoke may be best served by deploying Joe Allen in a defensive midfield three against Spurs

Facing a Spurs side who carved them open at will during a 4-0 loss back in September - Mauricio Pochettino’s men fashioned 14 shots inside their box - it is vital Stoke restrict the hosts to fewer chances inside the area.

To keep Harry Kane and Co quiet, a defensive, counter-attacking strategy may serve them in better stead.

They can hurt the Londoners in the air, or with balls sent over the top, but to stand a chance of winning the match, Stoke must concentrate harder on keeping Spurs at arm’s length.

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