Tottenham Hotspur vs. Stoke City: Tactical Preview

The Premier League returns to White Hart Lane on Saturday as Spurs attempt to survive a visit from Charlie Adam and beat Stoke City in the process. Last season, the Potters won both fixtures, by a score of 2-1 in North London and 3-0 at the Britannia. Each time, a Spurs player was sent off. Here’s to things going differently this time around.

Not So Stoke

Stoke City once epitomized direct, aggressive football. But since Tony Pulis left at the end of the 2012/13 season, things haven’t quite been the same. Under Mark Hughes, Stoke has become less and less, well, Stoke-like. In 2011/12 and 2012/13 combined, the Potters averaged 69.5% pass accuracy rate while maintaining a 42% possession rate. Compare that to the first two seasons under Hughes, during which Stoke has put up a 77.4% pass accuracy rate and a 49% possession rate. This trend should continue, particularly given summer transfer activity, so while Stoke may not control the match come this weekend, don’t expect them to concede possession completely.

With Asmir Begović now at Chelsea, Jack Butland will start in goal for the Potters. Having undergone surgery, Ryan Shawcross will not be available to Hughes for some time, so in the center of defense we should expect Geoff Cameron to join Marc Muniesa. Despite coming off at the half last week with illness, Erik Pieters should get the nod at left back while former Liverpool man, Glen Johnson, will slot in at right back. Johnson tends to go forward often and against Liverpool provided a serious offensive threat–he attempted six crosses, more than any other player on the pitch. Stoke completed five dribbles the entire match, four of which were completed by Johnson.

In the center of midfield, look for Glenn Whelan or Steve Sidwell to pair with Charlie Adam. While Stoke will not completely park the bus as they may have looked to do in past visits to the Lane, the pair of central midfielders will likely focus on defensive duties. This will be particularly true for whichever of the pair lines up on the right, as Johnson’s tendency to go forward will require cover.

The next band of midfielders will look very different later in the season with the eventual returns of Marko Arnautović and Bojan, as well as the complete implementation of Xherdan Shaqiri. But for Saturday, expect to see new signing Ibrahim Afellay start on the left with Chelsea loanee Van Ginkel in the center and Jonathan Walters on the right. It wouldn’t be surprising, however, to see Van Ginkel drop into a more defensive role at times, especially if Stoke decide to settle for a draw. And while Shaqiri is unlikely to start, we could very well see his debut off the bench as a replacement for Afellay.

Up front look for Mame Biram Diouf, who last season averaged a respectable 0.41 goals per 90 minutes (as many per 90 as Chadli, in fact) but only managed one shot against Liverpool. Diouf hardly saw the ball in that match, having only 0.5% of the total possession. For reference, Benteke saw 3.4% of the total possession.

A Bit More Offense?

Having played for the U21s this week, Lloris seems to be back in the fray and poised to start in goal come Saturday. Danny Rose is also fit and will likely make his first appearance of the season at left back. Despite conceding, the defense last week looked in decent shape, particularly the scorer himself, Walker, who was eight for eight in tackles. The center back pairing from Saturday will remain, but should Stoke bring on Crouch to push for an equalizer, we could well see an appearance by Fazio to provide additional height at the back.

A point of interest will be Pochettino’s selection in central midfield. Bentaleb had a rough outing on Saturday, but all good players have bad matches and I don’t expect him to be dropped. Dier was decent at Old Trafford, but Spurs could opt for Mason for a more offensive look in a match they should be winning.

The Spurs Expected Goal Difference for this match is +.43, indicating that this match will in all likelihood end in a draw or win for the home side. There won’t be many more home openers at the Lane, so let’s make this one count.

*All data, except SPGD, from WhoScored