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Top Five: Clubs having a disappointing transfer window

Man United or a loan elsewhere? What is best for £15m Wilfried Zaha this season?

Stoke City can’t afford to ‘change direction’ too quickly with their next manager – Rafa Benitez would be perfect

As with every managerial sacking, a market immediately opens up for his replacement. If Pulis has indeed been sacked in order to replace him with a manger who will play a better version of football Stoke have to be very careful with who they appoint. Blackburn wanted better football so sacked Allardyce and picked Steve Kean. Bolton appointed Owen Coyle to play prettier football. Both of those went down. Previously, Charlton parted with Curbishley to get in someone to take them ‘to the next level’, that man, Iain Dowie (yep), took them toward the drop. Wolves sacked McCarthy for the same reason, they’re in League One. QPR sacked Neil Warnock, they went down. All of these were because they tried to move to a different style of football too quickly, before they had the personnel, and just as importantly, the mindset at the club to do so. With this in mind, Stoke need to appoint a manger capable of getting playing better stuff but diving in with Di Matteo/Poyet/Martinez is risky. Here’s a look at the Pros and Cons of the main contenders using the odds at SkyBet.


Rafa Benitez (2/1 favourite)
‘Rafa Benitez?!’ I hear you say. Well, it actually makes a lot of sense. As in, a lot. When Benitez was at Valencia and Liverpool he found success not by playing free flowing football, but by building on a rock solid foundation with an array of sparkling attacking talent. He knows how to get great success out of relatively one dimensional players (Baraja, Kuyt, Sissoko) and also has an eye for an attacker (Torres, Lopez, Vicente). He finds a way to mould this solidity with attacking threat and get results. He is a big name and would require a significant transfer budget and free reign to change the way the club play and are perceived.
Pros Could use the solid Stoke defence already in place and is capable of using direct tactics whilst he eases in higher quality attackers. Proven winner.
Cons Not a ‘provincial club’ manager historically. Will he fancy the task in hand?
Could he fit at Stoke? Yes. He has experience with their type of player and the tactical know how to slowly progress the team to a more aesthetically pleasing approach. If they get him, it would show they mean business.


Roberto Di Matteo (4/1)
Di Matteo is automatically linked because he has pedigree as a Champions League and FA Cup winner and would also look to bring a more possession based style to the club. At Chelsea he showed that he could use players that were given to him rather than hand chosen and put together a competitive side. The problem is, he is not a good candidate for this job. He will want to immediately overhaul everything and try to get Stoke playing ‘properly’ straight away if he is essentially appointed with the purpose of doing so. He is inexperienced and was sacked by West Brom last time he was at a similar sized club. Can he persuade Ryan Shawcross not to smash it long and coach him to pass it?
Pros Proven winner with a defensive tactical approach which would be a continuation of current plans.
Cons Very inexperienced with technically inferior players, might want to change things too quickly and undo underlying good qualities in an attempt to justify his appointment.
Could he fit at Stoke? No. This could be an absolute disaster. If Stoke want to ‘change direction’ he will feel under pressure to do that quickly.


Gus Poyet (10/1)
Poyet is out of a job at Brighton after objecting to someone defecating in the Crystal Palace dressing room of all things. What will he think of pigs heads in lockers and bricks going through car windows? At Brighton he was given free reign to build a team fit for the Amex and he succeeded in doing so with good financial backing and a big contact book. His Brighton team was gradually infused with technicians which would bode well for a slow make over at Stoke which is the only stable way of going.
Pros Has strong lower league experience and can spot a player. Very tactically flexible and would bring the prettier football that is possibly desired.
Cons Never managed in the Premier League and like Di Matteo may feel he has to change style too quickly. Will he fancy Stoke’s ‘good banter’ dressing room?
Could he fit at Stoke? Possibly but will he want to change too much of the culture. Would fans identify with him?


Mark Hughes (12/1)
Hughes has become a laughing stock after the QPR fiasco but his record with Blackburn and Fulham, which is more relevant to this job, was excellent. He maintained Blackburn in the top 8 for three years and had a good year at Fulham. He is able to set teams up to play directly. In fact, he got in to trouble at City because he couldn’t get them playing elegant, winning football. So he would be able to use what Stoke have and add some classier touches. A striker himself, he would no doubt have wisdom to pass on. If not for his QPR stint he would be much more fancied. He has a lot to prove and Stoke like that attitude.
Pros He will be ferociously determined to prove that QPR was an aberration and will surely have learned a lot of lessons. That he failed at QPR is actually a pro as he should now know what to avoid doing when trying to take a club to the next level.
Cons He has a tarnished reputation and his name is losing lustre. Will the players buy in to him?
Could he fit at Stoke? Yes. He has done well at this size club and is comfortable with the type of personnel they have. Has learned his lessons elsewhere.

Selected others:
Phil Neville (14/1) – Neville would be a big risk but would show Stoke how to win, just as he did at Everton, with the ingrained pursuit of greatness bred in to him at Old Trafford.
Roberto Martinez (16/1) – Would try to utterly change the style to a pure version. Wouldn’t be able to use more than 2 or 3 of the current players which is too big a turnaround in too short a time.
Steve McLaren (20/1) – Has worked with limited and technical players so could possibly blend that but surely his three consecutive failures will count against him
Martin O’Neill (25/1) – O’Neill will be frothing at the indignity of his first sacking and will want to prove himself. Sacked at Sunderland in part because of wasted money on English based players and dire football. Maybe not different enough for what Stoke want.
Harry Redknapp (33/1) – Don’t rule this out. He’s still a big name and will fancy getting back in to the top flight.

Stoke City are right to sack Tony Pulis

Stoke City today announced they will be parting ways with Tony Pulis, and not a moment too soon. Stoke could not possibly improve with Pulis at the helm and in fact that he has been there so long was actually turning in to a negative. Sure, when he arrived they were at the lower end of the Championship and he leaves them after a good strong run in the lower half of the Premier League. His time even includes an FA Cup final appearance. That’s all very good and is a solid achievement certainly. But there are many factors that mean that this isn’t as impressive as it looks;


Net Spend & Transfer Market inefficiency
Tony Pulis has a net spend of circa £100m. £100m, at Stoke. That is higher than Arsenal and Spurs in that period! Think about that. And Everton, West Brom, Swansea, West Ham etc. Now, there is no doubt that he has made some excellent signings that have formed the bedrock of a solid unit. Begovic, Shawcross, Huth and Walters were all signed for less than £5m and have played a stack of games for the club. There have been many other defenders who have been signed that have contributed well. He can certainly buy a defender. But what he can’t buy, is attackers or midfielders and in his time at the club only Begovic and Shawcross have gained in value.

Palacios cost £8m, Adam £4m, Jones £8, Crouch £8m, Tonge £3m, Jerome £3m. All high ticket items for a club like Stoke, and all have lost value appreciably. They’ve contributed modestly on the field. He buys high, mostly because he places an absolute premium on buying from England, and sells very low. He hasn’t bought from overseas with any success. He spends a lot of money every season for no appreciable progress.

Stuck in lower mid-table
Below are Stoke’s year on year returns in the Premier league under Tony Pulis;
2008/09 – 12th, 45 points, 38 goals
2009/10 – 11th, 47 points, 34 goals
2010/11 – 13th, 46 points, 46 goals
2011/12 – 14th, 45 points, 36 goals
2012/13 – 13th, 42 points, 34 goals

Notice a certain pattern emerging? When you also consider that the net spend each summer averages out at £20m plus, it’s easy to see that he has taken them as far as he can. Only once have they even scored more than a goal a game.

Tactical Inflexibility and defensive mindset
Pulis’ side gained their ‘rugby team’ status because of their reputation for long ball play and a reliance on set pieces. And it is justified. Sometimes these kinds of things are exaggerated but the team’s almost paralysing fear of making a mistake near their goal and the low risk style that Pulis emphasised was fine for the first year or so as they established themselves, but they’re still doing it 5 years on. Now, as Pulis will tell you, possession stats don’t mean a lot. Certainly not team possession. But, in terms of individual distribution stats, and certainly accuracy stats, you can tell a lot. Even Stoke’s better passers rarely topped 70% accuracy and the number of direct balls was always near the most in the league.

Going direct is not in itself a bad thing by any means. West Ham, West Brom and even Everton, found success this year with a direct style. But it was a controlled direct style. If you play a long pass you are inherently lowering your chances of completing the pass. If you don’t have the ball, you can’t score. And that is why Stoke had such measly returns in front of goal. If it gets to the point, as it did this year, where you are bemoaning a lack of goals from the big lads in defence, you know that there is an endemic problem.

This season he has spurned the wing pairing of Etherington and Pennant, the two that played when Stoke scored their most goals, and mostly had right back Ryan Shotton and the hard running but hugely technically limited Jon Walters out wide. Neither offered penetration. He tried a switch away from the 442 he so treasured to play a modern 4231. Except he didn’t. Adam can’t play far enough forward to be part of a three behind a striker. Walters is a wide man in a 442 and Shotton is a full back. It was a pure 451.

Who is creating anything? He has tried creators in the past; Tuncay and Gudjohnsen, but then binned them for harder workers. Pulis set his team out to avoid losing, which suited them fine when they actually were underdogs, but he couldn’t escape that mindset. Part of the reason for this is that what was initially used as motivation for the players, became deeply rooted in the psyche of the club. The ‘us against the world’ minset served them well initially, but eventually it became and excuse for failure and a justification for not changing.

‘They’re all out to get us’
It’s almost as if Pulis didn’t want to change because he thought it would prove his critics right. They said his team were anti-football, that he just signed big cloggers, he needed to change. He must have thought; ‘I’ll show you’ and became increasingly obsessed by this idea that he was being victimised. After every game he complained about the referee, he complained about diving opponents, he complained about evil foreigners. But never once did he say ‘you know what, we keep just smashing it to the other team and losing. Should I change that?’. He didn’t, or couldn’t, because it would show that he was wrong. In the end his stubbornness on the issue cost him his job.

Buying the wrong players
The problem was, his recruitment policy didn’t allow him to change his tactics. He kept buying the same sort of player. This summer he bought Charlie Adam to be his ‘number 10’. But Adam is not an efficient passer, he is just as likely to ping the ball in to the stands as to a striker. Not to mention that when he had his greatest success at Blackpool it was feeding balls in to quick forwards who had the pace to hunt them down. Blackpool also played with width and tempo which meant he had much more space to utilise and more moving options to pick out. At Stoke he played in a very direct side with precious little movement. Why sign a ball spraying midfielder when you have a choice of Peter Crouch or Kenwyne Jones up front? Also, he’s never been a number 10 in his life. He needs to play deep and with time due to his slow footwork. He isn’t subtle enough to play intricately around the box and isn’t precise enough to use a target man.
He also signed Steven N’Zonzi, not in itself a bad move, but he already had Whitehead, Whelan and so on in that spot. Why bother? he signed Geoff Cameron, a limited defensive full back. He already had Shotton and (shudder) Wilkinson. He bought Michael Kightly when he already had Etherington, Pennant and Walters, basically the same type of player.

Stoke City are completely justified in parting ways with Tony Pulis. He became too entrenched in trying to prove that his way would work and the idea that he was somehow being victimised that he failed to progress the club tactically or in giving them a more positive mindset. He spent more money than West Brom, Everton, Swansea, West Ham, Newcastle, Norwich and, believe it or not, Arsenal, and yet played worse football than all of them in achieving less. It is time to go.

The Weekend Awards – Sunderland at the double

The Weekend Awards are a somewhat serious, somewhat tongue in cheek affair in summary of the best and worst of the Premier League and FA Cup.


Highlight of the Weekend

Paolo Di Canio’s celebration

With each goal that Sunderland scored Di Canio’s celebrations became more and more over the top and his wide eyed visceral passion was transferred on to the pitch as a Sunderland side who had looked moribund and completely uninspired for a couple months fizzled in to life. They played the exact brand of football that Di Canio promised which is an impressive achievement after just two weeks of work in season.

They pressed high and consistently, they passed the ball with a purpose and tempo that has been sorely lacking and they looked like a team that believed in themselves. It’s pretty basic stuff yes but sometimes doing the basics well is exactly what is needed when you are in trouble.

Lowlight of the Weekend

Tony Pulis accepts defeat before kick off

Stoke have made a name for themselves by making life extremely difficult for visiting clubs at the Britannia through a mix of ferocious passion from the stands, commitment on the pitch and a direct, in your face, scared of no one style of play.

So, after a terrible run of results, and with a possibly tentative Manchester United heading to town surely the time was right to attack them and go all out for a victory which would haul them 6 points clear of the drop zone. Well, apparently no one told that to Pulis. All of the old favourites were selected with the selection of Ryan Shotton on the right wing particularly baffling. He was picked to counter the roaming runs from left back of Patrice Evra. Seriously? You pick a right winger to stop their left back? At home? In a team that is overburdened with attacking talent. If United found that Evra was shut down he could just stay back and the attack go elsewhere and still be just as dangerous. This isn’t Everton and Leighton Baines we’re talking about.

He picked Charlie Adam, a deep lying midfielder by trade as the number 10 behind the striker. Thus, when Adam dropped ever deeper to seek out the ball Kenwyne Jones was stuck upfront on his own and unable to bring any others in to play. The apparently key Glenn Whelan was back but hardly got a touch of the ball as the defensive full backs meant that Stoke were so deep. They didn’t try to unsettle an out of position Rooney in midfield and didn’t bombard David De Gea in goal.

Instead of flying all out for a win they went in to the game trying to avoid a loss but expecting that they would. Disgraceful.

Goal of the Weekend

Stephane Sessegnon vs Newcastle

This was good for two reasons; importance and quality. In and of itself it was a nice goal. A tricky shuffling run followed by a precise finish in to the tiniest of spaces from a good 20 yards out. All very pretty. But the key to this being the goal of the week was it’s importance in the flow of the game.

Sunderland had started well but cautiously, not really able to capitalise on their good attitude with any real goal threat. It was a familiar pattern for their fans who must have feared that when they eventually ran out of steam that Newcastle would punish them, but the goal came at just the right time and sent the delirious Sunderland fans, including one who had somehow got in to the commentary box, in to raptures.

Really?! Moment of the Weekend

Sergio Aguero tangles with David Luiz

Was it a two footed horror lunge? Was he falling over in an unfortunate way? Only Aguero knows what his intention was.

How did you miss that Ref?!

Gouffran on Johnson & Torres on Aguero

This could easily go to the Aguero one but that was so absurd we won’t give it two awards. This however, is a joint winner because both tackles were similarly vicious. Jamie Redknapp pointedly, and correctly, called them ‘cowards’ tackles. Both of them involved studs being raked down an opponents legs to cause maximum, and intentional, damage.

As Redknapp said, perhaps referees don’t realise the severity of these assaults but anyone who saw the way that Adam Johnson’s ankle buckled was surprised not to have witnessed a bad injury. Torres could have annihilated Aguero’s achilles.

Mind you, the ref was right there when Johnson took his shirt off to celebrate his goal. Quite right too, we don’t want any of this shirt off nonsense. Two bits of awful refereeing that have so far gone unexplained.

One man team of the Weekend

Dimitar Berbatov vs Aston Villa

Berbatov successfully defends his title from last week after another virtuoso, and single handed, display. He literally posed the only threat for Fulham and probably should have won the game for them. His frustration at his inferior team mates is getting stronger by the week despite Fulham’s serene mid table progress.

Most bizarre team selection

Frank Lampard rides the bench

Benitez deployed Ramires and Mikel in deep midfield behind the ‘three musketeers’ and it was a disaster. Chelsea didn’t need John Terry, they need Frank Lampard and he was conspicuous by his absence

Analysing the Transfer Gossip 09/04

There’s always plenty of transfer talk throughout the season. So how much of it makes sense, and how much of it is just rumour?

QPR chairman Tony Fernandes will order a major clear-out at Loftus Road this summer with midfielder Adel Taarabt, 23, likely to be the biggest sale.


Full story: Daily Mirror

What’s the story? If Harry Redknapp stays he won’t be told who to sell or he’d quit. However, QPR are going to have an utterly unsustainable wage bill for a soon to be Championship club.
Does it make sense? I wouldn’t have thought selling Taarabt should be a priority for a variety of reasons. Firstly, last time he was in the Championship he accounted for 50% of the clubs goals, secondly, he isn’t paid anything like as much as the rest of the junk they’ve signed over the last couple of years.
Is the price right? I doubt there will be a queue forming for him after this year, but they might get £4-5m. Is that enough to sell? Not really.
Will it happen? 5/10 – It’s almost impossible to predict what will happen at QPR

Tottenham are among a group of Premier League clubs that would consider triggering Loic Remy’s £8m escape clause if QPR are relegated. The 26-year-old French striker has scored five goals in seven starts since joining from Marseille in January.


Full story: the Guardian

What’s the story? Good planning on Remy’s part to persuade QPR to give him an affordable release clause if they go down. He looks a Premier League player for sure and at £8m is worth looking at.
Does it make sense? I’m not convinced he’s quite what Spurs need but there are plenty of clus that he would make a ton of sense for.
Is the price right? £8m is a good price. You never know, you could be signing the next Demba Ba.
Will it happen? 10/10 – there’s no way he’s at QPR in the Championship if he can be had for £8m.

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney will not leave Old Trafford for Paris St-Germain this summer, according to team-mate Federico Macheda. The French side are said to be monitoring Rooney’s situation after the 27-year-old England forward was left out of last month’s Champions League defeat by Real Madrid.


Full story: Metro

What’s the story? Manchester United Head of Player Personnel Macheda insists that the obviously not moving Rooney is not moving.
Does it make sense? I love that they’re quoting Macheda. What could he possibly know? Anyway, Rooney isn’t going anywhere.
Is the price right? PSG need to be Fair Play compliant and buying Rooney to play in an area of the pitch that they are already stacked is massively illogical.
Will it happen? 1/10 – Nope.

Sporting Lisbon’s Diego Capel, 25, is being targeted by Liverpool but the Anfield club will face competition from Marseille for the £10m-rated Spanish winger.


Full story: Daily Mirror

What’s the story? Capel was linked to Spurs for much less two weeks ago. Do Liverpool play with pure wingers?
Does it make sense? No.
Is the price right? Sporting are in all kinds of financial trouble so they can’t be haggling too much. £10m is way too much.
Will it happen? 5/10 – since when do Liverpool make sensible market decisions?

Inter Milan have moved ahead of Arsenal and Newcastle in the race to sign Saint-Etienne striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Inter have submitted an £8.5m offer for the 23-year-old Gabon forward.


Full story: talkSPORT

What’s the story? Inter seem to be looking for a new striker, and so they should do because they’ve got nothing in the way of quality.
Does it make sense? Inter have less pull than Arsenal and Aubameyang isn’t really suited to Italian football.
Is the price right? St. Etienne would be crazy to sell for £8.5m.
Will it happen? 6/10 – It’d be a real surprise if he doesn’t move. I’m not convinced Inter are the ideal landing spot but it’s still a step up.

Fulham could make a £4m move for Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, 25, who has been linked with a summer switch to Manchester United.


Full story: Daily Mirror

What’s the story? Haha, £4m.
Does it make sense? Man United have De Gea who is better. It makes great sense for Fulham. Stoke’s recent transfer policy has been dodgy but this would be crazy.
Is the price right? £4m? Just, obviously not.
Will it happen? 0/10 – not at this price. 5/10 – Fulham if Stoke go down.

Stoke are set to make an offer for 24-year-old PSV Eindhoven left-back Erik Pieters in the summer.


Full story: Voetbal International

What’s the story? If Stoke stay up they need some quality. Pieters is an attack minded full back which Pulis doesn’t ever utilise.
Does it make sense? Yes. Pieters would offer Stoke something utterly different. But Pulis doesn’t sign this type of player.
Is the price right? Probably £4m ish which is very affordable.
Will it happen? 0/10 – if Pulis is in charge

Stories collected by the BBC Gossip Column

Tony Pulis can not save Stoke from the drop. The issues are far deeper than just tactics.


As I predicted last week Stoke City are in big big trouble. They’ve made their Premier League name by playing rugged, physical, hard to stop football and that had seen them establish themselves as an elite force in the league up to this season. For the last 4 years they’ve bulldozed teams that cross their path and played a direct style in attack with a resolute and solid defence behind. They played with two quick tricky wingers who would get the ball in the box quickly to lead either to goals or set pieces. This year though, that hasn’t worked. So why not? There are a few key reasons; lack of flair, picking out of form ‘favourites’, very basic tactics, lack of pace & increasingly poor work in the transfer market that has led to an unbalanced squad.

Firstly, Pulis has ventured away from their usual tactical plan to a more basic defensive set up and any nod to flair has been utterly abandoned. Pulis has always valued endeavour over flair but in the past he has found room in his teams for players that make things a little different happen. The side that got promoted to the Premier League did so guided by the unpredictable Ricardo Fuller. Since then Pulis has deployed and improved the likes of Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant out wide who could both make something out of the ordinary happen, even if they weren’t quite so solid in defence.

He also had a few daliances at trying to replace Fuller in the number 10 role but with little success. He has tried Sanli Tuncay and Eidur Gudjohnsen briefly but after showing some initial signs of life they were cast aside for more industrial players. This summer he signed Charlie Adam to be his creator but that was a signing that was never going to work. Adam isn’t a hard worker so when he didn’t create or score goals he was dropped. But why wasn’t he creating or scoring? Because he doesn’t have the talents to do so without a very specific type of player around him. At Blackpool he had a lightning fast attacking trio in front of him who could hunt down his passes. For every 50 yard pass that made the Match of the Day highlight reel there were another 4 that bombed in to the stands or one where he’s caught in possession and it costs a goal. Sir Alex Ferguson tricked Liverpool in to signing him and they couldn’t wait to unload him on to Pulis. He scored a lot of penalties and free kicks at Blackpool to boost his tally, but you need quick tricky players to win lots of those and Stoke don’t have any.


The loss to Aston Villa showed what a basic lack of pace Stoke have. Sure, they have some big and quite athletic players but no pure speed. Their quickest players like Jerome, Etherington, Shea & Pennant aren’t exactly track stars. Quite apart from the fact that they haven’t seen much action this year anyway. Villa came at Stoke with a team packed with pace and it was because of pace that they scored all 3 of their goals either directly or indirectly. Stoke can compensate for their lack of pace by dropping deep, but this is a way of grinding out 0-0, 1-0 type results. The irony is, this tactic would normally be reserved for a counter attacking team, but Stoke don’t have any pace to counter attack effectively. In fact, Stoke hardly ever counter attack, and it is for this reason. The de rigueur tactics in football are rapid counter attacking from a deep base and the possession dominating game based on tiki-taka principles and Stoke aren’t able to do either.

So, Stoke can’t counter attack and they can’t pass it. Pulis lamented the absence of Glenn Whelan, his ‘play maker’ against Villa. Whelan is OK but has a limited passing range. Of course, he can’t set a passing tempo without other players to pass the ball to. If he lays off a tidy pass and the ball is then pumped forward, what’s the point? The list of players comfortable passing the ball is about as short of the list of quick players. There’s really only Whelan and the inexplicably ignored Wilson Palacios who are properly comfortable in that type of game. The rest of the midfield are what could be described as coal stokers. They work in the engine room but they can’t drive the train. The train analogy is particularly appropriate because Stoke only play in straight lines. Or, a rogue train because Pulis’ post match press conferences often miss the points. Nice.

So, they’ve got no pace and no ball players, and that is because of increasingly poor operations in the transfer market. Pulis has done brilliantly at signing certain types of players. Every member of the starting defence has been a tremendous bargain and developed immensely. His worker midfielders are good at the job they do too and could do so elsewhere in the league. However, when it comes to signing attackers or skill players he hasn’t been so good. Peter Crouch, Michael Owen, Kenwyne Jones and Cameron Jerome are the strike force. Owen isn’t what he was and the rest are limited by lack of goals. They are all good number two strikers, hold up men, but they need either a proper number 10 behind them or a goal getting partner. Crouch was at his best with Defoe alongside him for example. It’s a similar problem to Sunderland. Too many ants, not enough butterflies.


The final gripe is that Pulis picks the same players regardless of form or output because they are his ‘favourites’. Now, every manager can be guilty of that but Pulis does seem incredibly loyal to certain players. The real problem isn’t the players he picks as such, but it is as an affect of who he doesn’t. He prises the tenacity and reliability of Jon Walters above every player in his squad. He likes the raw physical presence of Kenwyne Jones and Ryan Shotton despite their limited technical capacity. He deploys the defence only full back pairing of Geof Cameron and Marc Wilson. Both excellent at the back but offering nothing on the front foot.

The frustration for Stoke fans is that he hasn’t tried anything different. Why not start Crouch and Owen up front with two of his wingers? Why not copy Swansea and play all 3 wingers in a rotating carousel behind one of the strikers or Walters? Why not experiment with a 433? Is it simply that Pulis doesn’t believe in it or that he can’t coach it?

Stoke have hit a wall because nobody saw that Pulis had taken them as far as he ever could do without changing his style and approach. It’s not simply a case of too much long ball, the problems are rooted far deeper than that. The problem is though, it is far too late to do anything about it unless they try something radically new. But they won’t. And they will be relegated. The parallels to the Birmingham City team under the similarly negative McLeish of 2011 are stark for Stoke fans. That year Birmingham weren’t in the relegation discussion. They had a good defence and a dull attack. They did enough early in the season to mask the lack of goals but when they dried out they dropped like a stone as others found vibrancy. Sound familiar? Both teams have spent poorly and been hamstrung by tactical inflexibility. I can’t see Stoke avoiding the fate that befell Birmingham.


The Premier League Weekend Awards – Aston Villa dominate the prizes


The Weekend Awards are a somewhat serious, somewhat tongue in cheek affair in summary of the best and worst of the Premier League.

Highlight of the Weekend

Villa teach Stoke a lesson

Even as a neutral I was hoping Villa would be beat Stoke for a few reasons. Firstly, the three points for Villa tightened things up massively at the bottom of the table so that now 14th to 18th are separated by just 4 points. This makes things exciting. T

here’s also the fact that Paul Lambert has his young and very inexpensively assembled side playing a tactically disciplined and creative style of football that finds room for 3 attackers, all of whom have played as a lone front man in the past. Villa are playing fearlessly at the moment and they swarmed all over Stoke. In truth, it could, and should, have been about 5 or 6 goals for them. They came out and attacked, as they have done against everyone of the last month or so and got their just rewards.

Stoke on the other hand were beyond abject in attack yet again. As I seemingly have to write every week, Pulis picked a team that included absolutely no flair. Even the usual loyal Stoke fans are now openly questioning the team selection. It’s all well and good picking hard workers and players that put a tackle in to ruffle the feathers of the likes of Liverpool, their last win, but against teams like Villa it doesn’t work. Villa have been unlocked by flair this year. Suarez torched them last week, Bale got a hat trick and so on. But Pulis picked his usual hard runners and simple passers. It’s not good enough and this rank negativity is coming home to roost. They are in a nosedive.

Lowlight of the Weekend

Liverpool go back to old ways

For the prior two seasons Liverpool have been stuck in a mid table malaise of their own doing caused by extreme profligacy in front of goal. They seemed to have shaken that streak this season with Suarez leading the goal scoring charts and various teams put to the sword at Anfield. But it all went wrong against West Ham.

Brendan Brent bemusingly felt Sturridge’s goal was wrongly disallowed when he was clearly offside but that was misplaced criticism. There’s just something inexplicably inconsistent about Liverpool. You look at them on paper and can’t see how this sort of result, or the the defeats to Southampton and West Brom, are possible when you watch them in full flight. On paper they look good but in reality they are a mile away from the top 4.

Goal of the Weekend

Matt Lowton vs Stoke

How many weeks could this goal have two legitimate contenders against it. In most other weeks Mirallas’ lovely dribble and clean finish would win, and in any other week Loic Remy’s technical masterpiece against Wigan would win but Lowton’s goal has the unbeatable combination of jaw dropping quality and gravitas.

This wasn’t a dead rubber goal, it was the strike that won the game for Villa. At 1-1 they were rocking all over the place but one counter attack that wins a corner, a nodded clearance that drops to Lowton, and one outrageous volley later, and they’re 2-1 up and cruising. That moment of quality seemed to reinvigorate Villa’s young team and make them believe in themselves again.

Really?! Moment of the Weekend

Bobby Zamora gets 3 points for a clean head shot

Bobby Zamora, fighting in the White Tae Kwon Do dobok lands an absolute beauty of a headshot to pick up 3 points in his clash with Jordi Gomez in the blue dobok. Nope, hang on. They’re playing football. Ah…

What are you talking about?

Rafa Benitez: ‘We scored 2 and an own goal, so really we scored 3’

Uh huh, but the first Chelsea goal was an own goal? Plus, Chelsea were abject anyway. That’s not relevant, but it’s true.

Pundit being pushed to the top

Kevin Kilbane

The BBC are clearly trying to freshen up their punditry ranks but Kilbane is not the answer. The thing is, there isn’t an obvious reason as to why he is being pushed so hard. He was a moderate player, isn’t outspoken and also doesn’t offer unique analysis. So he doesn’t doesn’t tick any of the boxes. For all the criticism that goes in the direction of a lot of pundits, at least they have been there done that. Even if they can’t articulate how.

Kilbane seems like a nice bloke but what does he add? When he makes his first pun or reference to an unpronounceable name with a knowing glance to Gary we’ll know he’s made it.

One man team of the Weekend

Dimitar Berbatov vs Newcastle

I’m sure Christian Benteke won’t be disappointed to miss out on this for once and with Gareth Bale down injured, Berbatov gets this unopposed. The MOTD2 highlights package only seemed to mention Berbatov’s name for Fulham. He had their best two chances and also cleared a goal bound shot. And they still lost…

Most bizarre team selection

Romelu Lukaku on the bench for West Brom

What’s the biggest weakness of the Arsenal central defence? They struggle against pace and power. OK. So, obviously you play perhaps the most dangerous physical player in the league in Romelu Lukaku to cause chaos. If you didn’t, it would be crazy. Right? Well…

Premier League round-up: each game in a sentence


It was a hectic weekend of Premier League football which saw the teams at the bottom of the table making moves towards safety and doom and further twists and turns in the pursuit of a valuable spot in the top 4. This segment will offer some quick fire analysis of each game.

Reading 0-2 Southampton Southampton played some glorious football and looked every inch a Premier team in this Nigel Adkins derby but Reading are heading for relegation.

Norwich 2-2 Swansea Norwich halted their run of defeats with a scrappy draw but only because Michu’s usual cool headed finishing betrayed him with an awful late game miss.

Stoke City 1-3 Aston Villa Villa continued their recent surge of form highlighted by a sumptuous volley from Matt Lowton and showed Stoke that a team with pace and variation in attack can win games despite defensive weaknesses but this was a critical blow to Stoke who are my pick for 18th place.

West Brom 1-2 Arsenal This was a vital and impressive win for an Arsenal side that have re-settled after their wobble to get right back in to the race for 4th place but they will have been pleased that the rampant Romelu Lukaku was inexplicably benched by West Brom.

Liverpool 0-0 West Ham Liverpool brought back memories of the last two seasons with a profligate performance against an unambitious West Ham who will be delighted with an important point.

Spurs 2-2 Everton This was the best game of the weekend highlighted by a sublime mazy run and finish from Mirallas for Everton who then wrote themselves out of a top 4 spot with a soft late equaliser which Spurs ill deserved.

Chelsea 2-1 Sunderland Paolo Di Canio wore a garish jumper and then hugged no time team mate John Terry on the way out of the tunnel but neither of those were the most bizarre thing in this game of two own goals and a deflected third to keep Sunderland right in the mire.

Newcastle 1-0 Dimitar Berbatov Newcastle spent the whole game attacking the flimsy looking Dimitar Berbatov defence without success until a late moment of inspiration from Cisse sent the crowd and Pardew in to delirium and Premier League safety, but this was only after two gorgeous attempts from Berbatov were just about kept out.

QPR 1-1 Wigan QPR were their own worst enemies as Zamora’s 10 point head shot and Taarabt ducking out the way of Maloney’s late free kick cancelled an astonishing display of technical prowess from Loic Remy who improbably battered in QPR’s goal with the side of his foot.

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