Six games into the new season and the stats are providing some easy reading, W2 L2 D1. Par for the course one would think given the two defeats came at the hands of Liverpool and Arsenal, both away. It’s a sequence of results that sees Stoke City sitting middle of the table in 10th.
The next game for us is at home vs Norwich on Sunday (Kick off 13:30). The Canaries have had an interesting start to the season under Chris Hughton, winning one (1-0 vs Southampton at home), drawing one (2-2 vs Everton at home), and losing three (1-0 vs Hull away, 2-0 vs Spurs away, 0-1 vs Villa at home) so far. Fans are seemingly less than impressed with their start to the season, with chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing” echoing from the stands. Their three goals so far have all come from open play, showing a lack of threat from set pieces, and have conceded six.
The corresponding fixture last season saw Stoke win 1-0 with a goal from Adam. It was a tight game with few chances mainly due to the Canaries defending stubbornly. The result back in April was also an emotional one as it followed the very sad and tragic death of local hero Paul Ware. Interestingly, the result also means that Stoke extended their winning run at home vs Norwich to five games (unbeaten in eight).
Definitely out for Stoke, all through injury, are Marc Muniesa, Glenn Whelan and Jamie Ness.
Eric Pieters missed the midweek Capital One Cup win at Tranmere but is expected to be back in contention for the visit of Norwich.
Matthew Etherington was involved in a taxi accident on Friday morning, raising doubts regarding his fitness for the game.
The Canaries are missing the defensive duo of Elliot Bennett and Sebastien Bassong.
Doubtful is striker Ricky Van Wolfswinkel but he is expected to recover in time to lead the attack.
Euro Club Index are predicting a Stoke Win (51%) with a draw rated at 29%. (http://www.euroclubindex.com/asp/matchodds.asp)
The major bookies (odds from Oddschecker) favour a Stoke win with decimal odds between 1.9 and 2.05. (http://www.oddschecker.com/football/english/premier-league/stoke-v-norwich/winner)
Sky Sport’s Pundit Paul Merson has returned to his Stoke love-in after taking a weekend off saying “I have been impressed by Stoke. I really thought it would take a while for Mark Hughes to get them playing the way they are but – other than against Arsenal when they didn’t keep the ball well enough and didn’t do themselves justice – they have been outstanding. There was a lot of pressure on Hughes going into Stoke. I thought it was a big ask following Tony Pulis and wondered if it was a bad move, but it has turned out great so far.
People go on about Man United’s tough start but Stoke had nightmare fixtures to start and have done great to get seven points from five games – and you’d like to think that Stephen Ireland could be a big player for Stoke this season.”
He then goes on to predict a 2-0 victory for the Potters.
Norwich vs Aston Villa
Norwich comfortable dominated possession against Aston Villa and had much more impetus in the attacking third. They also had more corners and played a free-flowing passing game. Despite this they could not make their pressure count. They have failed to provide any impact from set pieces thus far this season and this again proved to be the case.
Their possession stats and control in the final third is impressive with Nathan Redmond looking a very shewd signing for £3m, however converting chances appears to be a problem.
In addition, despite dominating possession, Aston Villa had more shots on goal.
The Canaries rained shots in at the Villa goal from both left and right, mainly from inside the penalty area, despite having 13 shots, only two of these (blue arrows) were on target, both central, one from 12 yds, one from seven. They had two shots blocked (grey arrows) also central. From their game against Villa we can conclude that the majority of their chances come from the central areas and within the box. Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross reign supreme in this area and it is difficult to see Norwich having much joy inside the Stoke box.
Villa on the other hand, had a lot of time and space all on both sides and were not afraid to shoot from outside the box. Some important interceptions were made on the edge of the Norwich box and one excellent block from ten yards out. The Villa goal was scored from seven yards and they had a clear shot on goal from ten yards out too, dangerous territory to allow shots from your opponents.
Stoke’s build-up at Home this season has consisted of more movement down the flanks provided by Pieters and Cameron. Etherington and Walters have been occupying the flanks and provided support and defensive duties (the majority of their passes are sideways and backwards). Interestingly, the ball is moved infield for the creation of chances with shots from outside the box centrally and also inside. Stoke are showing more dominance in the centre of the park with Nzonzi and Wilson both excellent so far this season. Retaining the ball in the middle third has also helped Stoke to apply more focused pressure in the attacking third.
Stoke have opened up significantly this season with several players chancing their aim from outside the box. The majority of shots come from central areas, with the right-siders contributing also. Surprisingly shots from the left side are low, even more so considering Pieters definitely likes a shot on goal.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Norwich like getting the ball out right to Redmond and letting him run at the opposition. Away from home, the Canaries sit deeper inviting more pressure onto themselves. This leads to a lack of intent offensively.
It is clear to see that the majority of Norwich’s shots do come from the central third, and also show the isolation of Van Wolfswinkel with an astounding amount of shots from out of the box.
Defensively they allow far too much space inside their 18 and six yard boxes (44%). They look weak down the middle, more so with the preferred pairing of Bassong and Bennett missing, as well as down the right side – this will provide space for Ireland/Arnautovic to exploit.
With the Stoke bandwagon rolling on after a very successful start to the season, one would expect they will see this game as an opportunity to continue a fruitful start – as well as eliminating the blip of three soft goals at Arsenal. Norwich have invited pressure onto themselves and their manager is under pressure from fans to find his strongest lineup.
Missing their key defensive pair and their star striker not being fully fit it is difficult to see Norwich having enough creativity and power to break Stoke down, with the pacy Redmond the main threat. Defensively, Norwich look shaky and invite pressure onto themselves away from home.
Stoke have their own problems. The attack looked somewhat isolated, and the midweek result against Tranmere perhaps looked easier than it was in truth. With Pieters back marauding down the left, and the support of Arnautovic in for Etherington it is difficult to see the Canaries leaving with any of the spoils. Chris Hughton has said that he knows Stoke City have changed style, but admits he has no knowledge of how much in his pre-match conference. This could result in a huge detrimental effect to how he sets he side out on Sunday, and therefore it is very difficult to see any other outcome than a Stoke win.
Prediction: Stoke 2 – 0 Norwich.
By Steve Minton