Being a balanced, reasonable football fan is a difficult thing these days. Tweets can get misconstrued, and soon you’re painted as an agenda-driven maniac. In this series of post match articles, I will attempt to achieve balance by talking above three positives and three negatives from a Potters’ performance. This week, Stoke 1 Chelsea 2.
POSITIVE: Losing the fear of the big side
It was a shame we had a break after our sterling work at the Etihad, but to come out of an away trip to Man City and a home tie against the Champions elect without any disgrace is marked improvement for Hughes’ boys. We gave Chelsea a real game, and were it not for some silly mistakes we could have taken some points off them. Even without Hazard, Chelsea were really impressive. Willian and Pedro buzzed around in the same manner Silva did when he came on against us, but like at Man City we were largely effective in shutting off their supply to the front man. We battled bravely and displayed a defensive cohesion that has been absent in so may of our 4-goal tonkings this season. It was a sickener, Cahill’s goal, but I didn’t leave the ground feeling too deflated. Hughes’ switch to 4-4-2 appears, based on this small sample size, to have made us a size that can compete against the best of them, and that is no mean feat.
NEGATIVE: Individual errors undoing a good team effort
Oh, Erik. Perhaps it was the draining effect of trying to keep a high-octane Chelsea at bay, but why aren’t you just twatting it out of touch there? In games against sides this good, there is no room for error and to concede two really soft goals was a real shame. There will be questions about the wall for Willian’s opener, but Lee Grant (who has been marvellous this season) ought to read the flight of a ball better than that. The goals aside, there were too many occasions where Stoke needed calmer heads in possession, and we were sloppy with the ball. You can’t help but feel, as the game got stretched, that Afellay could have improved things in this regard.
POSITIVE: Bruno Martins Indi
Sign this guy. Deliver a lorry full of money to his house right now and allow him to charge you for parking it there. The guy is class, and showed it again today, tolerating the poisonous Diego Costa and remaining committed, classy and strong in the tackle throughout. His ability to read a through ball, and emerge from a threatening counter attack with the ball at his feet rivals that of Abdoulaye Faye. A Rolls Royce of a defender, Bruno does seem to love it at Stoke and his signing is now imperative.
NEGATIVE: A lack of invention
Understandably, most of the time our wingers were involved today involved chasing Chelsea’s wingbacks. I can’t fault either Sobhi or Arnautovic for effort, but they struggled to create on the occasions they did have the ball. A daunting task it may be to break down that defence, but for me they were sloppy a bit too often. They did show glimpses of what they’re best at – Sobhi trying a few twists and turns, Arnie plucking balls out the sky on his little toe – but Chelsea shut them down very effectively. Likewise, up top, Walters and Berahino huffed and puffed, but never looked like blowing the Blues’ house down.
POSITIVE: A burgeoning team spirit
4-4-2, a hostile crowd all riled up, a ref who seemed to be against us. If you squinted hard enough, it was almost like our first season up. In that regard, the XI who played today, as at the Etihad, all seemed to be fighting for each other and were consistently geeing each other up. Individually, few performances stood out, but as a collective the team were excellent and were oh so close to grabbing what would have been a great point.
NEGATIVE: Hughes not taking the initiative
The system that kept Man City at bay nearly came good for us again today, but it was nonetheless disappointing that we didn’t sufficently change things that weren’t working. Our midfield seemed to be crying out for a player who could take control of the ball and not panic in possession – an Afellay kind of player perhaps? (Don’t get me started on the disappearing Xherdan and Giannelli) Likewise, the more we launched the ball forward towards Walters and the off-the-pace Berahino, the more you longed for Crouch’s abilities as a target man.
ON THE WHOLE THOUGH: An unfortunate result. We were industrious and full of running against this seasons’ champions, but we lacked the necessary skill and decision-making in the final third to deserve anything more than a draw. Their late goal was unjust, in the sense that we worked so hard, but they were so often a class above.