We ride into this weekend’s pre-christmas game with Stoke on a wave of holiday optimism, Lt. Parker is back, Bale’s hamstring has healed and Assou-Ekotto is back in training. We are sitting in 4th place and look like we should stay there, while ‘they’ have looked as reliable as this Mayan prophecy. Stoke don’t win away, they play as though a clean sheet is 3 points however and this could very well spoil our festive spirit.
Hugo got the draw he desperately wanted/didn’t want in the Europa League, a two leg tie with Lyon is sure to be entertaining and looks like it could go down as the matchup of the round. AVB commented that it is more akin to a Champions League game and he is not wrong, i have to believe that more people would rather watch this game than Galatasaray v Schalke or Porto v Málaga. If we are to see off Lyon it will most likely be Inter awaiting us in the next round, i don’t think much needs to be said, i’ll just leave this early present right here.
Last season we took only a point from games with Stoke, that surely has to improve under Villas-Boas, a more tactically proficient manager can often pick a hole in sides that set out to defend as the game progresses. The presence of Adebayor may determine the way in which AVB approaches this fixture. Stoke are without their one man Gareth Bale stopping machine thankfully, with Adam being granted compassionate leave. This does not take anything away from the Stoke defence however, who in anyone’s book have been absolutely outstanding this season. Pulis is often cited as the best defensive coach/manager in England and for good reason, his side having conceded just 3 goals this season at the Britannia leaving them unbeaten in 15 games.
By now we have all had the 80th minute stat thrown in our faces more than once, a more interesting (though not necessarily meaningful) stat came out of last weekends game at Swansea. At 39 we made more interceptions in that game than any team since the 2009/2010 season, what can this tell us? That in defence we are improving positionally to a point that we can make interceptions before an attack starts? That Sandro is transforming from a beast into something else? or that Swansea were a bit off their passing game? I’m going with the 2nd option.
Win Saturday and it’s a healthy position, drop points and we could be spending Christmas behind Arsenal. Parker back may well prove to be more immediately effective than most thought. With 10 minutes to go we tend to be weak, defensively no one is leading the team to victory through the tricky final moments, steering the ship to safety in much the same way sports personality of the year John Terry has been known to, inset Parker. With Sandro giving 100% every game by the final 10 he is beginning to tire, Parker is a similar type of player with a touch more tenacity, he is the perfect answer to our biggest problem. So far he is 1 for 1 having come on albeit for a cameo appearance against Swansea. AVB is not likely to drop Sandro or Dembele from the midfield and so Parker will likely be used as an enforcer to see out leads while everyone is fit.