Friday, September 16, 2011

Weekend Preview: Not Stoked About Stoke

Currently, Stoke lie 5th in the table, earning eight points from four games played. That's pretty impressive, especially considering they've already played Liverpool and Chelsea. However, I think that Stoke will be lucky if they finish in the top ten this year. Their good start has been fueled almost entirely by luck and it is extremely unlikely that it will continue.

Take a look at their most recent Premier League game against Liverpool. Stoke produced zero, yes zero, shots on goal from open play and allowed seven. They won because they were awarded a penalty, an event that is extremely unlikely to be repeated weekly. They allowed seven shots on goal, none of which went in the net. It's hard to claim that Stoke deserved to win that game, or even that they defended stoutly. They were lucky, plain and simple.

This is not the only game where Stoke have ridden their luck. Against Chelsea, Stoke had one shot on goal, Chelsea had seven. The game was a 0-0 draw. Against West Brom, Stoke had one shot on goal, West Brom had four. Stoke won that game 1-0. All told, Stoke's opponents have averaged a Finish Rate (G/SOG) of 4%. The best mark last year was Man City with 23.4%. This is unsustainable.

Even the lone game they actually outshot the opposition is not that impressive. Stoke did have five shots on goal to Norwich's three in that game, but Norwich went down to ten men in the 63rd minute. Before that, the teams were equal in shots on goal.

At the moment, if we looked at Expected Goal Differential, which assumes teams convert chances at the same rate, Stoke is second-worst in the league. Now this doesn't account for the fact that Stoke have played a relatively tough schedule (Tottenham are at the bottom at the moment), but still it illustrates that Stoke do not belong in the top half of the table on the merit of their play so far. And the thing is, this is before Stoke's commitments in the Europa League come into play. If Stoke were a stock, I would urge everyone to sell high immediately.
Other things:

  • Gambling picks: Sunderland 7/5 over Stoke, West Brom 13/8 over @Norwich. Given that I just wrote about Stoke in detail, I don't think I need to go over the logic of that pick. West Brom have been criminally unlucky so far this season and should beat Swansea even on the road.
  • Two very interesting games this weekend in Tottenham-Liverpool and Man U-Chelsea. I see these two as toss-ups, but would probably go with the home sides if you held a gun to my head.
  • Man City drew with Napoli during the week. I was fascinated by Napoli's approach as a team, talk about intelligent counterattacking football. The 3-4-3 has been a favorite formation of mine since I started playing FIFA 05 (FC Porto with Anderson, Quaresma, and Lucho Gonzalez was pretty unbeatable) but I've never seen it used at the top level. But man, was it effective. It frustrated City's attacks through the middle and led to some great breakaway opportunities. Adam Johnson coming on earlier would have helped a lot. Also, Tevez really sucked. He looks fatter than Michael Johnson now.

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