Free from injury, and having to rotate our squad through multiple competitions, Pochettino can now consistently field his best XI. And there is little argument between Spurs fans, or even Tim Sherwood, that our starting line-up v United is the one.
Stoke are similarly free from non-Premier League duties and, frankly, purpose. They’re also, because of injury, not quite so settled on their line-up:
I talked a few weeks ago about Slaven Bilic taking over from Sam Allardyce and in doing so
bringing flair play to a team built on grit. This has given West Ham a fantastic balance which is a large part of their success this season and it’s a similar situation with Mark Hughes taking over from Tony Pulis.
Stoke’s change to creative, attacking football has been much discussed but those roots in tough, in your face defensive solidity, continue to serve Stoke well in providing a platform from which the more intricate, attractive football can be played.
The peak of Stoke’s continentiality came when deploying Bojan as a ‘false 9’ which allowed winger/forwards Shaqiri and Arnautovic to desecrate opponent’s channels.
Since then the comfort of being upper-mid-table has seen Stoke drop-off somewhat. And they are restricted further in losing Jack Butland and being forced to, in his place, play Jakob Haugaard whose performance against Liverpool is rivalled as the worst goalkeeping performance of the season by only Boruc at home to Tottenham.
That 4-1 loss last weekend should be confirmation that Stoke are now officially on their summer holiday but I’ve no doubt they’ll somehow manage to once again summon the motivation to make The Britania ‘a difficult place to go’ for their contribution to the Leicester Fucking City “”””””””Fairytale”””””””””
But there’s more to learn from that 4-1 game. I’ve mentioned before that Liverpool and Tottenham play a somewhat similar Bundesliga style game. That same remaining Tony Pulis influence that makes Stoke so resilient also leaves them vulnerable to pressing.
To some extent Hughes can learn from the recent Liverpool defeat on how to deal with pressing but he can only achieve so much in that department because he isn’t afforded the opportunity to replace his entire defence with technical, creative players in the space of the last week.
What’s more ‘Pulis at the back, Barca at the front’ means that when our pressing forces them to play it long they have only Joselu (or perhaps Crouch) to get on the other end of it.
My suggestion that, for play style reasons, Vertonghen would start against United was met with a lot of understandable disagreement (yes I am going to use this thinnest of opportunities to brag about it). But, if we are in the unlikely situation that Pochettino feels we can confidently chop and change between Vertonghen and Wimmer then the fact it will likely be Joselu or Crouch up front, and that Stoke remain a threat from set pieces, would mean this game is more suiting of Wimmer’s skill set.
I do think Stoke have been mentally on holiday for a few weeks, and I do think they will turn it back on again to play us. But they will remain fragile in that department. If we can turn the game into a non-event for them by avoiding any kind of controversy or drama before our first goal we should be able to tie the game up without trouble.