The FourFourTwo Preview: Stoke vs West Brom
Two aspirational Mercian kingdoms looking to join the established heptarchy.
Some clubs enjoy international breaks more than others. After an eye-catching August, Stoke ran out of steam after September's caesura and lost their last three before this most recent break; by contrast, West Brom followed the Di Canio-killing Sunderland slapfest with two fine performances at Manchester United and at home to Arsenal.
The Potters' assistant boss Mark Bowen insists Stoke will stick with their new style, but the fans at Fortress Britannia can be an unforgiving bunch and Mark Hughes's side have only scored one goal in four league games.
- Fulham 1-0 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 0-1 Norwich (Prem)
- Tranmere 0-2 Stoke (LC)
- Arsenal 3-1 Stoke (Prem)
- Stoke 0-0 Man City (Prem)
WEST BROM FORM
- WBA 1-1 Arsenal (Prem)
- Man Utd 1-2 WBA (Prem)
- WBA 1-1p Arsenal (LC)
- WBA 3-0 S'land (Prem)
- Fulham 1-1 WBA (Prem)
Moreover, Stoke usually start poorly: they have the Premier League's worst first-half record, they've only opened the scoring in one game, and have allowed the opponents first blood in five of their seven league games. After encouraging early results, the Hughes revolution appears to be hitting a sticky patch, and fans accustomed to direct intervention may not have infinite patience with the Potters' pitter-patter of tiny unpenetrative passes.
Games between Stoke and West Brom are rarely free-flowing high-scoring affairs, and you wouldn't back this one to buck the trend. Steve Clarke, whose side are yet to lose on the road, may take advantage of the uncertainty at the Britannia by setting his team out to stifle Stoke early on, while looking to the likes of Nicolas Anelka, Stephane Sessegnon and Saido Berahino to inflict misery up the other end. It may not be pretty, but it's effective. Call it the Pulis paradigm.
Stoke have an almost clean bill of health, with their only worry being Jon Walters' ongoing groin gripe. By contrast, West Brom await word on Victor Anichebe's groin and Scott Sinclair's hamstring, although Czech striker Matej Vydra has declared himself in "perfect shape" – which makes him, according to ancient geometry scholars, a circle.
Player to watch: Billy Jones (West Brom)
Having seen his old boss Roy Hodgson employ fresh faces – and struggle for depth at right-back – Billy Jones might dare to dream of adding a full international cap to his England U16, U17, U19 and U20 honours.
A quietly essential part of the Baggies back-line, the Crewe Academy graduate held his own against Manchester United and Arsenal, and won all five tackles at Everton – while at Fulham, no West Brom player made more attacking-third passes.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Stoke 0-0 WBA (Prem, Mar 13)
- WBA 0-1 Stoke (Prem, Dec 12)
- Stoke 1-2 WBA (Prem, Jan 12)
- WBA 0-1 Stoke (Prem, Aug 11)
- Stoke 1-1 WBA (Prem, Feb 11)
Former Chelsea team-mates born barely two months apart in late 1963, Mark Hughes and Steve Clarke have taken very different managerial paths. Having spent years soaking up knowledge as an assistant manager, the Scot has only just reached 50 games as gaffer, whereas the Welshman is closing in on 400.
The pair have only faced off once as head honchos, at The Hawthorns last October. Hughes's QPR were on a shocking run, while Clarke's West Brom were unbeaten and unbreached in three home games. True to form, the Baggies beat the Hoops 3-2, and within six weeks Hughes was sacked.
Facts and figures
- Stoke have kept a clean sheet in 6 of their previous 8 Premier League games against West Brom.
- West Brom, currently on a 4-game unbeaten league run, have never gone 5 league games without a loss under Steve Clarke.
- No side has lost more Premier League games in 2013 than Stoke (15).
- There have been just 13 goals scored in the eight Premier League meetings between these two sides, with 7 of these being scored in the final 10 minutes.
- The Potters have scored with just 5.8% of their shots this season in the Premier League - the lowest ratio in the competition.
- Stoke have hit the woodwork (4) as many times as they have scored (4) in the league this season.
- Mark Hughes has currently won 99 matches as a Premier League manager (from 277 games).
- If only first halves counted, Stoke would be bottom of the Premier League on three points.
- Since his move to West Brom, Morgan Amalfitano has averaged 12 crosses per game.
- The Potters have only scored 4 league goals in 7 games so far, equalling their worst-ever goal haul at this stage of a top-flight campaign.
Stoke's stutter becomes more pronounced as West Brom rope-a-dope them into a 1-0 home defeat, promoting a light smattering of boos at the Britannia.
Stoke vs West Brom LIVE ANALYSIS with Stats Zone