Tactically speaking - Stoke City

Alex Song could play a vital role when West Ham United tackle Stoke City on Saturday

West Ham United

West Ham United have teamed up with football stats website WhoScored.com to preview Saturday’s Barclays Premier League meeting with Stoke City.
Sam Allardyce will be keen to make it back-to-back home league wins after they overcame lowly Sunderland 1-0 last time out. The visit of a Stoke team which has lost its last three games gives West Ham the opportunity to do just that.
Winning the battle in the middle of the park is likely to be key as to which team comes out on top here, with Cameroonian Alex Song expected to play a key role for the hosts. The on-loan midfielder has impressed for West Ham following his summer switch from Barcelona, attaining an average WhoScored.com rating of 7.01.
Stoke have developed a statistically calculated WhoScored.com style of play of ‘aggressive’, which only increases Song’s importance in this fixture. The 27-year-old has gained a style of play of ‘likes to tackle’ and it is this aspect of his game that will be needed against Hughes’ side.

Indeed, Song’s average of 3.1 total tackles per game is the highest in the West Ham squad.
Furthermore, it is Song’s ability on the ball that could be essential against Stoke. The Potters have preferred to attack down the wings this campaign, with only 27% of their offensive moves come through the middle section of the pitch. 

Given Song has developed a WhoScored.com strength of ‘passing’, his ability to keep possession moving in midfield could help penetrate Stoke’s defence as the visitors seek to attack down the flanks. Only Mark Noble, with 48.7, averages more passes per game than Song’s 44.
Winning and recycling possession in the middle of the park is what Song does best and, with his limitless energy levels, the former Cameroon international can make an impact in Saturday’s fixture.
With just seven games to go this season, West Ham will look to end the campaign on a high, starting on Saturday. Given Song’s ability both on and off the ball, the experienced midfielder has a big part to play this weekend.
*WhoScored.com is a website and one of the fastest growing in the sports industry, specialising in the in-depth analysis of detailed football data. Follow @WhoScored on Twitter.

Stoke City

Possible starting XI

Cameron    Shawcross    Wollscheid    Wilson
N’Zonzi        Whelan
Moses        Adam        Walters


The formation

Stoke City manager Mark Hughes employed a 4-4-2 formation at Chelsea last weekend, but is likely to return to his favoured 4-2-3-1 system against the Hammers.

Should he do so, Stoke’s formation will see a flat back four with two dominant central defenders and athletic, no-nonsense full-backs.

Ahead of them, the all-action Steven N’Zonzi and ball-playing Irishman Glenn Whelan will sit deep, with two wide players lining up either side of a central playmaker – most likely the headline-making Charlie Adam.

Up front, Mame Biram Diouf is likely to be preferred to Peter Crouch. However, Hughes could stick with two up front, with Diouf partnered by Jonathan Walters, with Adam moving wide left and N’Zonzi and Whelan taking up more traditional central midfield positions.

The playing style

The days of Stoke being labelled a long-ball, long-throw obsessed team are long gone, with Hughes encouraging his talented side to get the ball down and play.

Yes, Stoke do still rely on getting the ball into wide areas and crossing into the box, as they did to such good effect at the Britannia Stadium in October, when Diouf nodded in Stoke’s second goal from a Walters cross in a thrilling 2-2 draw.

And ‘thrilling’ is a word that has summed up a lot of Stoke’s play this season, with Hughes putting an emphasis on both style and substance as he establishes himself during his second season in charge.

Stoke’s average possession (50%) and pass completion (78%) percentages are both up on last season, while the Potters are also unleashing more shots on goal in each game they play.

As well as adopting a more attractive approach, Hughes has ensured that the Potters have maintained the aggressive, physical approach that made them such a force under predecessor Tony Pulis.

In short, Stoke can play, but they are no pushovers either.

The players

The phrase ‘mistake by Begovic’ does not appear often in Stoke match reports, but it did last weekend as the Bosnian made a hash of playing out from the back against Chelsea.

The 27-year-old is normally a huge and reliable presence in the Stoke goal and catches and punches well under pressure. He also distributes the ball long and accurately off his right foot.

Right-back Geoff Cameron is tall – you will notice a recurring theme developing – and strong, making him one of a number of major threats from set plays. Left-back Marc Wilson is a centre-back by trade and is also tall for a full-back at 6’2. He is also right-footed.

In the middle, Ryan Shawcross is Stoke’s captain and organiser. Dominant in the air and decent in possession, Shawcross leads his team well. Alongside him, German Philipp Wollscheid is taller and slimmer than his skipper, two-footed and is similar in style to fellow countryman Per Mertesacker.

In midfield, N’Zonzi has been consistent and ever-present. The tall, athletic Frenchman is deceptively quick over the ground and can hit shots with venom from long range. Next to him, Whelan holds things together in the Stoke midfield, closing his opponents down and using the ball intelligently when in possession.

Aside from scoring from inside his own half, Adam has a generally exceptional left foot when given the chance to use it.

The wide midfield roles could be filled by any two of a number of players. Stephen Ireland is a decent passer of the ball, while Victor Moses and Marko Arnautovic are enigmatic players blessed with pace and trickery, and Walters is a hard-working and versatile forward who runs the channels and is decent in the air.

Up front, Senegal striker Diouf is mobile, strong and can play both with his back to goal and by running at defenders. As for Crouch, every football supporter knows what he can do!