Tactically speaking - Stoke City

We take a closer look at how visitors Stoke City could approach Saturday's Barclays Premier League fixture
Stoke City are riding the crest of a wave at present, arriving at the Boleyn Ground to face West Ham United on the back of a 2-0 home win over Manchester City.

That win continued Stoke’s rise up the Barclays Premier League table, while victory by the same scoreline over Sheffield Wednesday at the Britannia Stadium saw the Potters reach their first League Cup semi-final in 43 years.

In their last seven matches in all competitions, Mark Hughes’ side have kept five clean sheets, beaten Chelsea twice and climbed into the top half of the Premier League table.

Tactically, Hughes has proved himself to be very adept, making subtle changes in formation and approach that have served his side well in recent weeks.

Looking at last weekend’s home win over Manchester City, Hughes changed his starting XI to accommodate American Geoff Cameron in a defensive midfield role, sacrificing the hard-working Jonathan Walters and moving Spanish attacker Bojan into a false-nine role.

Despite playing without a recognised centre forward, Stoke tore their opponents to shreds, creating numerous chances with neat interplay between Bojan, central midfielders Glenn Whelan and Ibrahim Afellay and enigmatic wingers Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic.

The Alpine pairing of Swiss Shaqiri and Austrian Arnautovic gave Manuel Pellegrini’s side a mountain to climb with their movement – often into space created by the elusive Bojan.

Shaqiri was truly special last weekend, creating Stoke’s opener for Arnautovic with a right-foot cross, and repeatedly opening up the City defence with his strong running, close control and penetrative passing.

On the other flank, Arnautovic loves to cut inside onto his stronger right foot, and is also not afraid to run beyond the opposition defence.

It will be interesting to see if Hughes sticks with the same system this afternoon, or opts to use the more physical Walters on the road. With West Ham lacking a number of their own attacking threats through injury, however, the Stoke boss may feel he can let his three attacking amigos loose for the second weekend in succession.

Behind the front three, Afellay showed admirable discipline by sitting in a deeper role alongside Cameron and Whelan. The Dutchman emerged as a winger, but has become a more rounded midfielder as he has got older.

It should come as no surprise that the man from the land of Total Football has Stoke’s best pass-completion percentage of 89.8%.

The ever-present Whelan is a vital cog in the Stoke wheel, breaking up opposition attacks with his intelligent positioning, while keeping the ball with his accurate passing from deep.

At the back, goalkeeper Jack Butland has been nothing short of sensational this season, making 58 saves – good enough for third-highest in the Premier League behind Sunderland’s Costel Pantilimon and Everton’s Tim Howard.

Stoke’s centre-back pairing of Ryan Shawcross and Philipp Wollscheid are perhaps underrated. Both are strong and physically dominant defenders who do not allow their opposition forwards to dominate them.

Out wide, Glen Johnson and Erik Pieters are adaptable full-backs. Both can get forward down their respective flanks and deliver real quality into the penalty area.

Shape-wise, Stoke will likely utilise a fluid 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 formation, with Cameron and Whelan sitting deep in midfield, Afellay slightly ahead of them and Bojan again working from a false-nine position.

Possible starting XI: Butland, Johnson, Shawcross, Wollscheid, Pieters, Cameron, Whelan, Afellay, Shaqiri, Arnautovic, Bojan