Tag Archives: Stoke City


Can Germany beat Stoke on a cold Tuesday night in Belo Horizonte?

Colombian superstar James Rodriguez is the leading goal scorer at this World Cup with 6 goals. He’s also leading in the world in the stats category “being landed on by a giant cricket”.

James CricketDo not adjust your set, that is the actual cricket, or locust, or grasshopper. The debate rages online as to whether the bug in question is a locust or a cricket. I’m in the former camp, however, the temptation to call him Jiminy Cricket is too great and I have succumbed to the silly pun.

Regardless of the type of bug, it could not save Colombia’s World Cup. James scored from the spot to set up a tight final few minutes but in the end, Brazil gutted out a win. I say “gutted” but in reality Brazil played very pragmatic football from about the 70th minute on. And by “pragmatic” I mean “played like Stoke City”; rotationally fouling and hoofing the ball out on every clearance.

This is the ugliest Brazil team in recent memory. Jogo Bonito is out, Jogo Stokeito is in, and their pragmatism makes a certain sense. Brazil has spent about a brazilian dollars staging this World Cup under the promise of upgrading the infrastructure for the people. The reality is that most of the money has gone to stadiums that will see little or no future use (read this article on fivethirtyeight It’s brilliant), promised infrastructure upgrades have been dropped, people are being displaced out of their homes, and the Brazilian people are pissed off. Brazil is a veritable powder keg waiting to go off, which I suspect will happen if their national team don’t win the whole tournament.

Talking to the Game Podcast, Alyson Rudd and Gabriele Marcotti reported that the officials in Brazil have been told to keep the cards in their pockets. The theory goes that fewer cards equals more scoring and that was certainly the case in the group stages. But a funny thing happens in knockout phases when you refuse to issue cards: the emotions run hotter and the result is that people get seriously hurt, like Neymar did against Colombia.

Neymar’s horrific injury is the fault of Juan Zuniga. He jumped up, put his knee into Neymar’s back, and broke his spine. But I watched that whole match and I think it was an injury that could have been prevented had the referee issued a card to Zuniga earlier in the game for either one of two horrible fouls. Or maybe even those fouls could have been avoided had the referee taken control of the game by talking to the players rather than running up to them face-to-face after every foul call and standing there with an empty expression. Because, and again, not excusing Zuniga’s behavior but, he was retaliating against a Brazil side which seems to have found a rhythm in rotational fouling.

That whole game devolved quickly with Brazil targeting Cuadrado and James for a kicking and uglying up the game with fouling to stop play. Once the ref lost control of the game an injury was almost an inevitability.

That’s something I’m hoping we don’t see today as Brazil face Germany in the semi-finals. That said, the knockout phase of any tournament is hugely emotional, add to that the weight of the fans in the stadiums all supporting the home team, put the contest in a stadium like Estádio Mineirão in the far flung Belo Horizonte and I have to wonder about the psychology of the referee today.

I’m not saying that Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez (hobbies include reading the Bible) is going to cheat but rather that if there is any grey area on any call, it’s going Brazil’s way. That’s just human nature. Germany have to know this. They have to know that in order to win they will have to be inch perfect in every way.

And Brazil know that they can take advantage of the way that the officials are calling games. They did so against Chile and Colombia, targeting James and Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez¹ both times and getting away with a boatload of dirty play.

In the Chile-Brazil match, Sanchez was fouled 7 times and was dispossessed an incredible 14 times. He was dispossessed so much because he cut a lonely furrow up front for most of the game but the truth is that a lot of those times he was dispossessed would have been fouls had any other team committed those tackles.

It was a similar story in the Colombia-Brazil match. James and his partner Cuadradro (a player I have identified as a top talent here before) were each fouled 6 times and Cuadrado was dispossessed 8 times.

It’s no surprise, then, that Brazil lead the World Cup in fouls committed per game. In fact, Brazil are basically Stokeing their way through this World Cup. They are third in aerial duels won, they are joint leaders with Costa Rica with 10 yellow cards, they lead in tackles per game, they lead in fouls per game, they are second in overall defensive actions per game, third in clearances per game, and they play long ball football, averaging just 5 short passes per long pass.

Ratio of short to long passes
Brazil WC 5.44
Germany WC 10.32
Stoke BPL 5.74
Arsenal BPL 9.53

You can take all of those stats and flip them on their head for Germany. I won’t bore you with all the numbers so suffice it to say that Germany are playing like you would expect of a team comprised mainly of Bayern Munich stars: they keep possession, they pass short and quickly, they don’t foul often and they don’t clear the ball often. They also play the high line which so incenses Stewart Robson and as he likes to chirp on about constantly, they “have to earn the right to play.”

So there it is, beautiful football versus pragmatic football. Which team will win on a cold night in Belo Horizonte?

I’ve seen this movie before. I’m going with Stoke. From a long throw. With a goal-mouth scramble.


¹DUDE, Arsenal are really close to signing him! Arsenal are about to announce Debuchy, Sanchez and possibly Lars Bender! What a crazy summer!?!?!? More on that tomorrow.

Ratio of short to long passes
Brazil WC 5.44
Germany WC 10.32
Stoke BPL 5.74
Arsenal BPL 9.53

Giving a break to Özil and Cazorla could turn out to be a master lesson from Professor Wenger

Arsene Wenger started wide eyed at the gathered press, and uttered “unbelievable”, shook his head, and moved on to talk about Stoke City and the importance of Özil to Arsenal’s title hopes.

Arsene had been pestered three times by an anonymous journalist about giving him something juicy he could use as a headline. Basically asking Wenger “is Özil tired” three different ways, each trying to lead to the answer “yes, Özil is tired.” Wenger refused to be party to this and the reporter increasing sounded like he was begging “to please, just please, give me a story about how tired Özil is and if not that story then, please, please get angry so that I can run with a story about how tetchy Wenger is and how he’s cracking under the strain of the title tilt.” In the end, I suspect that the Daily Star, which is known for lascivious photos of British women, got the story they wanted.

Özil needs a rest and I can’t even believe I have to say this but “there is nothing wrong with resting a player who needs a rest.” If anything, this is a great story: not only did Arsenal win, they rested their star player, and now were able to take a week off from football for the first time in months and gave all the key players an extra few days shore leave to heal their bumps and bruises.

Thank goodness Arsenal have a deep enough squad to rest players — I can only imagine the internettiapoplexy if Özil had been forced to play last week and then train this week all whilst “in the red zone.”

Why would Wenger give everyone a rest this week? As we discussed yesterday, Arsenal have 11 League matches left (4 against top 7 clubs), plus an FA Cup tie with Everton, and the Champions League match in Germany against Bayern Munich. Given that we will have yet another week off after tomorrow’s match against Stoke, I would hope Wenger gets a chance to give them another two days to spend with family. After all, next Tuesday’s match against Bayern Munich will see an Arsenal side who have played 18 matches since December 23rd, face a Bayern side who will have played 11 times. I think a bit of rest is in order, don’t you?

Hell, I hope he gives Özil an all expense paid two-day vacation to Dubai on Monday, after Arsenal beast Stoke. And just in case you’re curious how important Özil is to Arsenal’s production this season, have a gander at this chart:


The key stat there is that the German accounts for 25% of Arsenal’s goals (scoring or assisting) in the Champions League and Premier League and 26% of Arsenal’s shots (either creating them or taking them). Arsenal could do it without him, Cazorla accounted for 32% of Arsenal’s goals last term and 35% of Arsenal’s shots in that year. But having both players and integrating them into the team as a unit is far more valuable.

Since I know that some of you are going to look at those stats from this season versus this season and balk, I just want to point out that Real Madrid A) played in a 2 team League B) had Cristiano Ronaldo, Higuain, and Benzema running all over the place in front of Özil and C) have Ronaldo who is the King of the Chuckers*.

This all accounts for why A) he had nearly twice as many goals scored or assisted last season B) has so many more through balls and C) created so many more shots despite having a significantly reduced amount of individual possession.

With the burden that’s been placed on him of a big-money transfer, plus the transition to a new league, a new team, and a new playing style, Özil has done very well to keep himself at the top level of all midfielders in Europe. I have no doubt that a rested Özil will be a real threat tomorrow against Stoke — even without Walcott running in behind defenses — and that he’ll be an even bigger threat next season — especially when Wenger buys a second forward (in addition to Theo) who likes to make the runs that pay dividends with Özil.

Instead of foolish, giving a break to Özil and Cazorla could turn out to be a master lesson from the professor.


*A chucker is a guy who takes a lot of shots, this guy never cares about team play, his shooting percentage, or even really winning, but rather just chucking up shots. See Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Luis Suarez, and Cristiano Ronaldo.


Minutes from The Oatcake meeting to decide Ramsey’s punishment for shushing

Chief Stoke Fan: ORDER! ORDER! This hereby meeting so called is ordered. Presently are myselfs, Jingleberry, Beetle, Jangle, Dingle, Barty an Fred. Dingle, please bring the video machine in we’ve got to dispense with the tape.

First, we shall read the charges. Jingleberry, you do the honors.

Jingle: Marry, sir, Ramsey did shush.
Moreover, he tried to quiet Stoke fans by putting finger to lips.
Secondarily, he is a husher.
Sixth and lastly, he did shush a lady,
Third. he attempted to muzzle us,
and, to conclude, Ramsey is a shushing knave.

Chief: As you will see from the tape, his finger will make what is known as a clear shushing motion.

Beetle: then we can have pie?

Chief: yes, porkies. Dingle, what’s taking so long?

Dingle: rewinding the tape, sir, this is modern VHS technology here, takes time.

Ah, here it is.

(applause and oohs when the television is turned on)

Barty: PICTURES! Is it real life Fred? How do they make the little tiny people and keep them in there? Where do they go when they turn the TV off?

Fred: it’s TV Barty, it aint real, is a factory simile of real life, a duplicate, you noodle brain. OH look, there it is! THE SHUSHING. HE SHUSHED US!

Beetle: it’s like I’m living this horror all over again. It took me months to get over the mental anguish the first time. Imagine, me, being shushed. It’s horrible. We’ve got to do something about this, Chief. But… but what? What can we do?

Chief: It’s plain. That was a shushing. And we don’t deserve to be treated like that. Are we not almost men? He could have done any other celebration. Anything classy would have done: no celebration, some muted celebration, or perhaps something really classy like reenacting a dinner at Nandos?

Jangle: oh, that’s making me hungry. When are the pies?

Chief: And after all we’ve been frew. What with him breaking his leg on Shawcross, ruining that poor boy’s career, which wouldn’t have happened if Bendtner hadn’t fouled Ryan. Watch the tape again, Bendtner clearly pulls Ryan’s shirt, the ref should have blown up for that! It should have been Bendtner off, Shawcross on the English and Welsh national teams. But instead, Shawcross is been vivified!

I could forgive Ramsey breaking his leg on Shawcross but from there things went real pear shape. Refusing to take Ryan’s calls, blocking Ryan from playing with Wales, and now the shushing.

This calls for decisive action, mates. We’ve got to show them that we won’t put up with this type of insult.

Jangle: Let’s throw PIES!

Chief: no, Jangle! Give me a minute, I need to think of something.

<6 months later>

Chief: I GOT IT! We’ll boo him.

Everyone (except Fred, who smirks): BRILLIANT! HOW DO YOU COME UP WITH THESE IDEAS???

Chief: now. We’ve got to get the word out to everyone. Let’s write a letter and put it on the back page of the Oatcake Fanzine. Something with a title like “All hats are off”.

Jingleberry: how about “ALL BETS ARE OFF”.

Chief: THAT’S IT. “All bets are off” has such a nice ring to it.

Fred: Boss, I think Ramsey aint playing this weekend. I heard he’s still hurt.

Chief: Sorry, Fred, this is the plan. We are not wafflers like them French lot at Arsenal.

Barty: (snigger) ARSE!

Chief: Ramsey or no Ramsey, this is the plan. We will boo Ramsey.

Barty: Or maybe that Ozil fella.

Fred: what if Ozil is out? Arsenal rested him last week. Might be out again this week. Don’t want to risk him ahead of their FA Cup and Champions League matches.

Chief: Well then we’ll boo whoever has the ball. We’ve got to show them that they need to put this pantomime behind us and that we will no longer allow this situation to be drawn out without retribution. There can be no whining and having them try to take the moral high ground. It’s his fault, he dared to shush.