Premier League

The ‘Bully’ Tag Is Not Just Unfair, It’s Wildly Inaccurate

It is a remarkable statistic but, with the exception of Premier League champions Manchester City, the next best defensive record in the top flight belongs to Stoke, this despite Tony Pulis’ side registering just three wins to date and sitting below half way in the table.

Flip the coin however, and only three clubs have managed to score fewer goals this season.  The fact that Stoke have scored and conceded just 11 goals this season can be read in two ways.  Firstly, that they are incredibly dull and that if it’s goals you want to see then avoid Stoke at all costs.  Secondly, it can be read that they are merely making the best of what they have got.

The club know the limit of their capabilities, and accept that Premier League mediocrity is about the height they can reach.  This isn’t a criticism of Stoke, considering where they have been in the not too distant past, the fact that they survive with a degree of comfort season on season is creditable.  The club also accepts that they haven’t got the best attack in the division, so to make up for this deficiency, Pulis has got his side incredibly well organised and tough to break down.  It is often said in football that if you can get the defence in order, everything else will follow suit, and this is a formula that is working wonders for Stoke this campaign.

Saturday’s narrow win over Fulham epitomised their season.  A solitary first half strike by Charlie Adam proved enough for victory, and you sense it won’t be the final 1-0 success they achieve over the next few months.  Of course, Pulis and Stoke fans would love their side to carry greater attacking threat, but whilst that is in absence, a solid back line is the next best option you could ask for.

So what are the factors contributing to Stoke’s impressive defensive record?  Their usual robust style is certainly one, as is the tremendous working ethos that Tony Pulis has instilled into his side. QPR should be taking note.  But from a personnel point of view,  a key component at the heart of Stoke’s defence has Ryan Shawcross.  A near ever present for Stoke this season, he has been rewarded for his fine club form with an international debut for England in the defeat to Sweden.

And he is set to be rewarded by his club too with a vastly improved lengthy contract in order to tie him down.   Such is the reputation that Shawcross has built for himself at The Britannia Stadium over recent seasons, should he accept the terms being reported he would become the joint highest earner at the club alongside Peter Crouch, and considering the six year length of the contract, it would comfortably represent the largest offer Stoke have ever put together.  It is no surprise that Stoke are in a hurry to get the deal completed and out of the way.

A number of clubs are rumoured to be interested in Shawcross, and it is entirely understandable considering the form he is currently on.  Nevertheless, it seems Shawcross shares Stoke’s vision to get the deal finalised quickly, and it appears formalities are now the only stumbling block to the completion of the deal.

With Stoke not firing on all cylinders from an attacking perspective, it is of paramount importance that they remain resilient defensively in order to counter balance this.  Shawcross has been a pivotal figure in earning Stoke’s reputation of being one of the toughest defences to break down, or a team of “bullies” as Martin Jol rather bluntly put it.

The “bully” tag is unfair, Stoke are physical but play fair.  And a large part of this is down to Ryan Shawcross.  To his credit, he isn’t, yet, being lured by the speculation linking him with the Premier League’s elite, and is focused only on helping Stoke maintain their resolute defending that is frustrating many managers in the Premier League at present.  Stoke may not be the most entertaining side to watch right now, but in Ryan Shawcross they can certainly boast one of the Premier League’s top defenders.

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