Resolute Stoke quench Tottenham's attacking fire

Mon, Dec 24, 2012, 00:00

Tottenham 0 Stoke City 0:Bayern Munich, Juventus, Malaga and Paris St-Germain are the only teams in the top five European leagues to have conceded fewer goals than Stoke City this season. Stoke are in illustrious company with four of the remaining 16 clubs in the Champions League.

Except that few people outside of Stoke or professional coaching circles tend to react with wonder when they consider Tony Pulis’ team. They might even point to Saturday’s draw, Stoke’s fifth 0-0 of the season, as evidence that the neutral can struggle to stay awake when watching them. The spectacle at White Hart Lane was dismal.

Stoke have come to seem like the perfect case-study for the validity of a defensively solid approach and they retain the ability to polarise opinion.

It was interesting, though, to hear Andre Villas-Boas’ glowing assessment of the Stoke style, even if it might have been in his interests to talk them up after his team had failed to prise them apart. Tottenham created only two clear chances – Emmanuel Adebayor’s looping first-half header that cleared the crossbar and substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson’s injury-time effort which forced a sharp save from Asmir Begovic.

Villas-Boas spoke of Stoke’s aggression, focus and organisation, how they allowed no space in behind them and when the opposition did fashion crosses, they found that Pulis’s team were taller than them. It does not matter to Stoke, Villas-Boas continued, if they cede the initiative and possession, particularly away from home. Their massed ranks made them very difficult to pass through.

Villas-Boas has a different football philosophy but he talked of his “respect” for Pulis’s team. And then the ultimate compliment. “If it was easy,” Villas-Boas said, “Stoke wouldn’t have the best defence in Europe.” Pulis could be forgiven for wondering whether defending was a permissible part of the game but after an eighth match without defeat, he preferred to highlight the sense of togetherness in his squad. “There’s a great spirit among the lads,” he said.

The stalemate checked Tottenham’s recent momentum and it called into question the quality and depth of the club’s creative options, which is easy to do when the first-team squad has twice as many goalkeepers as recognised strikers. Villas-Boas argued that “just with another forward coming on, you don’t solve the problem in a game like this”, but Tottenham being Tottenham and with a transfer window about to open, there was also the inevitable spotlight on potential signings.

Villas-Boas would dearly love to add Joao Moutinho but Tottenham discovered how difficult it was in August to close a deal with Porto for the midfielder. Villas-Boas suggested that January incomings are not imperative and he refused to be downcast about hitting the wall that is Stoke.

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