Stoke’s signing of Ibrahim Afellay was their eighth of the summer and Afellay is now the fourth player to swap the Nou Camp for the Potteries. It is testament to how far Stoke have come in recent years, a few years ago Stoke and Barcelona represented to polar opposites in football aesthetics but under Mark Hughes the two are less removed from one another.
Under Tony Pulis Stoke where optimised by Rory Delap’s long throws, they were a physical side, difficult to break down, strong from set pieces and favoured long balls. That is a reputation that has been difficult for Stoke to shake and whilst elements of the identity under their former manager still exist Mark Hughes has added other dimensions to their play.
That is most clearly observed from looking at how Stoke’s possession has changed over the last six seasons. We can see that in the last two seasons Stoke’s share of the ball has increased and in fact last season they actually averaged more possession than their opponents (with 50.4% of the ball per game). What is interesting is that this increase had begun under Pulis’ reign and has continued to rise at roughly the same rate. It could be argued that it is harder to continue to increase the share of possession, ie it is harder to go from having 30% to 35% than 40% to 45%.
Stoke have continued to be a physical side under Hughes, shown by the fact that they continue to win over 50% of their aerial duels, a trait they established under Pulis. The values are around a similar level to the last two seasons Pulis was in charge for, with averages of 59 and 58.5% under Pulis and Hughes respectively.
Interestingly though Stoke have scored fewer goals from set pieces and have become much less reliant on them under Mark Hughes. Stoke have also scored more goals in each of Mark Hughes’ seasons at the helm, despite getting fewer from set pieces. This indicates Stoke’s shift towards becoming a side that plays on the front foot and offers more attacking intent.
Stoke continue to be strong at home, in each of their seasons in the Premier League the majority of their points have come from their games at home. Last season despite winning fewer points at home Stoke managed to win more away, and so still improved on their total in Mark Hughes’ debut season. Given that Stoke have been consistently winning the majority of their points from home games if they are to improve their points tally and league position they need to try to get more from away games and there’s signs from last season that they’re trying to do that.
Whilst Stoke fans will be forever grateful to Tony Pulis for leading them to promotion and securing their status as a Premier League team in order for them to move forward a change was necessary and Mark Hughes has provided that. The future at Stoke looks bright, whilst we shouldn’t expect to see Leo Messi gracing the Britannia with his presence any time soon don’t be surprised if Stoke challenge strongly in both cups this year and push for a Europa League place.
Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com