Behind Enemy Lines : Stoke City

Behind Enemy Lines : Stoke City

Thankfully the international break is out of the way and we can all get back to football that actually means something.

On Saturday we welcome the bruisers (and Michael Owen) of Stoke City to Old Trafford in what promises to be an entertaining, not to mention physical, affair.

Ahead of the game I spoke to Stoke City fan Phil Day (who you can follow on twitter here @phildo1982) about the game, his hopes for the season and his thoughts on the eternally injured Mr Owen.

Thanks to Phil for his time.

What are your thoughts on your start to the season?

Been a really good start to our season given the fixtures we’ve been handed so far, which obviously gets easier with a trip to Old Trafford on Saturday. The main reason for optimism is the manner of the results, since the introduction of Kightly, Adams, Cameron and Nzonzi our game has changed slightly. We are still direct at times but it’s not plan A,B and C anymore. We’ve changed our formation to a cross between a 4-5-1 and a 4-2-3-1, with Charlie Adam trying to support Peter Crouch. Only let down in the start to the season was losing to Swindon in the league cup. That night really does rank up there with one of our worst performances in the last 10 years, this said, Swindon on the night were brilliant and fully deserved their win.

As seems to be the case every year, you’ve come in for criticism for your physical style if play. Do you think this is fair or are people being too critical?

We aren’t all that fussed really when people accuse us of being physical, we aren’t any more physical than any other team, our players just get highlighted more when a player does mis-judge a tackle. If you look at last years’ stats we didn’t have a single player in the top ten for cards per games received. The reputation is there and probably will stay for a long while yet. Managers/fans only seem to mention our style of play when they’ve lost so read into that what you like, but all in all we don’t care.

Michael Owen … thoughts? We’re just glad he’s not clogging up our training ground anymore to be honest..

I know being Man United seeing players of his stature probably isn’t that big a deal, but for a club and city like Stoke it’s fairly big. The media attention across the world that comes with him helps us to grow and be recognised. One of our boards’ aims is to grow the fan base and him being here does that. On the playing side I think he’s actually looked sharper than most of us would have expected. I personally still struggle to see where he fits into our team as he’s been asked to play behind Crouch when he’s come on and that just isn’t his game. In summary the jury is out, but he gets all the support he deserves in the meantime from us Stokies.

Do you think it’s fair to say that, when you take into account the money you’ve spent over the last few years, you should actually be achieving a lot more? Surely a cup win and/or finishing in the European spots should be the aim every season…

I’ve heard this argument a few times now and this is the season we need to push on. First two seasons were all about survival, 3rd was unbelievable with an FA cup final and last season was about playing in Europe which undoubtably was tough for us and really affected our finish to the season. It’s not always about the game time but the experience of how to deal with it. The closest I, Stoke city and Tony Pulis have ever been to European football in the last 30 years was a league game against Cardiff. I agree we have spent a lot on players in the last few years but we weren’t adding to our squad with one or two acquisitions we were building from scratch really in terms of having a ‘premier league’ capable squad. Our chief executive and chairman have always said that the spending will stop and self-sufficiency is the only long term plan. As of next year we will be self-sufficient.

What are your thoughts on Tony Pulis? Has he taken the team as far as he can?

Some supporters will tell you he has, most other supporters would say how much further can Stoke City go? Our aim has to be premier league survival with good cup runs, we currently have this (apart from this years’ milk, rumbelows, coca cola whatever it’s called, cup). A lot of football fans are only happy when moaning, Stoke are no different.

What changes, if any, would you like to see implemented over the next few years?

I would say the changes we were hoping for have begun. The left back punt to Peter Crouch was becoming rather awful, but we have seen a definite change to this. Not to say it doesn’t happen and not to say there isn’t a time and place for it but again as I alluded to earlier it’s not plan A,B and C anymore.

Onto the game, who do you think will win and what will the score be?

Whereas the most probable score would be a United victory, I honestly believe we can get something from the game, with two factors contributing to this point of view. 1, Stoke are better now than on all previous premier league visits 2, You may totally disagree but Old Trafford isn’t the fortress it once was in my view. Teams seem to be able to get at you defensively at the moment. Not only this but I think some of the fear factor of going to Old Trafford has gone, you’ve probably seen over the years a fair amount of other teams beaten before a ball is kicked, but I believe some of that has gone and visiting teams believe in themselves a lot more. Having said all that if Kagawa, Rooney RVP etc have a good game it could be all over after 30 minutes.

Where do you think you will cause United the most problems?

United have always stood up really well to our set plays but that was always with Vidic who is excellent at defending that type of play. So this is hopefully an area where we can isolate Crouch on one of your defenders and get supporting players in and around him. We hope that our slight change in play can wrong foot teams as well with it being a little unexpected.

Where do you think you’ll finish this season?

I think top half is within our grasp maybe even top ten with a bit of luck which for a club like Stoke City is tantamount to winning the league

Where do you think United will finish this season?

Difficult one really this season but easily top three. When you bought RVP I would have paid out on United winning the league there and then, but now I’m not so sure. Strangely this season I think it’ll be down to whoever out of United, City & Chelsea can sort themselves out sooner. Previous seasons it’s been a case of whoever falters first loses, rather than won by whoever. This season it really will have to be earned. That said if I was a betting man I would go with United to win the league, all the best of luck for a good season (after this Saturday obviously).

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