This week’s football entertainment is as good as ever. I don’t know any neutral football fan in the country who didn’t enjoy watching Manchester United’s trip to Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night. But just as intriguing was the slightly less glamorous Premier League match-up. Stoke City’s game against West Brom may not go any way to deciding the home of the coveted trophy for the next 12 months, but it still throws up it’s own issues. Tony Pulis’ Stoke side have built the foundations of a Premier League side through a direct and aggressive style – a style they’ve been much criticised for, whereas the Baggies are once again facing relegation from the top flight, despite an ethos of playing the game the right way. So, style or substance? Results or relegation?
I read an article not so long ago that targeted Stoke and labelled them ‘one dimensional’. Before I invite a plethora of Potters fans to hurl insults at me, I’d like to set the record straight that I’m not doing the same. In fact, I’m incredibly impressed with the job Pulis has done and since the Staffordshire side has established themselves in the Premier League, he has added talent to his more robust squad of players. Matt Etherington, Jermaine Pennant and Jon Walters hardly fit the mould of big and powerful. But, Stoke’s ability to build on their sustained Premier League status came from a basic tactic of playing to their strengths – and at the time a lot of that meant asking Rory Delap to roll his sleeves up and launch rockets into the box from his own half.
Compare it to Stoke’s Monday night opposition, and we once again find ourselves back to the root of the debate. West Brom have become the club we all refer to as too good for the Championship, but not good enough for the Premier League. But every time they do try and shake off that unwanted tag, the Baggies always fall short despite trying to play ‘the right way’. But is it the right way? What is the right way? Surely, given Stoke’s ability to remain safe from relegation, their style isn’t far off being, well, right?
The advocate for ‘sexy football’ (so most Arsenal fans) would completely rubbish any suggestion that Stoke have found the ‘right way’ to play. But say what you want about the way they go about their business, they will still be a Premier League club next season and Pulis will once again look to add more quality to his squad. I fear for West Brom this season. For all of their efforts, they don’t seem good enough to play decent football and still get results.
It’s an argument that won’t go away, so seeing as the two sides who seem to be at the centre of the debate played each other this week I thought I’d have my two-pence worth. Playing with style for a team like West Brom is admirable, but in the grand scheme of things, you really have to question whether it is really enough. Stoke’s success may not be too pleasing on the eye, but boy is it effective. Reverse that and you get West Brom – a side who may well be playing Championship football once again next season. Style or substance? Results or relegation? It’s certainly a tough one. But I’m sure West Brom fans will take horrible football if it meant another season in the top flight.
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