Three Problems Stoke City Had in Possession Against Watford

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Alex Neil, manager of Stoke City, reacts during the Sky Bet Championship between Stoke City and Watford at Bet365 Stadium on October 02, 2022 in Stoke on Trent, England. (Photo by James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images)
STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Alex Neil, manager of Stoke City, reacts during the Sky Bet Championship between Stoke City and Watford at Bet365 Stadium on October 02, 2022 in Stoke on Trent, England. (Photo by James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images) /

We’re now more than 24 hours past Stoke City’s embarrassing 4-0 loss to Watford at home. In the time since, everyone has had a chance to fully dissect and digest what happened. Including, a full rewatch of what happened to Stoke City over the course of the 90 minute loss. Which reveals among other issues, three big problems Stoke City had in possession against Watford on Sunday.

You can point to the team’s effort being a big issue, which certainly should be in question. Especially late in the match as the team seemed to be uninterested. Over the course of the match, Stoke City additionally seemed to be proverbially pushed around and wouldn’t push back. That same mentality extended over to the defensive issues the team had.

Stoke City from early on in the match until late, were very poor at defending crosses into the 18-yard box. Both the team’s inability to close down space out wide and marking were the two major issues the team had on defense.

Offensively, there were also a number of things you can point to as the issues for Stoke City’s lack of offensive spark. One of those being passing accuracy. Stoke City on the ball Sunday were far too sloppy with their passing.

Those issues will certainly need to be cleaned up. But in general, some of Stoke City’s offensive lack of creativity can be rooted to three big problems the team ran into on Sunday.

#1 – Not Quick Enough with Passes

Stoke City against Watford were far too slow on the ball Sunday. That can be said for decision making –  and most importantly – with the speed in which the ball is released from player to player.

At times there were glimpses of what The Potters could do if they speed up their release of passes. Those flashes in the pan Sunday would actually lead to Stoke City’s best ball movement.

But for most of the game it was extremely poor. Too many heavy touches all around the pitch and too often (instead of making a quick one-touch pass, a player would hesitate). This led to half-spaces that were open for Stoke City to be closed by Watford. As a result, Stoke City either have to recycle their build up or force a bad pass deep or through the middle.

#2 – Off-ball Movement

Stoke City, along with the speed in which passes were being released, didn’t help themselves by failing to get open for passes. Stoke City’s off-ball movement on Sunday was underperforming.

On numerous occasions, The Potters’ buildup would stall out because there were no options to pass to. That is because of the mix of bad and few off-ball movements from the club against Watford. Stoke City needed to move better into unoccupied half-spaces to free up passing lanes. That mixed with players making runs forward would make finding available passes very difficult to find.

Again, just like the speed in which the ball gets moved around, when Stoke City did have better off-ball movement, the club was more successful at building up their attack forward.

#3 – Breaking Opposing Teams Backline with Through Balls

This last point is a little difficult to be proficient at, given the teams issues offensively listed above. But it’s something Stoke City need to look to do more moving forward. The team has to start to look to break an opposing team’s backline in the form of through balls.

A lot of what Stoke City has wanted to do game-to-game has been to get crosses into the box. Which is fine. That’s one way to create scoring opportunities and to test teams in a sensitive area of the pitch.

However, Stoke City must start to give opposing teams something else to think about moving forward as well. The Potters have to start finding ways to get the ball to their midfielders in space, so that they can try to break backlines with through balls to the team’s forwards.

Stoke City Areas of Improvement in Possession

A lot of these go hand-and-hand. It’s difficult to release a pass faster if there’s no one open, obviously. Same goes the other way. But If Stoke City can even marginally be more consistent with these three things offensively, their scoring opportunities will jump up tenfold.

Better speed with passes, along with off-ball movement, should free up the team to retain more possession and unlock teams offensively. Same goes for a lack of passes that can break a team’s backline. That means teams can stay compact and look to just clear their lines from crosses.

Of course there are other issues Stoke City had against Watford. Defensively Stoke City will need to be drilling and clearing their lines in training this week. But they will also need to be drilling the above fairly basic issues they had Sunday in possession against Watford.