The dissection of losses can be just as, if not more important, than diagnosing what happens in a victory. And for Stoke City, there’s one huge takeaway in that dissection from Tuesday’s loss against Rotherham — It’s clear, Tuesday’s loss falls on the shoulders of the players’ decision making.
Sure, you can look at other frustrating reasons why Stoke City weren’t able to grab even a point against Rotherham. Did Stoke City fail early in the match to defend set pieces, which is Rotherham’s strength in attack? To some extent, yes. Was the club’s off-ball movement very good in attack? No it wasn’t.
You might even be able to blame smaller reasons. Did Rotherham play with a very low block for close to 85 minutes? (Checks notes…) That’s for sure. Was the officiating Tuesday poor? 100% correct.
But at the end of the day, Stoke City had chances to overcome conceding an early goal and even stoutly defended after giving up that goal. The club were also in good enough positions in possession to overcome their mediocre off-ball movement and should have been able to break down Rotherham’s low block.
Even with the officiating being poor and allowing Rotherham to constantly waste time, only a handful of minutes were lost. That’s why you can throw out this reason and all other reasons to point to the only one that should be seriously looked at – which is the awful decision making from the players throughout the 90 minutes on Tuesday.
Bad Decision Making Against Rotherham
Saying “it’s on the players”, might be too much of a generalized statement. After all, any loss or win is usually because of the players. As the saying goes, Coaches coach and players play. However, in Tuesday’s case against Rotherham, that loss falls squarely on the players and no one else.
It wasn’t a tactics issue, it wasn’t even a case of the players not having the ability to succeed. Simply, Stoke City’s starting XI and substitutes weren’t good enough with their decision making on-the-ball.
With as much possession as Stoke City had on Tuesday (with 68%), The Potters should have been able to find the back of the net. Again, there’s other issues Stoke City had in attack against Rotherham that are probably being addressed this week. But the team’s decision making on the ball is what let them down the most.
If in certain moments a specific Stoke player on the ball had made a different decision, match results could have been way different. Oftentimes in possession on Tuesday, Stoke City decided to make the wrong pass, or the wrong decision to be selfish with an attempt, or even to force the ball into the box instead of recycling their build-up.
Bad Decision Making Examples from Stoke City
Here are just some of the examples of the bad decision making against Rotherham from Stoke City:
- Tariqe Fosu, who as he’s done in recent weeks played a lot of the game isolated out on the left wing. On multiple occasions Fosu decided to take on defenders and carry the ball into the 18-yard box. The issue was, Rotherham kept bringing defensive help in the form of three defenders to the left side of the box.
- What Fosu should have done with proper decision making is, make a short pass into the channel to his right that was vacated by the three defenders in front of himself – or find an overlapping run.
- Tyrese Campbell, like Fosu, has been an attacking force in recent weeks. But on Tuesday he elected to shoot far too often from bad positions on the pitch.
- Campbell needed to make that extra pass at times instead of shooting a weak attempt. He could have also took on defenders more one-on-one with his dribbling ability/quickness, to create higher xG (expected goals) attempt.
- Defender Harry Clarke came on late in the match to provide Stoke City with a boost at fullback. He quickly killed one of Stoke City’s chances though by deciding to shoot from more than 40 yards out.
- xG tells us that the farther out you are, the less likely you are to score. Which was the case with Clarke’s attempt, that didn’t even come anywhere near the target. Clarke should have recycled the build-up or made a pass/cross.
- What killed Stoke City’s build-up all over the pitch on Tuesday was the team playing the wrong passes. Oftentimes the team elected to play in a long ball, when a shorter pass through midfield was required. Or vice versa, an errant short pass was chosen instead of stretching Rotherham’s backline with a long ball.
- Nothing kills an attack more than those initial wrong decisions with passes, as was the case with Stoke City on Tuesday.
It’s Fixable and Fast
A lot of the above comes down to vision from the players on the pitch. Stoke City will need their starting XI and those that come on later in matches to have better vision on the ball that leads to better decisions in possession.
Those better decisions in possession will lead to crisp scoring opportunities and the keys the team needs to unlock very low blocks like Rotherham’s. Which is what the team was lacking Tuesday.
Every once in a while, a group of players that are normally up to the task, are going to have a let-down game. Let’s hope that was the case Tuesday. The larger sample size suggests Stoke City have the correct players to make the right decisions on the pitch.
That’s the good news for Stoke City: better decision making and field vision can be improved overnight. It comes down to focus and the confidence each player possesses.