Going into midweek against Wigan Athletic, Stoke City looked out of sorts on their three-match losing streak – Especially when it comes to The Potters early phase of buildup play in attack. But against Wigan Athletic on Wednesday, things turned around a bit for Stoke City as the club unlocked more balance because of Alex Neil using one tactical difference.
In Stoke City’s 1-0 road win over Wigan on Wednesday, Stoke City looked to be more balanced overall than they had in recent weeks. This goes for the team’s backline to their forwards as well.
Stoke City brought a tactical balance that allowed the club to find scoring opportunities in attack and defend well enough to keep a clean sheet. So what was that tactical adjustment that helped Stoke City gain balance through their midfield? Part of it was switching to a double pivot.
Josh Laurent Used Recently as Single Pivot Player
Pivot players are an important part of a buildup and using a double pivot can be even more effective. For you Friends fans out there, I’m not talking about Ross Geller moving a couch. I’m talking about the double pivot Alex Neil switched to with his midfield on Wednesday. This was a double pivot that gave Stoke City the ability with their early buildup play-to-play out from back indirectly a little easier.
In recent matches, such as the Norwich City loss, Stoke City used a single pivot with Josh Laurent (who was starting as the team’s defensive midfielder) dropping deep to help with the club’s early phase of buildup play.
Laurent, who would drop deep and play between both center-backs, was responsible for trying to show into spaces where he could receive passes and then link up play with other teammates. Laurent has recently struggled early and often to find this space with opposing team’s marking him with their number nine player.
Those struggles often turned into attacking players having to drop deeper to help link up play in Stoke City’s middle third or defensive third of the pitch. Some of those struggles would even turn into loss of possession.
Jordan Thompson and Lewis Baker Used in Double Pivot
But on Wednesday, The Potters made a minor tweak that solved some of those issues. Against Wigan, Alex Neil elected to use a double pivot with Jordan Thompson who started over Josh Laurent, and Lewis Baker.
Thompson and Baker dropping deeper in early build-up phases (Thompson on the right side of the midfield and Baker on the left), allowed Stoke City against Wigan to play through the midfield better. It allowed Stoke City to create overloads on either side of the pitch and be able to receive the ball in space better without being marked as heavily.
With that ability to play out from back through their midfield better in possession, Stoke City unlocked a crucial part of their attack that has been plaguing them. Which is getting the ball a little bit easier into their opponents defensive third of the pitch.
The True Impact This Adjustment Had on Stoke City
Because Stoke City were able to progress the ball somewhat easier through the middle of the pitch and into their attacking third, Stoke City was able to focus on creating chances against Wigan.
When a club struggles in early phases of their buildup with a single pivot player, it forces your forwards and attacking-minded players to drop deeper. That issue in recent matches has caused Stoke City to fail to get numbers forward at times when they do progress the ball.
That wasn’t the case on Wednesday. For Stoke City against Wigan, they were able to often move the ball through their midfield or out wide into space and focus on building pressure in attack.
It still wasn’t the smoothest game for Stoke City who continue to have some work to do this season. But it was a step in the right direction towards solving some of their issues in possession.
Playing with a double pivot won’t always be a possibility. At times Stoke City will need to play with a single pivot so that Lewis Baker can sit farther up the field to help attack even more. But it proves that The Potters in a 3-4-1-2 or a 4-2-3-1 can switch to a double pivot and be proficient at it when needed.