What is it with Premier League managers and Stoke City at the moment?
Last week it was Everton boss David Moyes who was waxing lyrical about the Potters, suggesting that Tony Pulis’ side were genuine contenders to finish in the Champions League places in this year’s Premier League, and this week it has been Andre Villas-Boas who has been talking up the Staffordshire club.
The Tottenham Hotspur manager said in the aftermath of the two sides’ goalless draw at White Hart Lane that Stoke had the ‘best defence in Europe’ and it seems like top-flight bosses are falling over themselves to compliment Pulis and his team.
Whether this is a way of managers disguising their own shortcomings is another matter – both Moyes and AVB failed to beat Stoke so it may have been in their interests to praise them – there is no denying that whatever their shortcomings elsewhere on the pitch, Pulis has created a side that is incredibly difficult to beat.
Stoke are in the middle of an eight-match unbeaten run in the Premier League and the four wins and four draws over the last six weeks have seen them reach the top half of the division, where they have not finished in their four full seasons in the top flight.
What’s more, as Villas-Boas claimed, Stoke’s defence has been water-tight this year. No other team in the Premier League can match City’s defensive record and the 13 goals conceded in 18 games is not just the meanest in the division.
It is actually the fifth-best record in the top five European leagues, with only Juventus, Bayern Munich, Malaga and Paris Saint Germain, teams all in the last 16 of the Champions League, letting in fewer goals.
That is a remarkable statistic and it makes up for the fact that Stoke can hardly score a goal. The Potters have notched just 15 league goals, yet somehow they have turned that into 25 points and won’t be near the relegation issue come the end of the season.
It means that for neutrals, Stoke games are about as appealing as being stuck in a lift with Louie Spence, but in the old Crazy Gang Wimbledon style, Pulis, Stoke and their fans don’t care a jot if it can keep them in the Premier League year on year.
Even Brendan Rodgers, the man who would have you believe that his ‘philosophy’ on football is like some sort of mantra from the heavens, has said Stoke can play as they want, and his Liverpool side go to the Britannia on Boxing Day knowing they are in for a tough game.
Nonetheless, the Reds are 5/4 favourites, with both a home win and the draw at 11/5, and at those odds, preference has to be on either of the latter, given that Stoke are yet to taste defeat at the Britannia this season.
Liverpool may have put four goals past Fulham on Saturday, but last week they were on the end of a shocking 3-1 defeat at home to Aston Villa and while Rodgers’ side are showing that type of inconsistency, I’m not going to be taking that price for the Reds to win on a ground where they have struggled (Liverpool haven’t won at the Britannia in four league trips since 2008).
In fact, most of the fixtures between these two sides have, frankly, been dire, and I don’t see any reason why that will change on Boxing Day. As such, the 39/20 on under 1.5 goals is my bet.
That bet has landed in five of the previous nine league meetings between the two sides and the way Stoke games are going this year you never really expect much to happen.
Eight of Stoke’s 18 league matches have seen just one goal or fewer and there have been just 11 goals scored in eight games at the Britannia, four of which have seen under 1.5 goals.
I have a feeling that this is going to be grim, so enjoy it by getting on that 39/20 that nothing much happens and there aren’t even two goals scored.