Stoke assistant manager Mark Bowen was doing the rounds last week telling BBC Sport: “We’ve done passing drills on the training ground and small games to encourage the players to stay on the ball that little bit longer.” Even before the season began Bowen was keen to make it known Stoke were going for a style change telling Sky Sports News: “We want the players to know they can play the ball, that mistakes will be made, but that we won’t come down on them like a ton of bricks every time.” The usual statistics certainly support the fact that Stoke have indeed changed their approach. Whoscored tells us Stoke’s possession is up over 6% so that they’re now basically sharing the ball 50-50 with opponents. Pass accuracy is up nearly 10%, they’ve played an average of 100 MORE short passes per game than last year and 9 long balls less. And all this having played Liverpool, Man City and Arsenal already. I though there was a pretty good chance that a lot of this passing might be guff. Lots of sideways passing between centre halves, lot’s of middle third possession not actually hurting the opposition. I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen more than a minute of Stoke’s games this season. I’m not sure if I’ve even seen all their goals yet. What i’m trying to say here is that I simply don’t know. What I wanted to do, and what I have done then, is to take a look at the types of chances Stoke created last season and compare them to the types of chances they’ve created this. On a spreadsheet. Still here? Good. For your viewing pleasure I have translated it all into some easily understood (hopefully) graphics.
For future reference, the ‘wheat’ zone is the central area inside the box where the vast majority of goals are scored from. See here for further reading. Going on these images it seems the types/number of chance Stoke have created in the wheat zone this season are almost identical to last season’s. They’ve just increased the number of shots they’ve taken from the ‘chaff’ areas outside the box. However, when we take into account the opposition played so far, Stoke’s passing where it matters HAS improved. My chance creation model enables an expected goals figure to be calculated based on type and number of chances made. In the exact same fixtures last season (substitute Reading for Palace in the newly promoted bottom of the table team stakes) Stoke could have expected to score 3.6 goals in the 6 games. This season they could have expected to score just over 7 goals. For now it doesn’t matter that Stoke have only actually converted 4 of these chances. If they carry on creating these chances, they could well see a steady improvement on last year. Follow me on Twitter here.