Watford - Stoke City: A tactical analysis of the visiting Potters

What will the Hornets have to look out for on Saturday afternoon?

Watford - Stoke City: A tactical analysis of the visiting Potters
Stoke have a wealth of attacking talent on their squad (photo: Sky Sports)

Dubbed 'Stokalona' at the beginning of the season for their proficiency in signing former Barcelona talents, Stoke City have maintained a solid season.

Mark Hughes' side sit comfortably mid-table but will be disappointed to be slipping out of Europa League contention after a promising start to their campaign.

Tiki-taka football 

The Potters always used to be known as a direct and physical team under Tony Pulis, just ask Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Yet, with assistance from an influx of global talent, Hughes has reinvented his team in an attempt to mirror the likes of Barcelona and the Manchester United team he used to play for under Sir Alex Ferguson

Playing a 4-2-3-1 formation, the Potters have seemingly relied a lot on the attacking midfield trio of Xherdan Shaqiri, Marko Arnautovic and Bojan Krkic. Arnautovic in particular has been a delight to watch all season, able to glide into spaces and use his speed, flair and strength to drive past opposition defences. The Austrian has also added a willingness to track back and support his defence.

Hughes has also added to the equation record signing Giannelli Imbula, who had more touches and played more passes than anyone else on the pitch against Southampton last weekend.

The question for Hughes is how to integrate all his attacking midfielders into a system that allows them to all play at their full potential. One thing is for sure, the Watford midfielders will have to be on top of their game to keep Stoke's opposite numbers quiet, even with Shaqiri missing with a thigh strain.

One of Stoke's unsung heroes this season has been Ibrahim Afellay. Often dropping into a more defensive midfield position, the former Barcelona man has the highest pass percentage of anyone in the Premier League at 91.2%, often setting the more advanced players on their way.

Afellay has also helped set the tone of Stoke's new tactical outlay of sharp, short passes, recognised by the fact that only Arsenal and Manchester City have played less long balls than the Potters. Come Saturday, Watford grafter Troy Deeney may well be asked to drop back when the Hornets lose possession to pressurise Afellay.

Solid in defence

Stoke can also thank captain and centre-back Ryan Shawcross for such a solid season. The Manchester United academy product has effectively organised the defensive line, whilst being almost unbeatable in the air and on the floor. Expect a powerful contest between him and Odion Ighalo at Vicarage Road.

There have been mutterings of Shawcross for England around the Britannia Stadium, pitched alongside the calls for Jack Butland to be Roy Hodgson's number one at the Euros this summer. Butland has been in fine form this season with one of the best saves to shots ratios in the league. A Watford side that has been dry of goals recently may find it a tough task the beat him in such form.

Organise and frustrate 

Southampton stole three points from Stoke last weekend, despite seeing only a third of the ball. Ronald Koeman's defence were organised to a tee and were able to reduce Stoke to long range efforts, other than Arnautovic's clever flick for the consolation goal.

Watford have based a lot of their success this season on a solid back line. If they can hold firm like they have done for the majority of the time against Manchester United, Leicester City and Arsenal this weekend, the Hornets could be in with a great chance of nicking all three points.