Having watched a Stoke side shorn of two first-team regulars (Jon Walters and Charlie Adam) take apart West Ham, fans have been deep in discussion regarding what the best options are for the three players lining up behind striker Peter Crouch.
There is little doubt that the combination selected on Saturday played a huge part in the victory; the trio of Marko Arnautovic, Stephen Ireland and Peter Odemwingie worked brilliantly together, producing arguably the best link up and attacking play ever seen at the Britannia. The question is, do the statistics for each player back up that combination as the best available to the manager?
I chose eight attributes for comparison: goals per game, assists, key passes, pass success, crossing, tackling, interceptions and dribbling. The players scored as follows, in descending order:
Marko Arnautovic – Mercurial Marko tops the bill, which is slightly surprising given he has only really excelled in the absence of Oussama Assaidi and made a relatively uninspiring start to life in the Potteries. That impact can't be understated though and he was in the top three of all but one of the categories, goals per game, but given he was the best from the assist and key passes perspective, it's clear that his role is one of provider rather than goalscorer.
Charlie Adam – It was a close call at the top and despite having the same overall score as Arnautovic, Adam didn't top any of the attributes so narrowly misses out. He came second in four categories though, goals per game, assists, key passes and dribbling, which shows his value as a player on the front foot. He didn't fare as poorly as expected defensively either, beating two players for the tackling and interception categories.
Peter Odemwingie – Stoke's smiling newcomer takes the final berth of the trio behind Crouch with a very impressive showing across the categories. He was top of half of the attributes scrutinised -- goals per game, tackling, interceptions and dribbling -- as the most complete player of the group. His arrival has given a new dimension to the Potters' attack, bringing genuine pace, flair and finishing at the business end of the pitch. It's his defensive game though which has perhaps surprised fans the most and the fact he has time to score so freely given his defensive contribution is testament to his work rate.
Oussama Assaidi – Stoke's missing man comes in to fourth place. An impressive showing across passing, tackling and crossing is countered by a less consistency in the areas of interceptions, dribbling and assists. There's no doubting Assaidi's talents, but he rightly slips down the pecking order here due to his lack of consistency. Though to be fair, he did mostly feature in a Stoke side on a bad run. Bringing him back into the fold gives the manager the option of pace and decent cover should one of Arnautovic or Odemwingie pick up an injury, or get suspended.
Stephen Ireland – It was a bit of a disappointing showing for Ireland as despite picking up the man of the match award on Saturday and being central to every attacking move, he finds himself as fifth choice from this group. He's not had the most consistent season, his chances have been few and far between because of the excellent form of Adam and with more substitute appearances than starts his stats were always going to suffer. The fans will be looking to him to match the efforts of the weekend in the coming weeks. I'm sure he will more than play his part in the side's (hopefully) strong finish to the campaign.
Jonathan Walters – Finally, bringing up the rear there is Jon Walters, who finished some distance behind in the scoring and was the only one not making the top three for any of the attributes. That he even got that close was testament to the penalties he's bagged and as for the age old myth of him being a defensive must-have, this is firmly contradicted by him being bottom in the interception and tackling categories. In fact, tackling wise he is the worst outfield player of any starter in the entire squad now Jermaine Pennant has left.
Statistically, that trio of Arnautovic, Adam and Odemwingie is the best, and would appear to also have an enviable balance of attacking and defensive talents. I don't think they have played together in those positions before so that would be the next natural step; the key challenge there would be Adam maintaining positional discipline as much of his success this season has been from roaming role.
It could be that Hughes will bring Adam back in one of the deeper positions and keep Ireland behind Crouch, though I'm not sure I'd advocate that particular approach. What is certain though, is that the side now have a number of options and with a top ten finish in sight that can only be a positive.
All statistics provided by www.whoscored.com