Stoke City role could be perfect for Wolves midfielder if Steven Schumacher can cut a deal

Luke Cundle has signed for Stoke City on loan from Wolves until the end of the season.
Luke Cundle has signed for Stoke City on loan from Wolves until the end of the season. -Credit:Getty

There was a scribbled sentence I underlined when I was making notes on commentary watching Stoke City beat Plymouth. The focus on regaining possession early was so clear, so important and so impressive in a win that pretty much pushes us to safety.

The passion and the energy were there right from the start. You must have that drive and with it comes togetherness and link-in play. You need the right ingredients and everything else follows. Understanding improves, you work in tandem. There wasn’t one player you could say was off the mark. Well done all.

It comes from what must have been happening on the training ground. You’re not going to reach the heights from Monday to Friday that you would do in a match because of the tempo and the opposition but it’s a crucial build up and the demands you make from one another at Clayton Wood transfer to the game. And once you hit standards like that you should never forget it. You have to want to keep delivering it. That’s the target and what the coach is working towards.

Stoke’s approach was in evidence right the way through, led by the players at the front. They were inviting the ball to be played out from the back by Plymouth and they closed them down with good support from midfield. Get the ball back in the attacking and mid thirds and keep the pressure away from the defence. Plymouth kept on doing the same thing, no matter what, and Stoke kept saying thanks very much.

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The back four wasn’t really troubled. It looked solid and the pressure combined with cover and support gave defenders an extra few seconds to get into the right positions. It’s all connected and it’s how you can work particular parts of the game.

The team was balanced. With the ball in a 4-3-3, Bae Junho and Million Manhoef could work off each other. They could move wide to stretch the opposition or come inside to link with Tyrese Campbell, who made more runs behind than he had done in the last few games combined.

There was a big free role for Luke Cundle inside and he worked it really well. He’s better in that advanced position and he was always working, supporting those in advanced central areas and Plymouth didn’t know what to do with him. There was a good mixture with that front four.

We haven’t seen much of Cundle since he joined on loan from Wolves in January but looking at the position he played in that game, if that’s what you want and the system you’re going to be playing, he suits it. The important thing was to have a sitting midfielder in place behind him to release him and release the full-backs. If you have that cover you’re not exposed if you lose the ball taking a risk.

Early on we saw Josh Laurent sitting with Jordan Thompson but as the first half went on he started to work higher up the pitch and link the play from back to front. From that point, Stoke were controlling the game. The midfield three were linking the defending and attacking aspects – but you have to have a solid base in first to get to that point.

When it’s up and running, Ki-Jana Hoever could venture forward and join in with Manhoef, over or underlapping, and Enda Stevens the same with Junho on the other side.

For a home performance, you have to look to break down the opposition like that. We got those chances just before half-time but we had to work hard for them, they don’t just fall into your lap.

The stats just kept going up and up and up in the second half and Plymouth were down on their knees at the end. They couldn’t live with us and the third goal was evidence of that. Gaps appeared and the movement, flow and rhythm was there. It was like a training session move without hardly any opposition of commitment. They’d gone. We cut through them like a sponge cake.

This showed what you can produce and provide and it has to happen every home match no matter the opposition. If it takes 90-odd minutes to get that one goal, stick at it in the knowledge that all the ingredients are there. It gets the fans on side from the first whistle and it’s what they need to see, what they pay money to see.

It will be interesting to watch how Stoke go about it at Southampton, who try to pass their way up the pitch too and have obviously done it better this season than Plymouth. The onus will be on them as the home side but Stoke’s ingredients will stay the same: the nearest man to the ball presses, the players around him support and the ones away from it get ready to intercept or prepare for a ball over the top. If you’ve got one thing missing then the whole thing drops down. You have to sing from the same hymn sheet.

As a coach you have to be loud and clear in your instructions – but on a Saturday afternoon it’s just reminders about what you’ve been saying for the previous five days. Players will remind each other too and it’s all where your trust comes in. You trust the players to do what you need and they trust you to give them a clearly defined role that will work. It doesn’t take long to work out who you can and can’t trust and if it’s the latter, they should be on their bike at the earliest opportunity.

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