A lot was made last season about the supposed animosity between West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Mowbray and Stoke City’s uncompromising boss Tony Pulis.
As the clubs were competing for promotion from the Championship, Mowbray was cast as a footballing snob who looked down on the Potters’ direct and unsophisticated style as he attempted to mould a Baggies side that played the beautiful game.
While Mowbray has repeatedly expressed his love of Arsenal’s style of play and his desire to see his Albion team ‘paint pictures’, his response last season was to state his belief there was no right or wrong way to play football, and while Albion and Stoke were miles apart in their approaches the fact they both grabbed automatic promotion places vindicated Mowbray’s statement.
Stoke have made a slightly better start than Albion, beating Arsenal and Aston Villa at the Britannia Stadium, and Mowbray has offered credit where it is due.
Much has been made of Stoke’s reliance on Rory Delap’s long throw, which has caused havoc amongst opposing defences and consternation amongst football purists, but Mowbray sees nothing wrong with Stoke’s tactics.
“They deserve a lot of credit for accumulating the points they have,” he said. “Stoke City give you different types of problems than we give teams and yet it is just as effective, and at this moment more effective, than what we do. Whatever they do it is within the laws of the game and difficult to defend against.
“The Rory Delap throw, can we defend against that? Let’s wait and see. They have some experience in there, some physicality in there. They will be a tough prospect for everyone they play this year.”
All but two of Stoke’s 14 points this season have come at home and Mowbray believes the Potters are a very different prospect at the Britannia Stadium, and he believes the vociferous home supporters have been a factor in their side’s points tally.
“They beat Arsenal less than two weeks ago, which was some feat, and they have generally been strong at home, and have picked up the majority of their points at home,” he said.
“They are a very different prospect to what they are away from home. It appears to me that their crowd has a huge part to play. It seems full every week because of the uniqueness of the Premiership for them. That alone can make it a difficult day for anybody.
“We will have some of the ball and try and create chances against them, and we will see what happens.”
In terms of style, Albion midfielder Borja Valero has said he is glad he has come to The Hawthorns rather than a typical English side like Stoke City. The 23-year-old Spaniard said he is adapting to the cut and thrust of English football but said Albion’s more constructive, rather than Stoke’s destructive style, has helped him settle.
“The coach (Mowbray) has a more Spanish style than others so that is better for me,” said the former Real Madrid star. “We play in a more Spanish way.
“Maybe I couldn’t play in another team in England. Bolton and Stoke probably wouldn’t suit me.
“The first games were difficult because games are so up-down, up-down. In Spanish football there is more control. Here it is a crazy game.
“In the beginning it was difficult for me and I needed some time to get used to it.
“I like this style of play and I am happy to be here with it because in Spain I wouldn’t have had the chance to be more physical.”