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Ba offers Stoke a glimpse of what they missed

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Alistair Magowan - BBC Sport | 13:04 UK time, Friday, 11 March 2011

Of Stoke's out-and-out strikers, John Carew is the only one to have scored since their FA Cup third round draw with Cardiff way back on 8 January.

That may give Potters boss Tony Pulis food for thought ahead of his team's cup quarter-final at home to West Ham on Sunday, especially as Hammers forward Demba Ba looked like he would join Stoke in January before failing a medical.

Since then Stoke's loss has certainly been West Ham's gain as the Senegalese striker has inspired his new team to greater heights, putting them within touching distance of a return to Wembley for manager Avram Grant and boosting their Premier League survival hopes no end.

Even from the outset, when the former Hoffenheim player came on to make his debut in the 1-0 defeat by Birmingham, he injected an energy which almost instantly paid off when he crashed a shot against the post.

The statistics following that game have been startling. Not only has Ba notched four goals in his four starts, but he has helped the Hammers score 14 goals in that period, including the 3-0 Premier League win over Stoke last weekend.

That is not just fortune. Since Ba's arrival West Ham have increased their average number of shots on target in Premier League games from 37% to 49%.

And even that stems from an improvement in average ball possession, up from 44% to 52%, with pass completion in the opposition half also increasing from 66% to 73%.

West Ham's progress is not all down to the 25-year-old, of course.

The re-emergence of Thomas Hitzlsperger has added ballast and an attacking threat to the midfield, with Grant saying the 28-year-old is almost like a new signing, having been out for so long with a thigh injury.

The former Aston Villa player, who possesses a hammer shot and has mustered two goals in three games, has also has given Grant the option to pick a 4-3-3 formation with added balance.

Average positions from the 1-0 defeat by Birmingham and last Saturday's victory over Stoke show the difference in playing Hitzlsperger (11) alongside Scott Parker (8) and Mark Noble (16) instead of Gary O'Neil (32).

Hitzlsperger's positioning provides more balance to West Ham's midfield

By selecting a three man midfield, which includes the German, Grant can pick an extra forward and give strength to the left side where the Hammers have been sometimes exposed earlier this season.

During the Birmingham game where Ba made his debut, the problem was evident when West Ham started with a front three of Victor Obinna, Robbie Keane and Frederic Piquionne with Parker, Noble and O'Neil in midfield.

Pass patterns from that game show the midfield trio tended to occupy spaces on the right, leaving Obinna with a lack of support on the other side of the field.

Hitzlsperger passes from the match against Stoke last weekend show he is more inclined to start from the left-hand side

And even though it did not stop the Nigerian playing well, it is only when you look at the passes from Hitzlsperger in the Stoke game last week where you can spot the difference.

The German's pass map shows that while he is a busy midfielder, many of the spaces he occupies are on the left from where he completed 90% of his passes, with an assist and a goal to boot.

His positioning also gives Wayne Bridge extra cover, which is something the left-back has needed since making a bad start to his time at Upton Park. Bridge's average positions in recent games show he is getting forward more often as a result.

Stoke, meanwhile, have the chance to re-enact some measure of revenge against West Ham on Sunday while aiming to reach the FA Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1972.

In contrast to their rotten away form - they have lost their last six Premier League games on the road - the Potters are unbeaten at the Britannia Stadium in 2011.

Pulis has recently been more inclined to play two strikers at home, opting for a lone forward on his team's travels, which might partly explain the lack of goals from his forwards.

But there may have been an added factor - namely the absence of Matthew Etherington, who has been suffering from a back injury.

The left-sided midfielder looks set to face his former club on Sunday and his inclusion will be welcomed by Pulis and Stoke fans based on his Premier League record since joining the Potters in January 2009.

Stoke tend to perform better with Etherington in the side

Although the 29-year-old has not missed many games since his move from Upton Park, it is clear Etherington complements Jermaine Pennant on the right.

So he may be able to provide opportunities for Stoke strikers Kenwyne Jones and Ricardo Fuller so that they can help Carew on the goalscoring front.

At the same it might also put any regrets Pulis has about not signing Ba to the back of his mind.

Will Etherington make a difference for Stoke or are there wider problems? And what about West Ham, has the impact of Ba and Hitzlsperger been as marked as it appears?

You can also discuss more tactical issues and suggest future ideas on Twitter


  • Comment number 1.

    It's a good point you make about Ba: only a week ago Pulis was spouting off about him being a ticking time bomb but his goals already have justified his signing. It remains to be seen whether or not he can remain injury free until the end of the season but, with a large variety of strikers now available at Upton Park, things are certainly looking more cheery than at the turn of the year.

  • Comment number 2.

    I can't work out why Pulis didn't sign Ba. I was at Stoke a few weeks ago when they were lucky to draw with West Brom. They were awful, truly terrible. Kenwyne Jones does not look Premier League quality and Carew, despite trying hard, looked past it. Stoke let their best striker, Tuncay, go in the transfer window for less money than they signed him for and did not really replace him. Living in Stoke, I really hope the Potters win this FA Cup tie but I can't see it.

  • Comment number 3.

    Anybody know what the actual injury is or was?

    Because unless it was a Marvin Andrews injury, of a cruciate ligament, which he treated through saying prayers then there can be nothing too risky about signing Ba.

    His impact so far for West Ham has been huge. If you then look at the windfall of potentially staying in the PL, his value could virtually be priceless.

    Despite the need to emphasis Ba in all of this because of his link to Stoke. Hitzslsperger has been the man to make the major difference. To be frank, I was shocked when he ended up with West Ham in the summer because I believe as a man who has captained Germany he is a top class performer. He almost guarentees you 10 goals a season because his powerful and accurate shot is a tremendous asset.

  • Comment number 4.

    "Since Ba's arrival West Ham have increased their average number of shots on target in Premier League games from 37% to 49%."

    I'd be interested to know what percentage Hitzslsperger was alone. I'd have a sneaking suspiscion it was very high, thus increasing the overall average.

  • Comment number 5.

    Anything else Tomefccam? Thought about blogging your thoughts?

  • Comment number 6.

    Does anyone else think that a term for a left foot thunderbolt should be referred to as a "Hitzslsperger"? "Wow that is one hell of a Hitzslsperger!" for example..but yes I agree, Ba and Hitzslsperger now with Parker's flawless work ethic mean the odds on West ham staying up now must be pretty good

  • Comment number 7.

    I also think O'Neill should get a mention as he has a pretty good work ethic too!

  • Comment number 8.

    3. At 4:04pm on 11 Mar 2011, tomefccam wrote:


    I agree that Hitzlsperger has been a much more important part of west hams revival. Before he came back from injury they really struggled to link midfield with attack, Scott Parker always having to do way too much work holding the midfield together.

  • Comment number 9.

    From what it sounds like, Ba has a long-term, degenerative knee injury. He's played a lot of games for Hoffenheim but a deal in the summer of 2009 to Stuttgart fell through because of the knee and he had surgery to fix the problem in 2010. Obviously, that injury was not as successful as hoped and it led him to fail a medical to Stoke. I think we have a Ricardo Fuller-esque situation where the player is fit and can play but he cannot be insured because he has a pre-existing, potentially career-ending injury. As such, it's ridiculous to commit €7m to purchase him. West Ham announced the deal with Hoffenheim was dependent on the number of games he plays and Ba himself forced their hand by refusing to attend Hoffenheim's winter training camp.

    To be fair, Ba has provided an outlet that wasn't in the squad before. Given Cole seems to have played most of the season carrying injuries and has shown that, at best, he's got 60 minutes in the tank, having Ba around takes the pressure off. Sure, Hitzlsperger takes a lot of the pressure off but Ba brings the finishing that West Ham haven't had this season.

  • Comment number 10.

    Cool second name.

  • Comment number 11.

    Hey, even if he does have a long term knee injury, the £6m-odd spent will look like a bargain if he keeps on playing the same as he has been doing and helps in keeping us up... we shall see

  • Comment number 12.

    Alistair, I suspected that your next blog would be about how Arsenal set themselves up for the match against Barcelona last Tuesday. I see that you resisted that temptation. Having said that, I will revisit your blog about Arsenal fans being football snobs and how the treat Stoke City. I must say that the Arsenal side that I saw play Barcelona was a poor man's Stoke. Will we hear Arsenal comment on how Stoke play after what happened to them in Barcelona? For the first time I saw a 4-6-0 formation. Yes, van Persie, before being sent off, spent 60% of the time in his own half! These are potential PL winners!!

  • Comment number 13.

    The commentators during the West Ham / Stoke game said Ba doesn't get paid if the injury turns up. If Ba is prepared to accept that deal with West Ham, then presumably he would have with Stoke too. Either Stoke lack initiative, or the salary is higher at West Ham - I bet it's the latter.

    West Ham also have others returning from injury, like Noble. They are getting players fit just as other teams are picking up injuries. Staying up will also depend on the difficulty of the run in. WBA and Birmingham have tough games late on and need the points in the next few weeks against weaker teams. Others like West Ham just have to hang in there over the same period and hope they steal points off the big boys, the way Wolves have, before the last 3-4 game run in.

    The PL should be like this every year. There's a genuine bottom 12 teams, and I reckon 2 of the 'W' teams that have occupied the bottom 3 places all year, will get out of it. Now that's entertainment!

  • Comment number 14.

    13. At 8:01pm on 11 Mar 2011, kamagloire wrote:

    The PL should be like this every year. There's a genuine bottom 12 teams, and I reckon 2 of the 'W' teams that have occupied the bottom 3 places all year, will get out of it. Now that's entertainment!


    But I'm not sure West Ham will be one of those two. It'd be a shame because the way they're playing now is excellent, and if they'd been like this all year they'd be challenging for Europa League places most likely, but their remaining fixtures are Spurs (away), Man Utd (home), Bolton (a), Villa (h), Chelsea (a), Man City (a), Blackburn (h), Wigan (a), Sunderland (h). If they're still in with a shout of staying up with three games to go then great, but that's a hell of a difficult run before that.

    Best of luck to a team that can hopefully start getting back to the legendary status they once had.

    Oh, and I'm fully in favour of commentators picking up the phrase "one hell of a Hitzlsperger". Trips off the tongue very nicely.

  • Comment number 15.

    West Ham WILL STAY UP!

  • Comment number 16.

    West Ham and Wolves will stay up I reckon.

    Also, my money's on West Ham doing Man U in the home game in a couple of weeks. It's gonna be do or die like when we won Blackburn the league. And you never know, White Hart Lane might be thinking too much about Europe to worry about their noisy neighbours.

    As to the phrase "a Hitzlsperger", maybe it should be promoted to a verb like his fellow countryman Gerd "we've been Mullered".

  • Comment number 17.

    West Ham are so fragile defensively and flawed, they're imbalanced in attack...Robbie Keane, Ba, Obinna, Piquionne, Cole, you going to inegrate all those players into one line-up, because you'd be dropping possible four of them.

    west ham have lacked inspiration this season, other than Scott Parker and the occasional flashes from Noble and Obinna they have looked sluggish and unable to extend leads, but with Ba and Hitselberger that could all transform.

  • Comment number 18.

    When I saw that we'd signed Ba after Stoke had turned him down because of injury, I assumed it was the same buying policy of the last few years: buy names and don't worry about injury. Ljungberg anyone? Keiron Dyer? Good players yes, but worth the money? Thankfully Ba has proved me far...
    Hitzlsperger was unlucky to get injured on international duty, and has looked class since getting into the team. Hopefully he can stay fit next season, whichever league we're in.

  • Comment number 19.

    #12, that sounds like the typical anti-football snobbery, just like someone else on here. If Arsenal plays pretty and gets sunk by an odd goal from Stokes, they're too soft, can't take it, etc. But if they use do the same for half a game against the best passing side in the world, they're unskilled, betrayed their philosophy, etc. It's a no-win situation.

    And since you can't seem to think outside of what pundits tell you, here's a news flash. Arsenal soaked up pressure in the first half of both legs against Barcelona, in which the supposedly best team in history could score only one goal in each.

    Playing 11 v 11, Arsenal was leading 3-2. They were tied in the second game despite not having a single shot on goal. If they were Mourinho's team, their manager would be praised to no end for tactical nous, and if Barcelona were Arsenal, the English media would slam them mercilessly on not knowing how to score.

    Talk about double standards.

  • Comment number 20.

    The real main player at West Ham is Scott Parker. He is by far an outstanding player and I will go as far as saying is probably the best midfielder in England right now.

    The reason why West Ham have been so good is because Ba and Hitzlsperger compliment Parker's play. Before they came, Parker did everything alone, but now Parker has Ba in attack who knows what he needs to do and Hitzlsperger knows how to support Scotty. I also should mention Mark Noble who has been excellent in recent weeks providing many assists. The four players, Parker, Ba, Hitzlsperger and Noble are working together as a unit and that is the basis of why the Hammers have been so good in recent weeks.

  • Comment number 21.

    I hadn't seen too much of Ba before his move to West Ham but I always enjoyed watching him when I could. I think he has certainly been a hit so far and I find his pace and energy have been integral to West Ham's recent form.

    Other people have already pointed out Hitzlsperger has added more, but personally I think that both together have been fantastic. They bring so much to their respected areas on the pitch and I hope it continues.

  • Comment number 22.

    Playing 11 v 11, Arsenal was leading 3-2. They were tied in the second game despite not having a single shot on goal. If they were Mourinho's team, their manager would be praised to no end for tactical nous, and if Barcelona were Arsenal, the English media would slam them mercilessly on not knowing how to score.

    My point was that the Arsenal tactical setup was the worst I have seen of a top European side. 4-6-0 with no pressing. The distance between v Persie and the back four was 20-30 meters throughout. What were the results? 30% possesion and no shots on or of goal for the entire match, 3 touch in the opponents pen area in 90 mins. Valdes could well have stayed home and watched the match on TV. That is how bad it was. Now, no point of mentioning Mourinho. That man knows what he is doing. Wenger was completely exposed until the ref gave him one big gift - the much needed distraction of sending off v Persie. Truth is that, even if v Persie stayed on and Wenger sent on Arshavin and Bendtner making it 11 v 13, Arsenal would still not make a shot on goal. That is how poor Wenger's setup was. Surprised he has not been put under proper examination for his failure at the Camp Nou. But then, Arsenal fans have come to believe that they are the perpetual victims, and they see an injustice waiting to happen in every corner.. Let's see what happens when Arsenal are knocked out of the cup today. It is unthinkable that a major row on a ref decision will flare up again, given the happenings of this week. My suspicion is that this is exactly what will happen!

  • Comment number 23.

    I think everyone, especially #17, is missing whats also happened at the back.
    Wayne Bridge joins - after disaster debut is now a boost there.
    Upson fitter meaning the still learning Reid isnt a weak spot
    Jacobsen returns so they dont need Flaubert fluffing it up.
    Da Costa returns - probably the best of all

    Its almost a whole new defence - and the one thing Hansen says that makes sense
    'if yuh dinna have a defence yuh dinna have nothin'

    Confidence in the men behind frees the midfield - and from there I agree West Ham is on the up.

    Todays set piece punchup doesnt really matter, over the next two weeks they are going to have to show just how good they are against quality opposition - 2 or more points from 2 games and a strong performance will send them rocketing up the table later.
    My bet is Blackburn 18th, West Brom 19th, Wigan 20th based on run in & other teams improvements since Xmas.

  • Comment number 24.

    I pity the fool who thinks West Ham will go down. Now quit your jibberjabber.

    If West Ham win the Cup, he'll only play the home games as everyone knows BA doesn't like flying.

  • Comment number 25.

    @3...... are you Tom Caff?

  • Comment number 26.

    He is the typical african player if you like, strong and fast, he is good in the air and can score goals he is very much an explosive player and his goals have proved vital for west ham so far this season. I don't think he will be there next season,especially if he keeps his form up but he could be what west ham are looking for, goals to keep them in the premier league.

  • Comment number 27.

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing. If Demba Ba had had a serious injury before he hit this form we'd have been saying Tony Pulis was right. If he believes it's a matter of time before Ba breaks down and doesn't recover then he made a good choice not to spend valuable money on him. Stoke look short of quality up front, especially when they couldn't break down West Ham's defence last weekend, that often struggles from set pieces. They're in trouble if they don't start scoring from set pieces again.

  • Comment number 28.

    Watched W.Ham vs Arsenal and they looked beyond hope at that point.
    Difficult to think that one/ two forwards could help them survive.
    Somehow tho confidence is now there again, probably starting from
    that W.Brom game. W.Ham will probably close the season around 11th or
    12th place

  • Comment number 29.

    BA & Hitzlsperger are a cracking players & would make a good addition to any team.

    Fail to see your point about the comparision between the Birmingham & Stoke game. I'm no genius but there appears to be only 5 players would played in both games, therefore 6 changes.

    So I am at a loss why you highlight a change in position & stats.

    Winning breathes confidence, when Carlton Cole was knocking them in left, right & centre. he was the man leading West Ham forward.

    I am not a West Ham fan so can't comment much more. However it would be great to see a team that look like a dead man walking escape. Good luck for the season.

  • Comment number 30.

    Sorry the line should of read

    "but there appears to be only 5 players who played in both games, therefore 6 changes."

  • Comment number 31.

    A simple Fisher exact test on the games won vesus total games played shows that there is no statistically significant difference in the Stoke games with or without Matthew Etherington. The p-value for this comparison is either .22 or .32 depending on if you assume equal or unequal variance between the samples (.32 indicates the strictest criteria), this means there is a 32% chance that the difference in games won with or without Etherington is simply due to random chance.

    Similar statistical analysis of the rest of the points in this article would likely make the author look silly

  • Comment number 32.

    West ham wre always under achieveing this year, Ba has just provided the impetus for them to achieve what they should be achieving.

    Arsenal: Unlucky, or Well Beaten?

  • Comment number 33.

    A tactics blog with Stoke involved! ha ha. The Stoke tactics never change!

    1. If it moves kick it!
    2. If it doesn't move kick it to make sure it's dead!
    3. Throw it!
    4. Hoof it!
    5. Break it!

  • Comment number 34.

    First of all to they guy who said Hitzlsperger guarantees 10 goals a season is exaggerating, he has been that much of a prolific scorer and has only scored 10 in a season once in his career.

    Secondly to the guy who claimed he only joined west ham as they offered more money, Ba is on a lower contract at west ham than the one he would have been on at stoke. which he publicly stated.

    I am a west ham fan and I hope we can stay up, I think the January window has served the club well and we have done alot better business than all the teams around us.

  • Comment number 35.

    I suspect Ba himself has contributed to the % of shots on target. Not just his goals, but nearly every shot he has is on target or hitting the woodwork.

  • Comment number 36.

    If WHU paid around £6 mn for Ba and he gets injured but his goals keep them up, then it was worth the gamble. Ba and Hitzlsperger have given WHU a new impetus in attack and the team is so much more balanced than previously. Hitzlsperger helped Germany qualify for the World Cup but I don't know why he wasn't picked for the squad. He probably joined WHU to get back into the PL and had a great pre-season but the poor s*d was then injured playing in a friendly as the Germany captain. His becoming fit now is as Grant has said 'it's like having a new player'.

    For most armchair spectators, the PL is more exciting this year; the top has fluctuated (what chance now for Arsenal?) and I don't think the relegated teams will be decided until the very end of the season. However, being a WHU supporter, from early in the season I thought 'here we go again' and was pessimistic of their future, but I'm now definitely feeling so much happier now that they're taking the freedom of how they play in their cup games, into the PL.

  • Comment number 37.

    Pulis didn't sign Ba because the medical reports showed that he has an extremely serious problem with his knee. The deal on the table was £6 million pounds. Stoke attempt to negotiate a loan deal, Ba's agent throws toys out - (no cut of big fee). no one willing to buy but bridges burnt with Hoffenheim, so he hawks him off to the first club who would sign him on a cut price pay as you play deal (West Ham, bottom of league and desperate for goals at that time). They are the facts.

  • Comment number 38.

    I can't work out what Tony Pulis is trying to achieve. Why did he not sign Ba (citing a health issue during his medical) - yet West Ham did? Ba is obviously an exciting new talent. In January he also he sold Stoke's most skillful player (and striker) Tuncay.

    I believe it's because that these players do not fit into his system of hoofing the ball up to big 6'4" strikers who can head the ball in - he's using statistics as his main tactic to win games not skill.

    It's done well for Stoke up till now getting them into the Premier League but I fear for Stoke next season (if not this) if Pulis continues to shirk skill for statistics, I think the other EPL boys will be able to read Stokes's game perfectly next season and Stoke will be heading back to where that type of football belongs....unless Pulis can start using some semblance of football imagination.

  • Comment number 39.

    @potterspoet - Actually I'm not sure that those are the "facts". It was West Ham who first approached Hoffenheim about Ba. Stoke attempted to hijack the deal when West Ham were struggling to agree a transfer fee. Ba's knee injury is apparently degenerative and means he cannot be insured. This put Stoke off enough to allow West Ham to jump back in and negotiate a deal for the player.

  • Comment number 40.

    I think a few need to calm down a touch regarding BA and especially Hitz.

    A fair amount of strikers in the not too distant past have turned up at a struggling club and made an immediate impact, I remember James Beattie of all people doing it not so long ago.

    Ba looks fairly decent, if very raw but the amount of praise being bestowed upon him and West ham for their current form is a little ott if you ask me. They have had a nice run of winnable games for their new loan signings and Hitz to setlle in.

    Hitz has flopped at the big clubs he has been at. He is a decent midfielder with a hard shot, nothing more. You could be mistaken for thinking he is Johan Cruyff reborn after recent praise!

    That said, Ba would fit in well at stoke if his first performances are anything to go by ( again, give him time in orde to show his true worth...Mido looked a world beater when he turned up at Tottenham years ago in January )

  • Comment number 41.

    Goal scorers are worth their weight in gold. End of.

  • Comment number 42.

    I agree that Stoke's strikers aren't pulling their weight, but just to point out that Jonny Walters scored two in the replay against Cardiff and then another in the last round vs Brighton, so yeah that first sentence is wrong.

    Also I can't stress enough that the abilities of both Etherington and Penant are vastly overhyped. Both are capable of killer deliveries, yes, but for every one that's perfect there's another dozen or so that are horrendous - unbelievable of professional top-tier players in all honesty. When their crossing is that bad Kenwyne Jones is wasted on us, with no service.

    Anyway, this is hardly a novel situation, our strikers never pull their weight, it's just our defence is normally too good for everyone to notice. We got promoted with a centre-half pairing who got 15 goals between them that season, with our two wingers chipping in 11 and 15. Just too many daft mistakes in defence, if we cut that out we'll be fine.

  • Comment number 43.

    Stoke just offered Ba a glimpse of what he missed .... an FA Cup semi at Wembley.

  • Comment number 44.

    O.k so we`ll make everyone happy. We`ll change are name to Wimbledon. We`ll stop playing good football and we`ll agree Jimmy Greenhoff should not have played for his country.
    By the way we managed to get to the F.A Cup semi`s this afternoon with out a strike. Now if that not a good football team...................

  • Comment number 45.

    West Ham missed Demba Ba yesterday. Very little threat at all from Obinna and Cole reverted to type without Ba. However, Stoke have nothing other than the ability to foul and get away with it. Huth basically assaulted Piquionne after the ball crossed the line following the latter's goal and that was the worst challenge of the game. Yet, three West Ham players were booked for tackles.

  • Comment number 46.

    Huth assaulted Piquionne? Oh dear. He tried to stop the ball crossing the line, like ANY centre back worth their salt would have done.

    West Ham were lucky to have only 3 players booked. Time and time again they deliberately fouled players to halt Stoke's attacks. Throw in Piquionne's deliberate handball and Obina kicking the ball away (was RVP not a precedent for this?) and you were exceptionally lucky to have 11 men on the pitch at the end of the game.

  • Comment number 47.

    Ba was superb :D


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