As Stoke City enter their third season under Mark Hughes, Potters fans will be hoping for another successful campaign as the Welshman continues to cement the club in the top half of the Premier League table whilst playing aesthetically pleasing football at the same time.
Story of Last Season
The 2014/2015 Premier League season turned out to be a very pleasing one for Stoke City with the club finishing ninth and racking up a total of 54 points; a club record in the Premier League era. Mark Hughes’ continual transition of The Potters was aided by summer signings like Bojan and their top goal scorer for the season Mame Biram Diouf who both contributed to Stoke’s stellar season. Hughes’ side started the season slowly but picked up impressive results during the festive period when some of their rivals’ form dipped. They recorded famous victories including the 1-0 win at the Etihad and perhaps most notably of all, the 6-1 thumping of Liverpool in Steven Gerrard’s Premier League farewell.
While the additions of Jakob Haugaard, Sergio Molina and Mohamed El Ouriachi appear to be signings for the future, Mark Hughes has continued his recruitment to turn Stoke City into a more attackingly minded side. Ibrahim Affelay also joined Stoke City on a free transfer after being released by Barcelona during an injury plagued five year stay with the La Liga giants. After Stoke signed Affelay, the Potters were able to boast the presence of more Champions League winners than Arsenal and Liverpool at the club.
Shay Given has arrived at the Britannia Stadium and will support Jack Butland both on and off the pitch with his wealth of knowledge and experience. As part of the deal that saw Asmir Begovic leave for Stamford Bridge, Marco van Ginkel moved in the opposite direction. The Chelsea loanee spent last season at AC Milan but now the Austrian midfielder has joined the Potters to get some Premier League experience and hope to force himself into José Mourinho’s plans.
Stoke have added extra firepower up front with the addition of Joselu from Hannover 96. The Spaniard signed for just under £6m and Mark Hughes was pleased to add a “technically adept forward” to his front line. Glen Johnson has also joined Mark Hughes’ team on a free transfer after being released from Liverpool. The England international will add an attacking dimension to the full back positions in the Stoke defence and their fans will hope that he can recapture his form of a few years ago which cemented his place in England’s defence.
Ryan Shawcross – The Stoke City captain epitomised the ‘Stoke way’ when Tony Pulis was the man in charge at the Britannia Stadium but has adjusted well to life under Mark Hughes and the new style. The centre-back is often criticised for his defending being too physical but Stoke look less confident when the Manchester United youth product is not commanding the back line. After making well over 300 appearances for the Potters, many are surprised Shawcross has not earned more than his solitary one England cap. With the rest of Stoke’s centre-halves lacking the leadership and experience that Shawcross has, the 27-year-old is crucial if Stoke are to build on their impressive campaign last season.
Charlie Adam – The Scot seemed to be the one in the middle of the park that made it tick for Stoke last season. His energy keeps his side in games and is a real box to box midfielder. Despite swapping direct football with a more attacking approach, Adam’s delivery from dead ball situations ensures the aerial threat that Stoke still have can be effective. It would be rude not to mention the goal threat Adam poses. The 29-year-old is not shy of scoring a screamer, whether it be a volley into the top corner or beating one of Europe’s best goalkeepers from inside his own half.
Mame Biram Diouf – If Bojan had not have suffered such a cruel injury last season, the former Barcelona man could be on this list. However, Diouf became Stoke City’s top scorer last season, netting 12 goals in all competitions. The forward has the pace and the power to scare defences such as when he ran 70 yards and scored past Joe Hart to seal a famous win for Stoke at the Etihad last season. Diouf now has added support and competition up front with the return of Bojan and the addition of Joselu to help fire the Potters further into the top half.
Mark Hughes has worked wonders at the Britannia Stadium. After a poor spell at QPR and Stoke City keen to change their footballing identity, it was a tough ask for the Welshman to come in and initiate a new philosophy. But Hughes has done exactly that. It has had to be a gradual transition rather than an immediate one and it has been greeted with patience by the Britannia Stadium faithful. The 51 year old comes across as calm and collected but it is clear to see that he demands a lot out of his players. Hughes’ ambition is evident after signing a multitude of players from some of the giants of football and a failed coup to try and sign Xherdan Shaqiri. It is going to be another tough season for Hughes at Stoke as expectation soars, maybe his toughest yet.
First Six Fixtures
West Brom (H)
Stoke have a relatively tough first six games of the new season. They start the season with the fixture that they ended last season with when they humiliated Liverpool 6-1. Rodgers will have learned a lot about his team from that drubbing and after another summer of change at Anfield, they will hope to pose more of a competition to Stoke. Two away trips follow to Tottenham and to new boys Norwich City which could both pose as difficult fixtures for the Potters.
Stoke City will then be reunited with former boss Tony Pulis when West Bromwich Albion arrive which will be an interesting battle between two teams that have a whole host of physical players. Mark Hughes’ side then travel to the Emirates to face Arsenal who will be hoping to mount a title challenge this season. The Gunners will be keen to carry on the momentum from the end of last season into the start of the new campaign and could be a difficult game for Potters. Stoke then welcome Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City to the Britannia Stadium. It will be interesting to see which Leicester side Stoke will play – the team full of momentum after one of the league’s greatest escapes in recent times, or one that’s lost their way after a switch of manager.
Final Standing Prediction – 9th
It is going to be a tough ask for Stoke City to improve on their last campaign. With the likes of Everton, Swansea, Southampton, Crystal Palace and West Ham keen to mount a challenge for the places in the bracket under the Europa League, competition for top half positions are going to be stiff. One thing the Potters have to deal with this season that was not present last time around is expectation. However, with more signings strengthening the side and the return of a hungry Bojan who suffered a severe injury when he was just finding some form could be key in retaining that ninth spot. I am interested to see how Stoke cope with the departure of Asmir Begovic but it could be a blessing in disguise as it appears that the highly rated Jack Butland will become first choice ‘keeper for the Potters. The blend of dangerous attacking players and the option to revert back to their physical, direct roots means that the Britannia Stadium is an unpredictable away day that is feared by fans and players alike.[separator type=”thin”]
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