Stoke City open up their 2014/15 Barclays Premier League campaign on Saturday with a home game against Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa, but what can be expected of the Potters this season?
Following the departure of Tony Pulis last Summer, many Stoke fans were perhaps anxious, nervous and apprehensive regarding the appointment of fellow Welshman Mark Hughes, however, it’s fair to say Stoke fans were treated to a satisfying league finish last season finishing at a very respectable ninth.
Stoke have previously been renowned for their cagey, physical and ultra defensive approach to the game, most notably under Pulis. Yet despite the stability and consistency that Pulis enforced at the Stoke-on-Trent club, the majority of fans were calling for his head because of the lack of flair and beauty amongst the Stoke City brand of football. Now it seems, they’ve found a manager in Hughes who can bring just that to the table.
Last season they surprised a few with the swift transformation of playing style at the Britannia with Hughes and co. reaping the rewards of such a positive philosophy. The change in style was no doubt a risk on the basis of Pulis’ success with a very limited squad in previous seasons gone by, but Hughes has put it right in a matter of 12 months, an incredible achievement by the former Manchester City manager and his staff.
The introduction of players such as Stephen Ireland, Marko Arnautovic, Marc Muniesa from Spanish giants Barcelona, Oussama Assaidi (on loan from Liverpool) last term and now this Summer, the acquisition of another ex Barcelona starlet Bojan Krkic, illustrate the change of outlook undertaken by Mark Hughes and the Potters fans. Whilst remaining a solid outfit with the likes of Robert Huth, captain Ryan Shawcross and powerhouse Steven N’Zonzi still in the mix, these fresh, attacking players are capable of turning a game on its head with the unquestionable technical abilities they possess.
As long as Stoke remain reasonably formidable at the Britannia under Hughes, I expect them to flourish this season once again after a full year to adapt under Hughes, possibly challenging for European places as Stoke enter a new era of their footballing history.
Key player: Stephen Ireland
One to watch out for: Bojan Krkic
Expected finish: 8th
Summer signings so far: Phil Bardsley, Steve Sidwell, Mame Biram Diouf, Dionatan Teixeira and Bojan Krki?
Possible arrival(s): Nathan Redmond