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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Jack Wilshere’s injury shows why Arsenal shouldn’t renew his contract
The 26-year-old has been struck down by yet another injury.
Jack Wilshere will be pleased with the progress that he has made since returning to Arsenal from his loan spell at Bournemouth.
He was initially nothing more than a squad player that was out in the cold at international level too, but the midfielder worked hard to gain more game-time in North London.
Across all competitions, he has played more than 30 matches and his form earned him a call-up to the England squad.
It looked like he was getting a once-promising career back on track, but almost like clockwork, he has suffered an injury to set him back once again.
Gareth Southgate confirmed that he wouldn’t be travelling to the Netherlands for Friday’s match and the quotes were reported by Sky Sports.
“It is not a specific injury and over time they flare up and they need to settle down over a couple of days.
“We are hopeful it will settle down pretty quickly. It’s an ongoing problem and it’s not something new for him. He’s very disappointed not to be involved in the game.
“He’s trained well though but if you think about the journey he’s had in the last two years and his big injuries then he’s progressing really well.”
Although it is encouraging that it isn’t a serious injury, it is a reminder that Jack Wilshere remains a risk for both club and country.
It is difficult to build a team around a player that is susceptible to miss matches and the quote from Southgate is a worry as he refers to an ongoing problem.
Arsenal have had a difficult campaign and they will be planning a rebuild over the next 48 months as they transition away from the Arsene Wenger era.
They will have to make tough decisions on many players at the club and Wilshere’s future will be brought into focus over the next few weeks as his contract expires at the end of the season.
There have been numerous reports regarding contract talks between the two parties and there is hesitancy on both sides.
This latest injury suffered by Wilshere and the comments from Southgate referring to an ongoing problem show why it is Arsenal who need to end this association.
Wilshere can’t be relied on to stay fit and to feature prominently in a busy schedule. Arsenal will have ambitions of challenging at the very top of the game and will likely be involved in European competition every season. They need to have a squad of players that are reliable and the 26-year-old isn’t that.
Aside from that, Wilshere represents what Arsenal have become over the last decade. He is a player that had a lot of potential, but he has failed to fulfil it and been very inconsistent at the highest level. Of course, he isn’t to blame for the club’s problems, but he is also unlikely to offer the solutions.
This season has been a nice farewell campaign for him. It would have been sad if his Gunners’ career had ended after being shipped out on loan to Bournemouth.
He has returned to earn some of his credibility back, but the club need to move on and progress if they are to get back to the top of the English game.
A lot of contentious decisions will need to be made and the first should be the release of Jack Wilshere this summer.
Why Jose Mourinho’s treatment of Luke Shaw has crossed the line
The Portuguese manager has been highly critical of Luke Shaw this season.
The fractious relationship between Jose Mourinho and Luke Shaw plumbed new depths when the left-back was substituted at half-time in Manchester United’s FA Cup victory over Brighton & Hove Albion. The 22-year-old had been handed a rare opportunity to impress at Old Trafford but lasted only 45 minutes.
Speaking about Shaw in his post-match interview, Mourinho said: “Luke, in the first half, every time they came in his corridor, the cross came in and a dangerous situation was coming. I was not happy with his performance.”
The differences between the pair now appear to be irreconcilable. Shaw, who was signed by Louis van Gaal in the summer of 2014, has been used sparingly by Mourinho. The former Southampton starlet has made just 18 Premier League appearances under the Portuguese in a career that has been blighted by injuries.
Being substituted at half-time is almost as embarrassing as it gets for a player and Shaw’s mood will not have improved after being publicly criticised by his manager. It’s certainly not the first time Mourinho has chosen to talk candidly to the media about his concerns with the 22-year-old.
Some players require an arm around the shoulder to perform at their peak, while for others it takes a kick up the backside. Mourinho, opting for the latter, does nothing without reason and has clearly tried to spark a reaction from Shaw, without success.
From being one of English football’s brightest prospects after making his World Cup debut aged just 18, Shaw, who has seven England caps to his name, is in danger of not fulfilling the potential that convinced United to spend what was then a world-record fee for a teenager.
Mourinho’s tactic of singling out individuals who have not met his standards is in stark contrast to Sir Alex Ferguson, who never blamed his players in public. It has divided opinion among pundits, with Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier claiming the United manager is ‘destroying’ Shaw.
Mourinho is an expert at using smokescreens to distract from his side’s unconvincing performances. And this latest controversy has moved the narrative on from United’s shock Champions League exit at the hands of Sevilla.
Tough love is one thing, but the sustained, public attack on Shaw is unacceptable. If Mourinho genuinely believes he is not good enough to represent United, then fair enough. But to continually vilify the youngster’s performances is a step too far and one that could irreparably damage Shaw’s confidence.
This is not to say that Shaw is a completely innocent bystander. Mourinho’s predecessor, Louis van Gaal, also questioned his desire and general conditioning when he joined United four years ago. Indeed, the Dutchman signed Shaw up to a tailored exercise regime in an effort to improve his fitness.
But while van Gaal’s treatment had the desired effect, Mourinho’s has done the opposite. Being publicly humiliated on a routine basis does neither party any favours.
In all likelihood, Shaw’s disappointing United career will come to an end this summer. A fresh start away from the toxicity under Mourinho is exactly what he needs.
Keanan Bennetts has perfect opportunity to impress Mauricio Pochettino this week
The left-sided star has a chance to impress in first-team training during the international break.
With the international week in full flow, plenty of teams in the Premier League have seen their squads diminished by call-ups to national teams.
Tottenham Hotspur are one such side. Nonetheless, with most of the first-team squad away with their respective nations, work continues at Hotspur Way.
In order for Spurs to have a full complement in training, plenty of young talent needs to be pulled in to the ranks.
Mauricio Pochettino will, therefore,e get a chance to see some of his young players training with regular first-team players such as Fernando Llorente, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura.
One player who will be training with the first-team this week is talented wide-man Keanan Bennetts, according to London Live.
The 19-year-old left-winger has been catching the eye for the club’s youth team in recent weeks, making the news after scoring a fantastic goal for the under-19s against Monaco in the UEFA Youth League last month.
Bennetts has also been attracting interest for his positional dexterity. The wide-man has played at left-back in recent times and it could be that is his future best position.
This week he will be up against some excellent players such as Lamela and Moura, who did not receive selection to the Argentina and Brazil national teams, respectively.
If he can prove himself with this calibre of player, Pochettino will have to take notice.
It is coming to a point in his Tottenham career when Bennetts has to make such an impact. The teenager is out of contract at Spurs in the summer and needs to ensure he is kept on for at least one more season.
Tottenham fans who follow the youth teams are certain he is deserving of such a chance. If he can show Pochettino what he is capable of this week, then a new deal will surely be in the pipeline for the talented wide-man.
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