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Stoke City 2015/16 Premier League Season Preview

The Boot Room

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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.

Transfers In

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.

Key Players

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.

Predicted Line-up
Stoke - Football tactics and formations

Manager

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

Liverpool (H)

Tottenham (A)

Norwich (A)

West Brom (H)

Arsenal (A)

Leicester (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.

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Everton

Three free agent goalkeeper options for Everton to add depth

Everton should consider adding depth to the goalkeeping department this summer.

Mathew Nash

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Everton currently have a fine goalkeeper in Jordan Pickford. Signed last summer from Sunderland he was the club’s player of the season last term and is now England’s number one stopper.

But it could be argued they are lacking in reserve. The veteran Maarten Stekelenburg has been an injury concern in recent times. Meanwhile, Spaniard Joel Robles has left the club at the end of his contract. It leaves youngster Mateusz Hewelt as the club’s current third-choice.

Considering his inexperience and Stekelenburg’s injury troubles, surely Everton should consider bringing in another goalie this summer?

Of course, they will not want to pay top dollar to do so.

So here are three free agent stoppers that Everton could target this summer…

Tim Krul

The Dutchman has struggled to find his way back into first-team football since a horror knee injury in 2015.

He spent last season as back-up to Mathew Ryan at Brighton and is now looking for a new club.

Since that knee injury, Krul has remained fit and would be a great back-up to Pickford.

(Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images)

Rafael

The first-choice keeper under Rafa Benitez at Napoli in 2014-15 the Brazilian found himself pushed down the pecking order over the past two seasons by Pepe Reina.

Undoubtedly a talented stopper with three Brazil caps to his name, he would be a solid option in reserve.

(Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)

Miguel Santos

One Everton fans probably have not heard of, but perhaps the most likely addition.

Fresh from helping Fortuna Sittard to promotion to the Eredivisie the Portuguese talent will be known to Everton boss Marco Silva.

They worked together at Estoril when Silva was the manager. Santos, at the time, was a promising youngster but left for Benfica in 2012.

He had a spell at Port Vale in 2016 and a move back to England as Everton’s third-choice would surely appeal to the 23-year-old.

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Liverpool

Steven Gerrard called incoming Liverpool star Alisson ‘world-class’ in April

Liverpool will complete a world record move for the Brazilian this week.

Mathew Nash

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Liverpool are set to give the fans what they want by signing a new goalkeeper. A world record fee has been agreed with AS Roma for Brazilian number one Alisson this week. Liverpool will pay the Italian side £67 million for the 25-year-old. Sky Sports report he will undergo a medical this week and a deal will then be finalised.

It is a bold move from Liverpool, who for a number of seasons have suffered with mediocre goalkeeping performances from Loris Karius and Simon Mignolet.

Alisson is considered one of the best keepers in Europe and keeps Manchester City’s brilliant Ederson Moraes on the bench for his country.

He is certainly highly-rated by one former Liverpool player and legend. Steven Gerrard is a big fan of the player.

He spoke highly of the goalie whilst working on BT Sport as a Champions League pundit last season.


“This fella does deserve the praise he is getting of late. He makes world-class saves, he’s up quick, he makes second saves. A world-class keeper no doubt.”

– Steven Gerrard talking of Alisson’s quality in April 2018

 


Of course, Liverpool came up against Alisson and his Roma side in the competition. Over the course of two legs, the Reds put seven goals past the Brazilian. It led some fans to question whether Alisson was actually the right man for Liverpool.

 

But Liverpool needed a keeper with pedigree. Karius is simply too error-prone and his confidence must be at an all-time low after his Champions League final woe.

Liverpool fans will hope Alisson can live up to Gerrard’s ‘world-class’ tag and his price-tag next season.

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Liverpool

Three alternatives for Liverpool with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out for the season

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Photo: Getty Images.

Amid what felt like a positive few days for Liverpool, fans were brought back down to earth by the devastating blow that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is unlikely to return from injury in 2018/19.

Jurgen Klopp confirmed the news after the midfielder suffered damage to his posterior cruciate ligament, anterior cruciate ligament, and medial ligaments in a challenge on Aleksandar Kolarov in a Champions League semi-final against Roma.

Oxlade-Chamberlain underwent successful surgery only a few days after the incident but is not expected to be available for selection and fully fit until the 2019/20 season.

“It feels like now is an appropriate time to tell people that for Ox this coming season will be about focusing on recovery and rehab. We have known this from pretty much the day after he got the injury and after the successful surgery, we were sure of it. There has been no change, the new information is that we’re now giving more detail publicly. But the truth of the matter is that we are preparing this season knowing he will not be with us on the pitch for competitive matches for the majority of it. If we do see him back this season it will be a bonus.”

Jurgen Klopp broke the news to the club’s official website.

The news comes as a real negative for Klopp, who will be busy planning how to get through the campaign without one of the team’s best performers in the tail end of last season.

His absence will open the door for three other men at Anfield though…

Georgino Wijnaldum

The arrivals of Naby Keita and Fabinho looked to be a major concern for the Dutchman, but with Oxlade-Chamberlain ruled out it seems unlikely that he will be moved on this summer at least. Quietly efficient and often producing in big games, he has been one of the first to have a finger pointed at him in frustrating results against lower level opposition.

With such high quality additions, Wijnaldum falls into the category of a player without the glamour of the likes of Keita but lacking the status of Jordan Henderson or James Milner. At times he has had his biggest impact in a more advanced midfield role, and whilst he lacks the injured man’s energy, he could be an option.

Nabil Fekir

Despite a deal seemingly being called off, Dean Jones of Bleacher Report has suggested that a move could be back on and Fekir would take up the role of natural playmaker as the attacking option in Klopp’s midfield trio. Whilst he may not be a direct replacement for Oxlade-Chamberlain, he would be the closest to filling Philippe Coutinho since he left in January and the former Southampton man really stepped up his game.

It could be a big ask for Fekir arriving at a new club after such a short pre-season following a successful World Cup campaign with France, but there is little doubt that if he joins Fekir would be the highest quality alternative in his place.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Adam Lallana

Lallana was a favourite with his hard working attitude playing into Jurgen Klopp’s system perfectly, but the last season was a difficult one for the midfielder as he suffered a number of injury set-backs and never really got going for the Reds.

The most natural replacement in a midfield three given that it was the role he occupied before Oxlade-Chamberlain arrived from Arsenal, he may have a refreshed chance to make his claim this season.

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