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Stoke City

Three players to look out for this season at Stoke City

Martyn Cooke

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Stoke City

Stoke City kick off the new Premier League season on Saturday with a trip to Goodison Park as Mark Hughes’ side look to re-establish their position as a top-ten club following a disappointing 2016/17 campaign.

The Potters are entering their tenth year as a top-flight club and are aiming to maintain a decade of success and prosperity competing among the elite of English football. However, Stoke have shown signs of regression over the previous twelve months and a bottom-half finish last season suggests that the forthcoming year may not be as straightforward as some may be expecting.

Here, The Boot Room looks at three players that will have a definitive impact on how Stoke’s season plays out …

Ramadan Sobhi

The departure of Marko Arnautovic to Premier League rivals West Ham United in early June left Stoke City supporters with a bloodied nose. The Austrian winger was a fans-favourite and was arguably the club’s most influential offensive player having been directly involved in 25% of the team’s goals during the 2016/17 campaign. The manner of his move to The Hammers, forced through after handing in a transfer request less than a year after the 28-year-old had signed a new long-term contract, left a bad taste in the mouth.

However, Arnautovic’s departure could be good news for Stoke’s Egyptian starlet Ramadan Sobhi. The 20-year-old was signed in the summer of 2016 from domestic club side al-Ahly, located in Cairo, and arrived as a full international who was widely regarded as being the brightest and most exciting young talent that the country had produced in a generation.

But Sobhi’s debut season in English football was a slow burner. He was limited to just 19 appearances, half of which came as a substitute, and he was unable to cement a place in Stoke’s starting eleven. His route into the first team was blocked by the more prestigious and experienced figures of Arnautovic and Swiss superstar Xherdan Shaqiri, although the Egyptian was hugely impressive throughout the playing time he was afforded.

Now, with a route to the first team open and one year of experience in English football under his belt, Sobhi is perfectly placed to take the Premier League by storm. Hs pace, power, trickery and movement make him a genuine threat for defenders and his creativity will be key if Stoke are to improve on last season’s bottom half finish.

Kurt Zouma

Whilst the vast majority of supporters will agree that Mark Hughes has radically altered Stoke City’s footballing approach since his arrival in the summer of 2013, slowly replacing the direct style of play employed by his predecessor Tony Pulis for a more possession-based game, there will also be an admission that The Potters have lost their defensive resilience. The defensive unit last season often resembled a leaky sieve rather than a brick wall, conceding 14 times in their opening six games and conceding four or more goals in a game on eight separate occasions.

This frailty resulted in Stoke finishing the campaign languishing in the bottom half of the table but Hughes has moved quickly to find a solution by bringing in Kurt Zouma on a season-long loan from Chelsea. The 22-year-old joined The Blues in January 2014 but has seen his career stall at Stamford Bridge after falling out of the first team picture following an anterior cruciate ligament injury picked up early in 2016. He made just 13 appearances last season and, although he remains in Antonio Conte’s long-term plans, the Frenchman has been allowed to leave on loan in order to rediscover his form and fitness.

Stoke were able to beat 20 other clubs across Europe to secure the signing of Zouma, according to the Mirror, and the central defender remains one of the most highly rated young talents in the world. The 22-year-old is a defensive colossus and possesses the pace, power, strength and dominant presence to help strengthen The Potters’ brittle backline. If Zouma can help to eradicate Stoke’s frailties in defence then it will allow the club’s more creative players, such as Xherdan Shaqiri, Ramadan Sobhi and Bojan Krkic, to flourish whist enabling Mark Hughes to develop a team that is more evenly balanced. 

Saido Berahino

Stoke City were among the lowest scorers in the Premier League last season and it was clearly apparent that The Potters were lacking a striker capable of putting the ball into the back of the net on a regular basis. Peter Crouch ended the campaign as the club’s top goal scorer, despite spending much of the year among the substitutes, with no player managing to reach, or come near to reaching, double figures in the league. This imprecision in front of goal led Mark Hughes to investing £12 million on controversial West Bromwich Albion striker Saido Berahino in January.

The 23-year-old arrived with a poor reputation after almost eighteen months of off field issues at The Hawthorns that resulted in him being frozen out of the first team and being publicly criticised for his attitude and fitness levels – it was later revealed that the striker had also served an FA suspension after failing a drugs test, as BBC Sport reported.

However, Berahino is looking to put his chequered past behind him and make a fresh start in The Potteries, although his first six months at the club have hardly been impressive. The striker failed to score in any of his 13 appearances after joining Stoke and, although there were no qualms over his work ethic or application, he looked very much like a player who was short of form, fitness and needed to shake off some ring rust.

Berahino has proven more than capable of being a prolific striker in the Premier League and with a full pre-season behind him there will be no excuses for the forthcoming campaign. It is likely that Hughes will place faith in the 23-year-old to spearhead the Stoke’s attack and the team will be relying on the young striker to score the goals to ensure that the club maintains its position in the relative safety of mid-table.

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

Stoke City

Stoke City should avoid re-signing Robert Huth and look to the future

Although a romantic idea, the Potters should avoid resigning the 34-year-old.

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Getty Images

On Wednesday morning, Leicester City announced that Robert Huth would be leaving the club at the end of the season after three-and-a-half years with the Foxes.

The German defender has made 93 appearances during that period, scoring six goals, and became a fans favourite at the King Power Stadium for the prominent role that he played in the club’s recent success.

He was a crucial facet of the Leicester team that were crowned Premier League champions in 2016 and was widely admired for his tough, no-nonsense style of defending.

However, Huth will go into the summer as a free agent after the Foxes decided not to renew his contract when it concludes at the end of the campaign.

The German has struggled to regain his place in the first team squad since suffering a string of injuries in the closing stages of last season and is behind the likes of Wes Morgan, Harry Maguire and Aleksander Dragovic in the pecking order for a starting role.

Huth remains a popular figure among Stoke supporters after his contributions helped to establish the club in the Premier League, reach an FA Cup final and progress to the latter stages of the Europa League.

His central defensive partnership with club captain Ryan Shawcross is widely perceived by fans as being the best in the club’s modern era.

With the Potters being relegated to the Sky Bet Championship and Huth set to leave Leicester in the summer, some Stoke supporters have been left wondering if the German is set for a dream homecoming.

The current Stoke squad will undoubtedly experience a dramatic overhaul during the summer as the club prepares for life in the second tier and the departure of Kurt Zouma, who returns to Chelsea when his loan expires next week, will mean that the Potters will be in the market for a defensive replacement.

However, the potential signing of Huth would not represent a positive move.

The central defender is now 34-years-old and has barely featured for Leicester over the last twelve months. In fact, the German has yet to make an appearance this season and has struggled with multiple consecutive injuries over the last year.

If The Potters are serious about reclaiming their place in the Premier League then they must avoid trying to relive the past and start to look to the future.

Regardless of the place that Huth has in the hearts of Stoke supporters, it makes little sense objectively to purchase an aging defender who has barely played in twelve months.

Attempting to recreate the glory days of half-a-decade ago is unlikely to solve the club’s current issues in the here and now.

(Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

A defensive partnership of Huth and Shawcross would have a combined age of 64 – you have to question how effective the pairing would be in the intense world of football in the Championship where the games come thick and fast with often two matches a week in a congested fixture list.

There is little to gain from trying to relive the past.

Instead, Stoke should be looking to bring together a young, hungry group of players that are developing towards the prime of their careers and still have everything to prove.

It should be about building with the future in mind, rather than reminiscing about creating an ‘old boys’ club.

A return for Huth to the Bet365 Stadium would be an idealistic and romanticised concept in the minds of some supporters, but is he truly the best option?

Huth will forever be remembered as a genuine Stoke City legend, but he represents the past and it is the future that the club need to be focusing on.

A return to ‘The Potteries’ may be a romantic notion for some supporters, yet it would not represent forward thinking or progress for a club that needs to rebuild after a period of regression.

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Newcastle United

Newcastle should swoop for Stoke’s Joe Allen in the summer window

The Welshman will be hot property as he seeks a return to the top flight.

Josh Kerr

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Photo: Getty Images

Newcastle United should make a move for Stoke City midfielder Joe Allen, who will be looking to stay in the Premier League after the Potters relegation to the Championship was confirmed on the weekend.

Earlier this month, The Sun reported that the likes of West Ham and the Magpies were interested in the £20 million-rated Welshman’s signature after Paul Lambert’s side became the first Premier League team to face the drop.

The former Liverpool midfielder is only 28 and may still feel his talents are best suited to the Premier League. Therefore, a move away from Staffordshire may be the best solution in order for him to stay at the highest level.

Allen has featured for the Potters in a more defensive role this season, one that has seen him grab two goals as well as six assists.

A player with significant Premier League experience, the Welshman would bring a lot to this Newcastle side, and a host of other top-flight clubs would no doubt love to have him in their engine room.

Lovingly referred to as the ‘the Welsh Xavi’, Allen is by no means the most prolific midfielder, but his work rate and experience are second-to-none. He is a real leader in the dressing room that the Magpies would be foolish to ignore.

The £20 million would be a club record signing for Newcastle, surpassing the fee spent on Michael Owen’s capture from Real Madrid back in 2005. However, Allen represents stability and Benitez will be searching for that if his side are to stay up again next season.

Allen’s relentless energy in the middle of the park will suit the Spaniard, and his experience will see him set the example for the young players around him to follow. He also looks real Rafa Benitez signing, a player whose work-rate and dedication matches his quality.

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English Premier League

Xherdan Shaqiri has progressed despite Stoke City relegation

The Swiss international has eight goals and six assists this season.

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Getty Images

Xherdan Shaqiri arrived in England with a big reputation after playing for both Bayern Munich and Inter Milan.

The Swiss international was regarded as one of the brightest talents to emerge from his homeland in several years, but his lack of consistency and selfish style prevented him from being a success at two of the biggest clubs on the continent.

Despite that, it was still seen as a huge surprise that he joined mid-table Premier League side Stoke City.

At the time, the attacker would have seen the club as a stepping stone to bigger things with a move to a top-six Premier League team in his future.

His first two seasons were underwhelming, as he managed to contribute only seven goals and eight assists in 48 matches.

He was involved in a goal every 249.9 minutes, which isn’t good enough for a player with his quality.

The environment at Stoke didn’t help him play to his potential, as there was little ambition at the club with the only focus being to stay in the division.

Although there were some nice moments from Shaqiri, he didn’t impact matches on a consistent basis and that stopped a bigger club from making a move for him.

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Saturday was the day of Stoke City’s relegation from the Premier League and that has created doubt regarding the future for Shaqiri, but he is one of the few players in the squad to emerge from this season with credit.

In the match against Crystal Palace, the 26-year-old gave his side some hope with an excellent strike from a free-kick, but the Potters once again showed that they couldn’t hold on to a lead and that is one of the major reasons for their current position.

That goal took Shaqiri up to eight goals and six assists for the season.

He has nearly matched his contribution from the last two seasons combined and that shows the improved consistency that he has found, despite Stoke’s struggles. This has been helped by his playing time, as he has started all but two of the team’s matches.

As the season progressed to a climax, there was a lot of pressure on Shaqiri to produce the magic to save Stoke City.

The plan seemed to be ‘defend and give the ball to the winger’ to provide a match-winning moment.

It may not have worked, but it gave a platform to the Swiss international to show his ability and he has managed to do that with some impressive showings.

(Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)

The relegation will hurt Shaqiri today, but his performances over the course of the season mean that he is unlikely to have to play Championship football.

He is far too good for that and he has the opportunity to leave this summer.

The World Cup will be his first priority, but he could use the tournament as a shop window and attract a club of the highest calibre possible.

A top-six club may be beyond him, despite his improvement. However, there will be a lot of Premier League interest and it would be a good decision to remain in England.

The style of football suits him and there is no telling how effective he could be in the right system.

Stoke never provided that, but there will clubs that will. It may not feel like it today, but this season has represented progression for Shaqiri.

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