There are only 3 weeks to wait ‘til the start of the Premier League. Over the next few weeks @0riginalfooty will preview the new season, take a look at each team and offer our predictions as to where each side will finish. Here we take a look at Stoke City.
Stoke ended their 7 year relationship with Tony Pulis at the beginning of last season. Having established themselves as a Premier League club, their aim was to push up the table as far as possible. During Mark Hughes’s first season at the helm, they finished 10th and will be hoping to improve on that this time round.
Mark Hughes has had an inconsistent managerial career in England’s top flight. With difficult spells in charge of moneymen Man City and QPR, scattered amongst impressive ones at Blackburn and Fulham, most Premier League fans don’t know what to make of “Sparky” as a manager.
Having inherited a notoriously sturdy and robust Stoke squad with a playing style labeled ‘unattractive’, amongst other things, Hughes has successfully implemented a more attractive playing style at the Britannia. By adding exciting players, such as Arnautovic, Assaidi and eventually Odemwingie, Hughes created an intriguing mix of physical strength alongside pacey, more technically gifted stars.
Stoke have already added Premier League experience to their ranks. Both Phil Bardsley and Steve Sidwell were standout performers last season for Sunderland and Fulham respectively. To get both on a free is somewhat of a coup for Hughes.In Mame Diouf they have a player who had a decent spell in the top flight with Blackburn Rovers, on loan from Man United, but has since proved himself abroad with Hannover 96, bagging almost a goal every two games for the Bundesliga outfit.
Their marquee signing, however, has to be Bojan Krkic. The former Barcelona man was once hailed as the next Lionel Messi and made over 100 appearances at Camp Nou between the ages of 17 and 20. Since then, Bojan has had three fairly average seasons on loan at Roma, A.C Milan and Ajax. The Spaniard insists that his lack of form is a result of being played too often on the right wing instead of in his favoured role as a striker. It will therefore be interesting to see how Mark Hughes deploys this ambitious signing. I am sure that we are all hoping to see a player who promises so much fulfill his potential for Stoke this season.
Who is tipped to join them?
Having seen wide-men Kightly, Etherington and Pennant depart from the Britannia, Mark Hughes will surely be looking to strengthen his options on both wings. Oussama Assaidi looks set to return permanently, after a good spell on loan last season, providing a fee can be met with Liverpool. Further to this, there is reported interest in Norwich’s young English prospect Nathan Redmond, who would surely be keen to join The Potters after suffering relegation last season.
Who should they sign?
Stoke fans must be delighted with their business so far; having signed a good balance of Premier League experience and exciting flair players, whilst retaining their key men from last season. With good strength in depth, there is only the aforementioned need for a couple of wingers to complete a strong-looking squad. Two players who could be available, either on loan or on the cheap, are Victor Moses and Scott Sinclair, both capable of contributing to Mark Hughes’s side.
Apart from big name signing Bojan, who could prove a crucial figure for The Potters, Marko Arnautovic is a player who should have a big say in City’s fortunes this coming season. He found his feet very quickly in the Premier League and showed his pace, power and excellent technical ability in what was a very impressive debut campaign for the tall Austrian international. He was one of the key players in helping Mark Hughes achieve his goal of transforming the rugged Stoke of Tony Pulis’ era into a more aesthetically pleasing outfit. Expect to see this man continue to flourish next season as he links up with Stoke’s exciting new signings.
When a side achieves its highest ever league finish, there is always a worry that, from this position, the only way is down. Stoke fans, however, should have no such fears. With an ambitious manager making ambitious signings and with no key players set to leave, it appears that The Potters will continue into next season in much the same vein as the last, consolidating their place as a top-half team. I’m expecting Hughes’s men to go one better this year and grab themselves an 8th place finish.