Stoke City continued their transformation in playing style and the overall ethos of the side under the managerial surveillance of Mark Hughes last season. The former Manchester City manager had taken over at the behest of the owners who were fed up of the one-dimensional and what some called a regressive brand of football. Hughes came in and straightaway indicated the direction he wanted to take the club towards by signing players such as the likes of Arnautovic, Bojan, Joselu and Shaqiri. They were a contrasting lot in the sense that they were more comfortable on the ball and liked to build up play from the deeper areas instead of hoofing the ball towards the opposition goal. But the process has understandably taken time with a couple of consecutive 9th place finish to show for their efforts.
Joe Allen – Liverpool, £13m
Ramadan Sobhi – Al Ahly, £5m
Peter Odemwingie – released
Steve Sidwell – Brighton, free
Mark Waddington – Kilmarnock, loan
Ben Barber – York City, free
Stoke haven’t been aggressive in the market by any means with the signings of Joe Allen and Ramadan Sobhi to show for their efforts. While the decision by Hughes to not change the core of the team seems like a good move, they need to act fast and sign a striker who will be capable of justifying the attacking talent on show in the team. Joe Allen has been snapped up from Liverpool and is expected to provide stability and assurance in midfield which has been lacking in the last couple of seasons. He had a good Euro and was included in the team of the tournament. The other signing has been Egyptian wonder-kid Sobhi who has taken the footballing fraternity by storm in his native country. Stoke will hope he is able to surprise the Premier League in the manner Mahrez did last season. But their biggest achievement this season has probably been their ability to retain the services of Arnautovic who is still considered their main goal threat. Stoke are likely to conclude their transfer dealings with the signing of another striker, expected to be Saido Berahino.
FORMATION AND LIKELY TEAM
Mark Hughes abides by the now staple 4-2-3-1 formation of most of the Premier League managers. Jack Butland will look to impress further this season in goal and hope to push under-fire Joe Hart’s place in the England team with his performances. Former Liverpool man Glenn Johnson will take up his position at right-back while Ryan Shawcross and Wollscheid will likely form the centre-back pairing with Pieters at left-back. The midfield pivot looks to a strong point of this team as Joe Allen and Imbula will hope to form a solid partnership this season. Shaqiri had an enterprising last season and will look to attain a level of consistency this year. Arnautovic will line-up on the left-hand side with Bojan expected to prosper in the No.10 role. The Potters are in search of a striker who will compete with Jon Walters in leading the line.
While the fans will be hoping for a better finish than last season, with the heightened intensity and competition, things will be tougher this season. Stoke will have to play their best football to break into the Top 8 with many pundits predicting a 10th place finish. But if they manage to sign a proven Premier League striker, things will be different when the first ball is kicked at the Bet365 stadium. But with the addition of a couple of promising signings, exciting times are ahead for the club.