How Stoke’s intriguing starting XI could shape-up next season
Manager Mark Hughes has continued to give Stoke City (priced by Coral at 11/1 for a top six Premier League finish) a makeover in this transfer market, and more surprising and ambitious signings appear to be in the pipeline as the Potters plunder Europe.
The Britannia Stadium suddenly seems to be an attractive prospect and a solid spine once built on British and Irish grafters, is slowly but surely being complemented with continental craft.
With that in mind, Coral writers contemplate what a Stoke starting XI could look like on the opening day of the upcoming Premier League campaign, as the Midlands men meet Liverpool (who they last thrashed 6-1 in a thrilling final matchday), in early August.
Goalkeeper: Jack Butland
Tipped to one day be England’s number one, Butland, who has spent much of his Stoke life on loan or on the bench, should finally get the chance to shine if Asmir Begovic packs his bags for Chelsea as expected. Irish veteran Shay Given is close to completing his Potters switch but should only be back-up if Hughes is serious about blooding young talent.
Right back: Glen Johnson
Free agent Johnson is reportedly near to becoming another big-name signing, and his rampaging runs down the right flank would be most welcome at the Britannia under Hughes’ attack-minded guidance. The 30-year-old still has the physique and pace to play for the Potters for the seasons to come, and keep Geoff Cameron out the XI.
Centre back: Ryan Shawcross
The first name on the team sheet and a mainstay for Stoke at centre half, the Midlands club look all adrift in defence without their sturdy, no-nonsense skipper.
The Manchester United academy product has so far resisted the lure of other top clubs and, at 27 now, he may have missed his chance and prefer to stay put. Expect him to continue to be key rather than risk a transfer.
Centre back: Philipp Wollscheid
German defender Wollscheid impressed enough in his 14 outings on loan last term that Stoke forked out a rumoured fee of £2.6m to bring the German and his brand of backline steel to the Britannia permanently.
Having already placed his faith in him, Hughes should hand the defender a chance to cement a promising partnership with Wollscheid, though Marc Muniesa will push him close.
Left back: Erik Pieters
The left defensive flank is one spot still very much up for grabs, but underrated Dutch defender Pieters should be first pick, as his 31 Premier League appearances for last season show.
Defensive midfield: Glenn Whelan
It could be left to the ever-consistent Whelan to man the fort and take up the bulk of defensive midfield duties as Hughes looks to recruit more skill for his ranks. With Steven N’Zonzi now having departed for Sevilla, the Irishman should retain his spot at first, though links to Udinese powerhouse Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu could see him eventually usurped.
Central midfield: Marco van Ginkel
Forget the mooted £8m, Van Ginkel’s expected loan from Chelsea is set to be Stoke’s real prize for offloading their chief post protector.
At his best the dynamic Dutchman can cause disruption at both ends of the pitch and, if given game time, will prove to be one of the most talented players on the Potters’ books.
Right wing: Xhedran Shaqiri
If Hughes weaves his magic once more and successfully tempts Albania-born Switzerland star Shaqiri from Milan to Stoke it could be a watershed moment for the mid-table team. An undoubted starter if he arrives, the Potters (evens for a top 10 finish) will have a genuine goal threat with plenty of tricks and flicks plus bags of pace to boot to boss their right flank.
Attacking midfield: Bojan Krkic
Former Barca boy Bojan’s guile and grace was badly missed as he sat out the latter half of the season on the sidelines, having only just into his stride after a summer switch. Five goals in 18 outings should see Hughes back the Spain cap of Serbian descent to bounce back and snatch a starting spot, however.
Left wing: Marko Arnautovic
Another with Eastern European roots, mercurial wingman Arnautovic looked to be finally living up to his potential in a purple patch toward the end of last term, where he directly contributed to five goals in seven games. That promising run should see the Austria international retain his left wing slot.
Centre forward: Joselu
Hughes is already apparently impressed with his newest striker’s nose for goal and, having shelled-out £5.75m for the Hannover hitman, the Real Madrid Castilla graduate’s technique and flair should see him start over close competitors Peter Crouch and Mame Biram Diouf.
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) June 16, 2015