Stoke can shock Premier League again after solid summer signings
It is fair to say that Stoke City were one of the Premier League overachievers last season, managing a respectable ninth-place finish, ahead of Newcastle United by one point. Mark Hughes is 11/8 to mastermind the Potters to end the season in the top 10 once more.
The Welsh boss has done well to gradually change the club’s image as being the one-dimensional bullying side they were under former coach Tony Pulis. However, they still lacked attacking threat, scoring just 45 in their 38 games last term; putting that into perspective, former Liverpool striker Luis Suarez netted 31 times on his own.
But Hughes has already made his move in the market, using his connections well. He has brought in strikers Mame Biram Diouf from Hannover, a fellow former Manchester United forward, and Bojan Krkic from Barcelona, where he was also at for a spell as a player.
These additions means that Stoke now have a wealth of talent up front, with the likes of Peter Crouch, Peter Odemwingie, Marko Arnautovic, Jonathan Walters and Cameron Jerome still on the books. Hughes has stated that he will be looking to offload some of his current players, though.
Bojan will be looking to revitalise his career that was so promising while a youngster at the Nou Camp, where he held club records for youngest player to feature in La Liga and Champions League games and to score in the league.
In the 2007/08 campaign, meanwhile, he netted 10 Champions League goals, beating former Real Madrid forward Raul’s debut season record.
The 23-year-old Spain cap has since had ineffective short spells at Roma, AC Milan and Ajax, but hopes to get his career back on track in the West Midlands, and is seemingly impressed with the way Hughes does things.
“Mark Hughes likes the team to play football, and that is the same philosophy as many coaches I played under in Spain,” Bojan, who joins up with former Barca teammate Marc Muniesa, said. “I understand here that managers like the players to be stronger maybe than in Spain, and over the last 12 months I did a lot of gym work which has helped me.
“Mark [Hughes] played for Barcelona and that was an obvious connection, but I wanted to come here to play for a team on the up. Mark also told me of the ambitions here, and that was important to me.
“There are many good players that want to play with the ball at their feet. That will suit the way I like to play,” he continued. “I know what I am capable of on the pitch. I like to get the ball on the ground, make good plays and move the ball around the pitch quickly at a good tempo.”
Bojan’s new teammate Diouf comes to the Britannia in higher confidence, with the Senegal international scoring 35 goals in his last three seasons at his former Bundesliga side, following poor spells at United, Molde (the second time) and Blackburn Rovers.
On top of that, Hughes is also planning on bringing in winger Oussama Assaidi, who impressed on loan from Liverpool for his side last term. With the Reds splashing the cash this summer on new recruits, Stoke will be hoping that means the Morocco international would be surplus to requirements at Anfield.
With attacking talent now seemingly in place at Stoke, Hughes has even decided to bolster his defence, that let in only 52 goals last term in the league – two more than second-placed Liverpool. Another former Man Utd player Phil Bardsley has been brought in, as well as Brazilian-born Slovakia Under-21 centre back Dionatan Teixeira.
In midfield, meanwhile, Steve Sidwell has been snapped up on a free transfer from Fulham, despite their manager Felix Magath wanting him to stay in west London.
Stoke have lost just three first-team players this summer, with Juan Agudelo, Matthew Etherington and Michael Kightly departing and, with the these promising signings, Potters fans certainly have reason to be positive again.
In terms of the clubs around them from last season, Southampton, who finished one place above, have sold, or are in the process of selling, the vast majority of their key players from the 2013/14 campaign. The Saints will surely find it a massive challenge to achieve any higher this coming term.
Fellow over-achievers Crystal Palace, managed by former Potters boss Pulis, came 11th last season, but have added just two relatively standard players, Chris Kettings and Fraizer Campbell, so far this summer, and are not expected to match their position.
Coral even price Stoke above the likes of Newcastle, Southampton and Swansea City to stay up, being heavily odds-on at 1/25, and they are 10/1 outsiders to go down.
Going by those markets, a ninth-place finish, or even eighth, is very achievable, especially as they look as though they will keep the likes of key players Asmir Begovic, Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth.