Premier League profile 2015/16: Stoke City
Having transformed the club’s approach on the pitch in recent Premier League seasons, Mark Hughes will be hoping to convert Stoke City’s re-established ambition from their impressive transfer dealings into results this campaign.
Last term, the highly-driven Potters boss guided his rejuvenated side to a second successive ninth-place finish, their highest ever in the Premier League era, but next term could see them push on further up the table (11/1 with Coral for top six finish).
As well as the success on the pitch in the last two campaigns, Stoke have been rewarded by their demanding and ambitious approach in the market, capturing many high-profile stars which emphasise the evident switch of structure.
Missing out on Inter Milan’s Xherdan Shaqiri didn’t hinder Hughes in the slightest, as his relentlessness was rewarded with many new faces, instead of mourning what could have been a sensational coup.
Next season, the Britannia Stadium will witness no less than four former Barcelona first-team stars don the red and white stripes, with Marc Muniesa and Bojan Krkic being joined by Moha El Ouriachi and Ibrahim Afellay this summer.
Of those four previous Nou Camp aces, Muniesa, Krkic and Ouriachi are also graduates of the Spanish giants’ famed youth academy La Masia, signalling a genuine state of intent for the 2015/16 season.
Bojan’s recent return from a long-term injury will seem like a new signing in itself, while he will have a former Real Madrid marksman to partner him in attack in the form of other recent arrival Joselu. The 25-year-old was captured from Bundesliga outfit Hannover and will provide plenty of flair and creativity alongside fellow Spaniard Bojan.
Netherlands international Afellay has been searching for the right club at which to finally express himself thoroughly on the big stage.
After being limited in game time at Barca, the Dutchman endured two indifferent loan spells with both Schalke and Olympiakos, but now arrives on the perfect platform to revive his previously stuttering career.
Hughes’ crafty transfer business also saw the luring of Marco van Ginkel from Chelsea on loan, as part of the Asmir Begovic deal, while veteran Republic of Ireland stopper Shay Given was immediately snapped up as an adequate back-up to new number one Jack Butland.
Former Liverpool full back Glen Johnson will provide the experience in the Potters rearguard too, in front of a young goalkeeper in Butland, who captained England Under-21s at the European Championship this past summer in the Czech Republic.
Butland is undoubtedly the long-term successor to Joe Hart in the senior England set-up, and a strong showing between the Britannia sticks this term could see him knocking on the door earlier than expected (12/1 England win Euro 2016).
It’s easy to become distracted by the serious talent acquired by Hughes this summer, but already in his squad are the experienced foundational players, who have helped steer the Potters in a new direction.
Creative Dutch loanee Van Ginkel will provide plenty of spark in the central areas, but last season’s anchorman Charlie Adam, Irish enforcer Glenn Whelan and potent playmaker Stephen Ireland will help the new acquisition to blossom.
Austria international forward Marko Arnautovic arrived in 2013 but showed his true class in last season’s run-in, proving he has the talent on the flanks to cause serious threat to Stoke’s top-flight rivals (25/1 to win Capital One Cup).
Skipper Ryan Shawcross will once again be called upon to be the club’s stalwart defensive giant, with Philipp Wollscheid having made his move previous loan spell permanent, and Muniesa also contesting for positions in the assured rear guard.
With such a well-balanced set-up, Hughes will be hopeful of taking his men to the next level, which would ultimately mean challenging for a Europa League position, with his starting line-up next term already possessing plenty of experience from European competition.
Stoke have come a long way from their reliant long-ball days under Tony Pulis, now boasting a perfect blend of young talent and experienced heads, with Hughes having built a solid platform on which he will now look to continue construction of his impressive Potters revolution.