Sunday 03 August 2014
Manager: Mark Hughes (May 2013)
Home ground: Britannia Stadium
Players in: Phil Bardsley, Steve Sidwell, Mame Biram Diouf, Dionatan Teixeira, Bojan Krkic
First five BPL matches: Aston Villa (H), Hull City (A), Manchester City (A), Leicester City (H), Queens Park Rangers (A)
Stoke City entered uncharted territory in the 2013/14 season as new manager Mark Hughes led the club to their first top-half finish in the Barclays Premier League.
Former Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City manager Hughes replaced long-serving Tony Pulis, who had guided Stoke to the top flight in 2008 and maintained their Barclays Premier League, but Hughes carried on the Potters’ progress, while changing their style of play, to guide them to ninth in the final table.
Defensive solidity and a formidable record at their home ground, the Britannia Stadium, again proved crucial. They lost just three times on home soil and enjoyed victories against Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea. The latter was sealed by a stunning late strike from Morocco winger Oussama Assaidi.
Bosnia & Herzegovina goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and central defender Ryan Shawcross again excelled for Stoke, while new signings Marko Arnautovic and Peter Odemwingie provided much of the attacking threat.
Hughes has added to his squad with the experience of Phil Bardsley and Steve Sidwell as well as importing Mame Biram Diouf, Dionatan Teixeira and Spanish forward Bojan Krkic. The latter was a part of Barcelona’s squad that won the UEFA Champions League in 2009 and 2011 and is a good representation of the change in play that Hughes wishes to introduce at the Britannia, with greater emphasis on possession and passing.
Stoke start the 2014/15 campaign at home to Aston Villa. An early-season encounter with Villa holds fond memories for the Potters, who secured their first Barclays Premier League win with a 3-2 success against them in August 2008. Trips to Hull City and champions Manchester City follow in the first month of the campaign.
This will be Stoke's seventh successive Barclays Premier League season and they have finished no lower than 14th during that period. They also reached the FA Cup final in 2011 and played in the UEFA Europa League the following season.
|Best BPL finish
|Last five BPL finishes||9th||13th||14th||13th||11th|
|Seasons in the BPL
|Most BPL appearances||Ryan Shawcross (203)|
|Top BPL goalscorer||Jonathan Walters (26)|
Hopes for the new season.
To match ninth place and 50 points would be a fine achievement, to better it would be a hell of an achievement. We're all hoping the change in playing style continues to progress, too, after Mark Hughes introduced more flair and unpredictability.
What was the overall impression of last season?
A thoroughly successful one which bodes very well for the future. We shouldn't forget that Stoke were in some considerable discomfort by the start of February, but a strong and record-breaking finish (including 50 points for the first time), not to mention first Premier League wins over Chelsea and Manchester United, all point to a pretty terrific first season under Hughes.
Stoke City's strengths and weaknesses.
Their goalkeeper and back four remain the foundation on which everything else is being built. Players have taken the lead from the likes of Asmir Begovic, Ryan Shawcross and, until last season’s injury, Robert Huth. Such characters remain key to the club's future and should never be taken for granted. That said, we're also waiting to see if newcomer Mame Diouf can further enliven the forward line.
What are the special qualities of Mark Hughes?
Probably his calm authority. You can't ever imagine him losing his cool in a crisis and that can clearly have its benefits for those around him.
What is the mood like among the fans?
Pretty buoyant really. Finishing in the top 10 for the first time in the Premier League was a bit of a bonus and many performances, particularly towards the end of the season, entertained, excited and gave considerable hope for the future.
What are the matches the fans always look forward to, and what are the ones they dread?
Probably Man City at home and West Brom away because Stoke have still to lose to City at the Britannia and have won all five Premier League visits to The Hawthorns. The Baggies hate us!
It's black armbands at the ready every time we go to The Etihad … six defeats out of six and an aggregate of 15-0. Nice stadium and food though.
Who is the best young talent BPL fans might see emerge this season?
Marko Arnautovic and Bojan are the obvious choices after the former had a pretty good first season in England, but maybe the lesser-known Marc Muniesa might be the one to really keep a close eye on.
The young Spaniard joined from Barcelona 12 months ago and was on the fringes most of the time, but his strong defending and ease on the ball left him ousting former Dutch international Erik Pieters at left back towards the end of last season.
Stoke City in three words
Resilient. Evolving. Smiling.
Martin Spinks is the Stoke City for The Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter @mspinks10.