EPL Previews: Can Stoke City finish higher than 9th?
After Leicester City’s 5000-1 odds to win the Premiership, capping off what is, in all likelihood, the most fantastic championship in major sports history, the perennial powerhouses have gone hard towards defeating the slew of underdogs currently rising up the table. With the addition of three world class managers, Antonio Conte, Jose Mourinho, and Pep Guardiola, this season could shape up to be even crazier than the last. While international competition has been outstanding, as usual, we can’t help but miss that massive hole in our heart and pine for the return of the soccer league CoachUp loves the most.
In order to prepare the loyal and initiate the newcomers, CoachUp will have you all ready for the August 13th showdown between the current title-holders Leicester City and newly-promoted Hull City. We’re counting down by previewing the league’s top ten clubs from 2015-2016, detailing the players to watch, and their European (or lack thereof) adventures. So, without further ado, here’s number nine and the suddenly consistent club, Stoke City.
Are Stoke City here for good? Will they forever be a top-half of the table contender? Or was last season’s 9th place finish an aberration instead of a growing trend? Since 2010-2011, Stoke has finished in 13th, 14th, 13th, 9th, and 9th -- so will this season be the fourth consecutive time the Potters have finished in 9th, or can they grow even taller? Last year’s finish could be in part of the frenetic and unpredictable Premier League, but with the major television deal bumping up every team’s available “warchest” on the transfer market, Stoke City will need to bring consistency on all fronts -- which means more from goalkeeper Jack Butland, defender Geoff Cameron, midfielders Xherdan Shaqiri and Bojan, and the ageless forward, Marko Arnautovic.
As of publishing, this Stoke City side is mostly unchanged from the 2015-2016 season, but with rumors swirling around the acquisition of, potentially, Robin van Persie or Saido Berahino, they could easily make an assault on a Europa League spot. With the Potters come a reputation of heavy tackles, undisciplined play, and boring, boring football -- however, now under manager Mark Hughes, who was appointed in 2013, they've developed their own brand of semi-stylish football. If they’re able to add either of the aforementioned strikers, Stoke City might be well on their way to the club’s highest league finish ever. Although it will always be tough to get past big spenders like Manchester United, Chelsea, or Arsenal on the table, the Britannia Stadium, now renamed Bet365 Stadium for 2016-2017 and beyond, is one of the most difficult home fortresses to navigate in England. Most clubs dread heading there and, at the very least, Hughes and the Potters would do well to help continue that aggressively growing trend.
Perferred Starting XI
Unless Stoke City add a late striker this window, their starting lineup should be fairly familiar to what they trotted out for most of 2015-2016. With Butland back in net, Stoke's defensive third will be anchored by stalwart, and an American hero, Geoff Cameron, as well as the steady Erik Pieters. The midfield, however, is where Stoke City has begun to build something special. Xherdan Shaqiri, Bojan, and Ibrahim Afellay should terrify plenty of back fours across the Premiership. Up front, of course, depending on tactics, Stoke will have a small litter of options to choose from Peter Crouch, Jonathan Walters, or Arnautovic.
Player to Watch
Jack Butland, the rehabbed goalkeeper. Despite an ankle fracture in late March, Butland still finished eighth in Clean Sheets in 2015-2016 with ten to his name, just six behind league leader Petr Cech. The injury, in all likelihood, kept Butland away from the starting keeper position for England in the European Championships as well, so he’ll be back with a vengeance in 2016-2017. For as many aspirations and dreams the midfield may invigorate, they’ll only go as far as Butland’s keeping allows.
Highlight of Yesteryear
The day after Christmas was a good one for Stoke City last year as they celebrated with their families and then proceeded to ping back Manchester United by a score of 2-0 at the Britannia. While the Red Devil-faithful were stunned, there was no more amazing moment than Marko Arnautovic's goal in the 26th minute. Following a deflected free kick, the snappy striker scooped up the 50/50 opportunity and stung one towards David de Gea's direction. Swish. Nothin' but net.
Getting Off To A Good Start
8/13 @ Middlesbrough
8/20 vs Manchester City
8/27 @ Everton
9/10 vs Tottenham
9/18 @ Crystal Palace
9/24 vs. West Bromwich
10/1 @ Manchester United
So, all in all, not a optimistically great start for Stoke City as they have to face three of the eight teams that finished above them over the first seven weeks. Although they’ll play Spurs and Manchester City at home, they’ll have their work cut out between August and October if they want to be serious contenders for a Europa League spot. Should they survive that slog with four wins against Boro, Palace, Everton, and West Brom, they should be decently positioned heading into the winter months. Rating: 4/10
It’s an odd statement to consider, but Stoke City has turned into the Premier League’s most consistent non-title-contending performers over the last handful of campaigns. Truthfully, they’ll never win the league crown and, even then, a Europa League berth would seem equally as unlikely -- although that's certainly what everybody thought about Leicester City before last season as well. Thankfully, that’s why we don’t just play football on paper and if Bojan, Shaqiri, and Arnautovic can carry the scoring load with one of the league’s best goalkeepers back in net, I suppose the sky's the limit for Stoke City in 2015-2016.
English Premier League Previews 2016-2017: