The Premier League’s Newest Faces

2 of 6

Xherdan Shaqiri at Stoke

View image |

Stoke City has come a long way since the days of Tony Pulis. Over the span of his six year tenure at the Midlands club, the Welshman curated a system that at times more closely resembled rugby than football. It was a niche style of play that wasn’t often as attractive as it was utilitarian. When Stoke decided to move on from their manager after the 2012/13 season, it did so in the belief that Pulis was out to merely survive, and not necessarily thrive, in the Premier League.

Since Mark Hughes took over after Pulis’ departure, that theme has slowly begun to change. Slowly Pulis’ stalwarts – tall and physical old school types mostly – have been rotated out of the club and replaced by smaller, pass-oriented players more interested in keeping the ball on the turf than punting it upfield. The posterchild for this transition has undoubtedly been a former Barcelona youngster, the diminutive playmaker Bojan Krkic.

That is, until, rumors started popping up of Stoke’s move for Xherdan Shaqiri. The Swiss-born winger had endured a long stretch on the bench at Bayern Munich and is just coming off a disappointing half season with Roberto Mancini’s Inter Milan. Despite his relative lack of meaningful playing time, there’s no doubt that Shaqiri has the quality to make it in the Premier League. Like Bojan, he’s small but quick with a key pass. His off-the-ball movement will be crucial as he works to build up attacks alongside Bojan

Stoke’s acquisition of Shaqiri – assuming it ends up happening at all; only a fee with Inter has been agreed to, not a contract with the player – would be a coup. Few mid-table sides in the Premier League can boast one player of Shaqiri or Bojan’s caliber, much less two. As much as Stoke City and Hughes want to forget their past though, they’ll still have to find balance between power and flair. Holding onto players like Ryan Shawcross, Charlie Adam and Steven N’Zonzi might be as vital as acquiring Shaqiri.

Next: Idrissa Gueye at Aston Villa