Stoke City are putting together an impressive squad, and will hope to seriously challenge for European football.
Stoke City have made some pretty ambitious moves in the last few seasons under manager Mark Hughes. Now, the Potters will hope to put the pieces together to make a good campaign to qualify for European competitions. And, unlike Leicester last season, this team does not come out of left field.
Mark Hughes has done wonders for the Stoke City squad since taking over in 2013. He has changed a team perceived to be brutish and overly physical in to one that plays great football. Though they were still building last year, they finished a respectable ninth place, behind Liverpool.
Looking at the current Stoke team compared to teams of recent memory, it is nearly unrecognizable. Through the acquisition of some decently big name players, they have begun to build a formidable team full of some big international stars, experienced and young alike.
New Changes for the Better
Since coming in 2013, Hughes has done some quality transfer business. By transitioning out the players left from Tony Pulis’s tenure, he gave himself room to craft his own squad. Most notably, Asmir Begovic made a move to Chelsea last season, becoming the number 2 keeper there. In a very intelligent move, Steven Nzonzi was sold to Sevilla for £7 million. Nzonzi was notoriously reckless and did not fit Hughes’s vision, so the move was profitable for Stoke.
In one of the most surprising transfers of 2015, Swiss international Xherdan Shaqiri transferred from Inter Milan for £12 million, despite teams like Liverpool being interested when he was still at Bayern Munich. Despite only scoring 3 goals in 27 appearances last season for Stoke, Shaqiri brings extreme technical ability to the squad. His form during the 2016 Euros can only excite Potters fans, being the focal point of the Swiss team. Shaqiri has already opened his goal scoring for the year with a wonderful free kick against Middlesbrough opening weekend.
Another star of Euro 2016 was Welsh center midfielder Joe Allen, who signed from Liverpool for a potential fee of £13 million. Allen was a key part of the Welsh team’s run to the semi-finals in the summer, making many people wonder where he stood in Jürgen Klopp’s plans. Despite not playing in their opener against Middlesbrough, Allen has the potential to shake things up playing in behind Shaqiri, with strong wingers. Last season, Dutchman Ibrahim Afellay and Austrian Marko Arnautovic ran the wings, and the addition of Allen should increase the number of chances they have each match.
Mixed with the Old
Amongst the young guns of football, Hughes has a wealth of experience at his disposal. Veterans like Ryan Shawcross and Charlie Adam lead the lines with their leadership, mentoring the younger players. Also in the mix are experienced former internationals like Glen Johnson, Peter Crouch, Stephen Ireland, and Shay Given.
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That type of proven Premier League quality being on pitch with younger players is a risky formula, but brilliant if it works. If it works, you have a situation like Manchester CIty, where the young and experienced coexist and excel. If it fails, they may be in trouble for spending too much money with no results.
This season could prove vital if Stoke want to challenge for Europe, and big time matches could make or break their contention. This weekend’s match with Manchester City is one of those matches. If they can overcome a red-hot Manchester squad, they have a chance at success this season.