Mark Hughes had a tough challenge to follow when taking over from Tony Pulis, but he succeeded with aplomb.
Stoke finished in their highest Premier League finish (9th) and with a record points haul (50), so what can the Potters fan expect this season?
Hughes has been shrewd in the transfer market so far, spending under £2m, on five players, which should be made six tomorrow when Victor Moses completes a loan move from Chelsea.
The stand out signing is of course Bojan, a former Barcelona, Ajax and AC Milan player, at only 23, whose career hasn’t hit the heights many expected when he made his Barcelona debut in September 2007. Stoke paid around £1m for the Spaniard, which could turn out to be a bargain.
In pre-season Bojan scored three times giving Stoke fans hope that he will shine and help take the club to the next level.
Mame Biram Diouf has joined Bojan on a free transfer from Hannover. The Senegal international scored 26 goals in 57 games in the Bundesliga, after he failed to impress at Manchester United or whilst on loan at Blackburn Rovers.
He is likely to play up front on his own, with an attacking trio behind him providing width and support.
Hughes has also added Premier League duo Phil Bardsley and Steve Sidwell on free transfers. Bardsley is likely to be first choice at right-back replacing Geoff Cameron whilst Sidwell will have to fight with Glenn Whelan and Steven N’Zonzi for a place in front of the back four as a holding duo.
Dionatan Teixeira has joined for a nominal fee from Dukla Bystrica in Slovakia, but is likely to be loaned out for this season to get first team football.
Expected Starting Eleven
Mark Hughes will have a major dilemma in which eleven players start. Whatever team he picks it’ll be the strongest Stoke team for a long time. The bench is exceptional, which will give Hughes the options to change and vary his tactics for the varying situations.
In the early stages of pre-season Hughes experimented with a 4-4-2 formation, which didn’t really work, but he is likely to revert to a 4-2-3-1 formation, which brought joy to the Stoke faithful towards the end of last season.
Asmir Begovic – One of the first names on the team sheet, surprised a big club hasn’t come knocking on the door for the Bosnian stopper.
Phil Bardsley – Solid right back who can get forward in support of the wingers and create/score a goal.
Ryan Shawcross – Captain and the first name of the team sheet. Consistent performer.
Marc Wilson – Performed well in this position last season when stepping in for the injured Robert Huth. Wilson is also the better option when in possession with the ball.
Erik Pieters – Stoke player to make the most successful tackles last season and impressed in his debut season in the Premier League.
Glenn Whelan – My player of the season, good positional sense, protects the back four well and decent distribution.
Steven N’Zonzi – Majestic and glides forward whilst on the ball. A joy to watch when on song and a top performer, but can have an attitude problem.
Marko Arnautovic – The Austrian is ridiculously skilful and at times looks to have the ball on a string. If he plays as well towards the end of last season, he’ll take the league by storm.
Steven Ireland – Preferred in this role in behind the striker over Charlie Adam. Ireland has had a full pre-season and looked sharp in friendlies. Links up well with the others in attack and can take a chance when needed.
Bojan – Will need time to settle in, but looked to have settled well in the latter friendlies, scoring in three. Should give Stoke skill and speed to counter attack well.
Mame Biram Diouf – Likely to play as a lone striker, but will do this well as he is a powerful presence and holds the ball up well, which should mean good link up play with the trio of players behind him.
I feel slightly for Peter Odemwingie who had a major impact on the team after his arrival from Cardiff City in January, but these are the difficult decisions Hughes will face throughout the season.
A steady season continually seeing improvements in the style of play, which will see Stoke playing with, split centre halves. Goals will be aplenty, but also fear that a lot of goals will be conceded, if not it’ll be down to last-ditch defending or top class keeping from Begovic.
Stoke will challenge Newcastle United for eighth position, but I feel personally that the Potters will end up ninth.