Season Preview: Stoke City

by Kevin Coleman

After a blistering start to life in the Premier League since their promotion two years ago, it’s fair to say Stoke City are well and truly an established Premier League side now – after a 12th and an 11th placed finish in their two seasons, respectively.

And, as they approach their third year as a top tier side, Tony Pulis’ men don’t look like they’ll be budging any time soon – they will be pitching their place in the league for a couple of more years yet.

It’s been an interesting time for Stoke. In their first season they rocked, confused and harried opposition like no other. Their tactics struck fear into the hearts of opposition defences (and managers) as Rory Delap dried the football for yet another long throw in. But then teams wised up and worked out how to counteract this deadly weapon, and last season the Irishman’s arms weren’t nearly as effective as what was previously endured. So how did Stoke, without the assist machine on the throw-in line, finish higher in their second season? Consistency, a tight defence and quite often a case of “we’ll score more than you”.

When Stoke won games, last season, they didn’t concede. Only in three of their eleven wins last season did they concede, while when they lost it was only by no more than a goal or two (except in extreme cases against Liverpool, Chelsea and Man Utd where they conceded a total of 14). Stoke suffered four 2-1 losses last season, and whenever they lost by more than a single goal, it was against tough opposition (City, Arsenal, Man Utd and Spurs). Stoke’s improvement on their debut season was down to consistency, keeping the defence as sound tight as possible, and when needing a goal – scoring one, one way or another.

Last Season: 11th
Manager: Tony Pulis
Odds:
1000/1
In: Florent Cuvelier (Portsmouth, undisclosed)
Out: Andy Griffin (Reading, £250,000), Steve Simonsen (Sheffield United, free), Nathaniel Wedderburn (Northampton Town, free), Diego Arismendi (Barnsley, season loan), Ibrahima Sonko (Portsmouth, season loan), Amdy Faye (released)

WHAT’S CHANGED?

Again, it’s been another quiet summer at a mid-table club. Only one player has arrived, a young Belgian academy player from Portsmouth, while six players have left the club.

Pulis has gotten rid of some of the older players in the squad, and released some of the more less used young players. Andy Griffin has had his controversies while at the club, and he leaves for Reading while Amdy Faye – after just twenty one games in his two year spell – was released.

Regarding changes in the starting line-up, Bosnian goalkeeper Asmir Begovic could take over the number one spot from Thomas Sorensen if he continues his bright form.

Overall, none of the arrivals or departures at the club will affect the balance and dynamics of the senior squad next season. Pulis is obviously quite happy with his squad of players, and doesn’t look to be adding to this any time soon. Stoke have been extremely quiet regarding transfer gossip and rumours, so at this stage don’t expect many more additions before the end of August.

Tactics: Stoke’s tactics have rarely strayed far from 4-4-2. When they did change formation (against Liverpool for example where they played with five in midfield) they lost, without fail. With that in mind, it’s no surprise Pulis has been consistent and a clear advocate of the two banks of four, with two big front men and play working from the wide areas, while the central midfielders each played a conventional role. There is no chance this proven setup will change next season, Stoke have found consistency in this formation that they will be happy to continue with.

Key Player: I would say Rory Delap for his deadly throw-ins, but there are more vital players in the squad in the goalkeepers, Ryan Shawcross and Matty Etherington. You could take your pick from any of those mentioned, but probably the most important player in Shawcross at centre back for his heroic defensive performances which have seen him become one of the most highly rated centre backs in the league.

Fixtures: Stoke begin their 2010 campaign quite favorably at Molineux against Wolves, in a game they are capable of taking all three points from. It’s then back to the Britannia to host Spurs, before a tough visit to Stamford Bridge and Chelsea. That is followed by a Monday evening tie with Aston Villa at home, and another home tie against West Ham.

First five game games: Wolves (A), Tottenham (H), Chelsea (A), Aston Villa (H), West Ham (H)

Where will they finish? Expect another midtable finish and more of the same old from Stoke, good consistency and wins when they are necessary. 12th

Read the rest of our Season Previews here.

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