You can read previews for Arsenal, Bournemouth, Brighton, Burnley, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Everton, Huddersfield, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Newcastle and Southampton. But only if you read this one on Stoke.
What to do about Stoke, eh? After a pretty dismal 2016/17, Mark Hughes spoke of cutting down the first-team squad, giving youth a chance and generally making the team more appealing to their own fans after months of being virtually unwatchable. The question of whether you can ever truly love a Mark Hughes team is no nearer to a definitive answer, but that’s hardly a compliment given that he is the fourth longest-serving manager in the Premier League.
The problem with cutting down the squad is that Stoke have actually lost two of their most popular first-teamers in Glenn Whelan and Jon Walters, players with whom supporters have a genuine affinity. Add to that the departure of Marko Arnautovic, with subsequent claims about disillusionment amongst key players, and you have a pretty tricky situation.
Hughes has at least moved to allay fears of relegation that were growing among the most disgruntled supporters. Darren Fletcher replaces Whelan, while the arrival of Kurt Zouma – even on loan – will add needed steel to Stoke’s defence. Bojan Krkic could be <cliche>like a new signing</cliche> if he can stay motivated upon his return to English football.
Yet there is a flashing neon sign reading ‘GOALS’ that must be addressed. Stoke players scored 37 times in the Premier League last season. Take out those who have already departed this summer and you are left with a measly 24 goals, and 91 of Stoke’s 300 created chances have also left the club in the last two months. None of the summer arrivals thus far are likely to assist in that department.
Perhaps Saido Berahino will find form again after issues with fitness and wellbeing, perhaps Peter Crouch can combine being an XFM deejay with continuing to score Premier League goals at the age of 37 or perhaps 19-year-old Julien Ngoy can push for a first-team start, but more likely is that Hughes must scour the transfer market for a striker if Stoke aren’t to again sit in the pack above the bottom three.
More than four years after his appointment, the accusation is that Stoke City have gone stale under Hughes. The next months will be crucial in determining whether the manager can work his way out of that funk, or if the club conclude that it is time to let someone else have a go.
Mark Holmes: This is a real tipping-point season. We’ve finally shipped out some of the old guard and promoted some of the young bucks, but until we actually see these guys at Premier League level we just won’t know what to expect. At least it’s exciting, though. At least Hughes is trying something new. Even if it goes tits up, at least we’ll see some different players ballsing up. I couldn’t have handled another season watching the same players produce the same rubbish.
There’s still one or two others we could do with shifting too, but right now we desperately need to get some new players in. Fletcher and Zouma are good signings, and hopefully Josh Tymon can challenge straight away, but we need at least three more.
Get in Martins Indi and Delph, and no matter how boring we are I don’t think we’ll be anywhere near relegation, but we were bloody awful going forward last season, and selling Arnautovic is hardly going to make things better. Shaqiri has looked brilliant in pre-season, but Ramadan and Berahino haven’t exactly set the world on fire and Allen has been playing at No.10 again. We need to spend some money otherwise I’d better get stocking up on matchsticks.
Possible line up
IN: Darren Fletcher (West Brom, free), Josh Tymon (Hull City, undisclosed), Kurt Zouma (Chelsea, loan)
OUT: Marko Arnautovic (West Ham, £20m), Jon Walters (Burnley, £3m), Glenn Whelan (Aston Villa, £1.3m), Phil Bardsley (Burnley, £700,000), Daniel Bachmann (Watford, free)
July 10: Neuchatel Xamax 0-1 Stoke City (Sejmenovic og)
July 12: Young Boys 2-2 Stoke City (Arnautovic, Shaqiri)
July 15: Monaco 4-2 Stoke City (Berahino, Diouf)
July 22: Amiens 0-1 Stoke City (Diouf)
July 25: Sheffield United 2-1 Stoke City (Shaqiri)
July 29: Bolton 1-2 Stoke City (Joselu)
July 30: Stoke City 1-3 Crewe Alexandra (Waddington)
Aug 5: RB Leipzig (Red Bull Arena)
Matt Stanger: 16th. It’s going to be dull, really dull. From the murmurings on message boards and social media, plenty of Stoke fans have had enough of Mark Hughes after the Potters slipped to 13th last season and mustered only 41 goals. I’m not sure Darren Fletcher is going to help in that department, but Kurt Zouma could be a solid signing on loan. Stoke may miss Jon Walters and Glenn Whelan more than many would expect and it’s imperative that Marko Arnautovic is replaced.
Daniel Storey: 13th. I don’t think Stoke will be relegated, because they should be far more defensively resilient than the bottom three. But after three consecutive top-half finishes was ended last season, Stoke are going backwards not forwards. This is not free fall, but stagnation.
Editor’s note: This preview was completed on July 31. We take no responsibility for scuppered bets or hurt feelings if this lot go out and sign Lionel Messi on transfer deadline day.