Stoke chairman Peter Coates took the brave decision at the start of the summer to replace long-serving Tony Pulis with Mark Hughes, who returns to management on the back of a 12-game winless start to last season with Queens Park Rangers which culminated in his sacking. Hughes' main priority over the summer has been to introduce a new style of play. Stoke have looked to keep hold of the ball in their pre-season games and, although it has not produced more goals, three successive clean sheets going into their Premier League opener suggests City can maintain their strong defence.
Hughes is out to restore his reputation following the failure at QPR, and so far he has impressed Stoke supporters with his desire to get the team passing and attacking more than they did under Pulis. His faith in the current squad to adapt to the new style of play has also pleased fans who feared a QPR-like overhaul but the big challenge for Hughes is to get Stoke scoring more goals in the Premier League.
Ins and Outs
- Erik Pieters - £3m
- Marc Muniesa - Free
- Alex Grant - Free
- Matthew Upson - Free
- Dean Whitehead - Free
- Rory Delap - Free
After failing to make a single Premier League start last season, will be keen to prove he does in fact still have the desire and the fitness to be a top-flight player.
Form suffered in the second half of last season as he became unsettled but, when in the right frame of mind, the midfielder is Stoke's main man.
Forms a formidable partnership in the centre of Stoke's defence with Robert Huth but, as captain, relied on for leadership and organisation.
Strengths & Weaknesses
Stoke's strength has always been their defensive solidity but it remains to be seen whether City will prove quite as tough to break down with full-backs instructed to overlap, and more of an emphasis placed on the central midfielders to create rather than simply break up. The team's weakness under Pulis was consistently their ability to score goals, and just four goals scored in five pre-season outings suggest it will remain a problem unless Hughes can beef up his attack before September 2nd.
Hughes has strengthened the one area in which Stoke were weak numbers-wise, with Marc Muniesa likely to provide back-up to Erik Pieters at left-back. City have also suffered from a lack of quality going forward from the position - right-footed midfielder Marc Wilson has played there most regularly - but the addition of Pieters should give them more attacking options down that side. Stoke are well stocked everywhere else but a new striker is a must, and the club's transfer team continues to negotiate with Hannover over the possible signing of former Manchester United man Mame Biram Diouf. USA forward Juan Agudelo has signed a pre-contract agreement but could yet arrive sooner, while Scott Sinclair and Junior Hoilett are also linked with a move.
"The teams I have been involved in the past have always scored goals. That is an area maybe in the past the team has not been able to help itself by the amount of goals it has been able to score. I will look to address that."
"I think everyone knows what he wants by now. He's trying to get us to get the ball down a lot more, not being as direct and playing through midfield a bit more. Everyone is enjoying it and taking to his ways really well."
Facts and Figures
Won more aerial duels than any other 2012/13 Premier League team
Lowest total of goals scored by any non-relegated team in Premier League
Stoke produced a league-low total of shots in 2012/13's Premier League
Stoke conceded a league-high total of fouls against them last season
Number of times Stoke conceded from outside the penalty area
I think Tony Pulis was unfortunate to lose his job and a lot of that had to do with the style of football that Stoke play. But Mark Hughes has come in and he will be desperate to show everyone that his time at QPR was a blip. He has done well everywhere else he has been as a manager and it will be interesting to see what style of play he tries to implement. Will he stay with the way Stoke play or will he try and change it? And has he got the players to change it? But I don't really fear for them. It is always a difficult place to go.