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Many were skeptical about the predicted impact of Mark Hughes as successor to Stoke City stalwart Tony Pulis last season.

Hughes was happy to prove his doubters wrong.

Stoke City: Season 2014-15 preview
He guided Stoke to a 9th place finish which is their highest in the Barclays Premier League in their six season stint back in the top flight of English football.

Lets look and see how they are shaping up with a matter of days before their 2014-15 campaign gets underway.

Lessons from last season

In seasons past under Pulis, Stoke had been known as a tough tackling route one side. They looked to exploit the height and strength of their attacking and defensive options to score goals from set pieces, and bully their opponents in the middle of the park. The arrival of Hughes saw a change in philosophy, with him outlining his desire from his very first day in charge to eradicate that stereotype, and to replace that with a Stoke team known for their passing and movement. The arrivals of Erik Pieters, Marko Arnautovic, Stephen Ireland, Oussama Assaidi and Peter Odemwingie adhered to this new philosophy, using pace and trickery down the wings to feed the attacking options, as well as getting Stoke passing the ball through the middle of the park. It is clear to see that Stoke had more attacking avenues to explore, and evidently reaped the rewards with home wins over Chelsea, Man Utd, and Arsenal.

Strengths

Stoke have always prided themselves on their home form, and this season won’t be any different. Winning 10 home games out of 19 in the league last season, that’s an instant 30 points on the way to Premier League survival that is often achieved by 38 points plus. But after a top half finish, the Potters won’t be looking over their shoulders, they will be looking to the horizon.

Another strength to Stoke is their stubbornness. Only three times last season did they lose by three or more goals, and that shows that they know how to frustrate teams and grind out points when they are needed. Players like Charlie Adam and Steve Sidwell are never afraid to dig into a game to scrap and make it ugly in order to pick up points, and usually tenacity like that secures you vital points and vital times in a season.

Weaknesses

One weakness to Stoke is their lack of pace along the back line. If you’ve got legs and trickery, you’ll be able to run rings around players like Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth and Geoff Cameron which means you can soon make the numbers game work in your favour.

Another weakness is due to their tough nature, Stoke pick up a high number of cards. Jonathan Walters and Marc Wilson collected eight yellow cards and one red each last season, with Peter Crouch, Geoff Cameron and Ryan Shawcross (sent off once) received seven yellows each. Admittedly though, a ‘taking one for the team’ philosophy denied their opposition more goal scoring opportunities that worked in their favour?

The manager

Hughes has done a terrific job in charge so far, with his players taking well to his alternative style of playing football compared to his predecessor. The challenge now is to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke, and he has targeted areas of the squad to improve and has conjured up some rather astute acquisitions.

Key player

Bojan Krkic will be one to watch with the reputation he has, but their retention of goalkeeper Asmir Begovic eclipses any new signing thus far. His continued solid performances have seen him in high demand in recent seasons, with Chelsea and Manchester United previously being linked to the Bosnian. It is essential that Stoke field a match day eleven with his safe hands on the goal line.

Summer transfer activity

Stoke have not possessed a playmaker anywhere close to his Messi like style of play for quite some time, and he will provide a unique range of passing and running at players in comparison to the rest of his teammates. His unpredictability and tactical awareness, as well as silky skills, could serve as a game changer to adapt to different opposition placed in front of them, and he has already chipped in with three goals in pre-season.

Other signings, including Dionatan Teixeira, Steve Sidwell, Phil Bardsley and Mame Biram Diouf, with the latter three providing Premier League experience to solidify the existing playing staff and adds squad depth.

Prediction

Stoke should be able to achieve a top ten finish once again, and I believe they will finish somewhere around 10th to 12th. They haven’t disrupted last seasons successful squad too much, and have brought in fresh ideas and added quality in important areas to give the current crop a hand. Their resilient nature looks set to continue as the signs look good for the Potters.

Originally published at cravingfootball.co.uk

Post written by Ian Gurney, Twitter: @Ian_Gurney
for Craving Football, Blog: cravingfootball.co.uk, Twitter: @cravingfootball

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