Are Stoke Pottering their way to Europe?

Stoke Britannia Stadium

Old-fashioned and unfancied - why Stoke City would be perfect for the Europa League.

 

It might have a strangely divisive reputation among many top-level clubs, but there are fewer places that the Europa League would be more welcome than Britannia Stadium - and, with a bit of good fortune, Stoke could just make that happen.

In an age where seemingly every team has the same style of play, a cosmopolitan line up, and are lead by an international manager, it'd be quite novel to have an old-fashioned British side representing the Premier League in the competition.

For Mark Hughes, it would offer further redemption since rebuilding his career after the disastrous stint at QPR, and his club would have further kudos to the argument that they've moved away from the kick-and-rush style of play so derided under Tony Pulis. Albeit not completely.

Of course, no one at Stoke will say it, as they remain rank outsiders, sitting behind a top seven filled with heavyweight contenders - but, whisper it, the Potters have manoeuvred unheralded into the picture.

Three league wins on the bounce reflect a side brimming with confidence, while their only Premier League defeats in 2015 have come away to Arsenal and at home to the champions, Manchester City.

Manchester United were grateful to leave Staffordshire with a point after being battered on New Year's Day, and a supposedly resurgent Everton were dispatched of clinically last time out.

Over the course of their run-in, only a trip to Chelsea looks ominous for Stoke, while the visits of Southampton and Tottenham, the two teams immediately above them, could be decisive.

But it is not the face-offs with the big boys that should worry them - it's their record against bottom half sides that has been scratchy, the tenth best in the country.

If the table was determined by ties with top-half teams alone, they'd be a place better off.

A trip to West Brom next weekend, before hosting Crystal Palace, round out the month with an eminent opportunity to maintain their momentum.

Without an out-and-out goalscorer, the joint-lowest scorers in the top half, Stoke may not exhilarate in the same way that Liverpool and Tottenham can, but they are able to grind out a result - almost half of their twelve wins this season have been 1-0.

It might be a long shot to predict them to land a top-six berth and, realistically, they'll fall short, but Stoke would be a worthy representative - they certainly took it seriously in 2012, the first time they entered the tournament in the Premier League era.

Back then, they were unfortunate to draw an in-form Valencia side in the first knock-out round. Stoke might not be favourites for the Europa League but, with divisional rivals lax about the tournament, they'd at least give it a proper tilt.

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