On the pitch
Star man: Injuries restricted Xherdan Shaqiri to 21 league starts last season but according to Mark Hughes the 25-year-old has looked “excellent, enthused, really energetic and dynamic in everything he does” during pre-season, and has often been given licence to shine in a free role.
Biggest summer buy: As we go to print Stoke’s chequebook remains very much on ice, or wherever it is that chequebooks spend their free time, with the on-loan Kurt Zouma and scot-free Darren Fletcher the big-name arrivals of the summer so far. “The type of players we want are some of the best players in the world,” says the chief executive, Tony Scholes. “OK, not the very, very best but the next level and these players can be difficult to recruit.” He may end up having to make do with the level after that.
Breakthrough season: The 18-year-old left-back Josh Tymon made four league appearances for Hull City last season before switching to Stoke at the end of his scholarship contract, and has been ushered straight into the first-team squad, though he will initially play understudy to Erik Pieters. “He’s a good young player with good ability and a good attitude and he’s got good experience,” said Mark Hughes, who could really do with a thesaurus.
Bad boy: Joe Allen’s 10 bookings made him Stoke’s worst offender behind the departed Marko Arnautovic, and then he ended the season by earning another suspension after picking up a second yellow card of Wales’s World Cup qualifying campaign, something he then blasted as “a crap rule”. “Serbia away tends to be the type of game that I do end up getting booked in,” he said on that occasion. A look through his record makes it hard to identify the type of game that he does end up getting booked in: last season there were six at home, four away; bookings against Chelsea and both Manchesters, but also against Hull, Bournemouth and West Ham. He’s more of an equal opportunities bookee really.
Boo boy: Saido Berahino’s 13 games after joining from West Bromwich Albion in January featured 13 shots but no goals – he now has one of those in his last 41 league appearances – and some disgruntled fans. He has, Hughes reports, “come back in great shape and looks really, really hungry to have a good season this year”, but may find patience thin.
Destination Russia: Ramadan Sobhi could get a chance to shine this season after Arnautovic’s departure – though Hughes believes he is “not where he needs to be” quite yet – and his Egypt side are primed for their first World Cup appearance since 1990. He had an eventful summer, in which he got married and, less happily, was tricked by an Egyptian television show into believing that the car he was in was sinking into quicksand and being attacked by a giant man-eating lizard, prompting genuine terror which was followed – once the hoax had been revealed – by absolute fury.
Glass half-full: After nine successive mid-table finishes it’s becoming hard to see them ending up anywhere else. Plus Joselu appears to have discovered his shooting boots while on loan in Spain last season.
Glass half-empty:Marko Arnautovic’s brother and agent responded to accusations of disloyalty by suggesting Stoke “should clean up their own garbage within the club walls … what I mean is up to the club to reveal”. The club have yet to come clean but it all sounds terribly troubling.
Off the pitch
The manager: Six defeats, two wins and two draws in their final 10 games of last season – and a great deal of dull football – had many fans grumbling about Mark Hughes but the Welshman remains in post. He has experimented with formations in pre-season, with a 3-4-2-1 particularly favoured. “We’ll use it at some point this season,” he said.
The owners: According to the Sunday Times, the Coates family fortune has increased by some £1.2bn over the past year, which you would think might result in their beloved club welcoming more than 33-year-old Fletcher on a free transfer, but there you go.
Rob Holloway’s fan’s view: I was dreading this season but I’ve found some new optimism lately. Losing the likes of Arnautovic, Walters and Whelan will have an impact, but we are at our best when written off. Zouma could be the signing of the season. Prediction: 13th.
Title odds 750-1
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