Need to know: Stoke
LONDON (AP) — Five things to know about Stoke going into the 2013-14 Premier League season:
Tony Pulis departed as manager after seven years and the club brought in Mark Hughes to lead the side in the new Premier League season. Hughes enjoyed successful spells with Fulham, Manchester City and Blackburn in the Premier League but his previous job, at Queens Park Rangers, holds less fond memories. The club was winless after 12 games in the league when Hughes was fired, which will provide him with extra motivation to succeed at Stoke.
EVOLUTION OF TACTICS?
Pulis was renowned for playing an aggressive, long-ball style relying on tall, strong players to tackle hard in defense and be strong aerially in attack. Such tactics aren’t considered as easy on the eye as the passing styles of other teams in the league, but they have been effective for Stoke, which never finished lower than 14th under Pulis. However, Hughes has spoken of a desire to alter Stoke’s directness in attack in the hope that a new style could help them push further up the table than least season’s 13th-place finish.
Hughes has signed two new defenders who could start in Stoke’s first game of the season, away to Liverpool. Left-sided Netherlands defender Erik Pieters has joined the club from PSV Eindhoven on a four-year contract, as has central defender Marc Muniesa from Barcelona. The 21-year-old Muniesa is an exciting signing for Stoke; he played a key role in the Spain under-21 squad that won the European Championship this summer.
Arguably Stoke’s strongest position is in goal, where Hughes has a choice between Bosnia international Amir Begovic and Jack Butland, a member of England’s Euro 2012 squad. The 20-year-old Butland hasn’t played in the Premier League yet but is highly regarded. If he doesn’t immediately usurp Begovic as the No. 1 choice for Hughes, he remains well-placed to take over the goalkeeping jersey in the future. Still, Begovic is an imposing figure: the 24-year-old is 1.96 meters (6-foot-5) tall and turned in impressive displays for Stoke last season, when he was linked with Arsenal and Manchester United by English media.
ENGLAND PLAYERS EYEING WORLD CUP
While Butland will hope to be selected as an understudy to Joe Hart if England qualifies for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Peter Crouch and Ryan Shawcross will also be aiming to become surprise inclusions in the squad. Striker Crouch has scored 22 goals for England but inconsistent form for his club last season meant he was rarely considered. Stoke captain Shawcross has been on the cusp of the England squad under Roy Hodgson for a long time, but has yet to add to his single cap earned under previous manager Fabio Capello.