Ninth place last season made Stoke the best team in the Midlands for the first time in its history, according to the cumulative table across the leagues. Fifty points also beat the club’s previous Premier League best of 47 from the 2009-10 season, but it wasn’t exactly a smooth ride. The team met or exceeded all expectations in terms of results, but not without a fair amount of drama on the field.
Manager Mark Hughes inherited much of Tony Pulis’ team from the previous year after a quiet transfer period, and he couldn’t do much to instill a more possession-based game. Despite a desire to make strides in that direction, hanging precariously close to relegation in January threw stylistic considerations out the window in favor of survival.
Stoke only earned one point in six matches from Boxing Day until the end of January, a draw against Everton on New Year’s Day. Stoke lost to Sunderland and Crystal Palace in the process, the limitations of the squad becoming readily apparent during those 1-0 results. The Potters embraced their identity, slashing and clawing their way to 28 points starting Feb. 1 and only losing three games the rest of the season.
Minus signing Bojan Krkić from Barcelona, Hughes didn’t make much more of a splash this summer. Unless he can find a way to mold the players he has into a more positive, attacking team, it could be more of the same from the Potters this year.
KEY ARRIVALS: D Phil Bardsley (from Sunderland), F Bojan Krkić (from Barcelona), M Steve Sidwell (from Fulham)
KEY DEPARTURES: M Matthew Etherington (released), M Michael Kightly (to Burnley)
PLAYER TO WATCH: After earning the No. 1 shirt outright last year, Bosnia-Herzegovina goalkeeper Asmir Begović became one of the best all-around players at his position in the league. Fans will remember his stunning effort to score from his own penalty area against Liverpool, but Stoke would settle for heroics of a more traditional nature from him this season.
KEY STAT: Stoke finished fourth-highest in the Premier League in terms of time spent in its own half of the field last season (30 percent) and third-lowest in time spent in the opposition’s half (25 percent). The direct, physical game they played also resulted in 12.8 fouls per game, coming just behind Aston Villa’s 12.9 as the highest number in the league.
STADIUM: Britannia Stadium (Built in 1997; Capacity 27,740)
Located on an elevated site, the L-shaped Boothen End and Novus Stand enclose the north and east sides of the stadium, while the main Q-Railing Stand offers a two-tier look. The Marston’s Pedigree Stand sits alone. The entire stadium, though, looks across the valley of the River Trent and can be seen from throughout the city.