The time has come to look towards the new season and consider what mountainous highs or cavernous lows the next 10 months could bring. The distraction of a national team tournament has been brushed away as if it were a wet flannel thrown over our faces which means we can now concentrate on Stoke’s ninth foray into a Premier League campaign. But what can we, or indeed should we, expect from our Potters this time around?
‘Expect the unexpected’ is the oft told mantra that attempts to inform us of the untamed unpredictability of the world around us. As you will already know Leicester City were crowned champions, Chelsea only just scraped into the top half and Arsenal weren’t the only team in North London to bottle it last season, so it would be a phrase that is still very much well-suited to the Premier League as a whole. The same cannot be said for our beloved Potters.
Mirroring the instructions on how to call your local emergency services branch, Stoke’s finishing positions in the last few seasons shows consistency. Never fraught with relegation pressure and never taking the next step to achieving European footballing glory, does the word stagnation comes into mind when considering Stoke City at the moment? Pinpointing a target position that we should expect our Potters to finish up in is always a difficult task, but even more so when we look at the plethora of talented and ambitious squads making up the rest of the Premier League.
Arsenal, Spurs, the two Manchester clubs, Chelsea, and Liverpool. Six clubs with big squads, reputable managers and ambitions to attain Champions League football in the coming season. Although Leicester so famously did, this nut is a very difficult one to crack. It doesn’t mean it is an impossibility but all six are spending big money to reach their targets and they all have the ability to ramp that budget up if need be. This might be a tough one to swallow, but these are clubs are probably in a better position, on paper at the very least, than we are.
It isn’t just good things that come in twos and here comes our second bitter pill. There are a few clubs that have similar aspirations to those of our own. Southampton, West Ham, Everton and a slightly depleted Leicester City will all be preparing their attempts to storm the beaches of Europe once more. Including us in the equation that makes a predictable ten teams that are all hoping, with plenty of financial backing, to book some European flights with EasyJet in 2017. That is without mentioning the likes of Swansea, Crystal Palace and the other eight teams that have their own agendas to maintain and potential top half targets to reach. Maintaining a top half finish for the fourth consecutive season looks a difficult task once more and it would be almost impossible to predict where we will finish up amongst those teams.
Thankfully, we are long past the days of the “40-point mark” philosophy that was synonymous with Tony Pulis. We are now well and truly in the midst of the Mark Hughes era. The only first team remnants of the TP era are Ryan Shawcross, Glenn Whelan, Marc Wilson, and Jon Walters. Over £70 million has been spent since Hughes’ arrival on the 30th May 2013 and surely now it is the season that the new Stoke City come into their own. Not only should we be expecting a big season from our now star-studded squad but also from the man in charge. Wherever we end up going tactically this season we should be expecting that Hughes has the players in his expensive armoury to bring the results.
Although I’ve outlined ten sides that will all have a minimum expectation, I think this season we should, as much as is possible for a Stoke fan, forget about the place we end up in. Below a European place I would argue our finishing position doesn’t matter at all. Instead we should be concentrating on things that only came around once in a while last time around. And great performances.
With the squad in the position it is in we should be expecting the performances seen against the likes of the Manchester teams, at home at least, last season, on a more regular basis. Twelve months ago we hoped, but now is the time for the team to step up and really make an impression on the league and cups. The scintillating performances that we all know we are capable of could finally dispel the reputation that we are still the team to hate and I fully expect that to happen.
Of course, those good performances should inevitably mean finishing higher up in the league but I don’t think it matters as much as it did under TP. 9th position possibly felt sour in the mouth last term as something we didn’t really deserve. I think many would have preferred a season with consistently good football to the lacklustre football we saw at times after Christmas. Obviously points on the board are necessary to avoid relegation and take the club to the next level but my point is we should be expecting more than that now. The money spent, the talent acquired and our tactically astute manager should be the ingredients for a quite potent potion of exciting football in the coming months.
Expectancy can be rather dangerous, but living dangerously is all part of the Premier League. Even if there are at least nine other teams in the league with similar aspirations to our own we need to have real ambition now. The Mark Hughes project that has seemed to help bring players in during the Welshman’s tenure is in full flow and I hope it’s the time now that we really start seeing the fruits of his labour reach their full potential. I don’t want to expect a European place this season, nor another cup run but I do expect exciting, fast and successful football, and with that the glory could come!