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Mark Hughes has strengthened well in the close-season, with Bojan the stand-out acquisition, and will hope to consolidate the Potters' ninth-placed finish from last season

By Harry Sherlock

With Mark Hughes spending wisely and a new style of football exciting the fans once again, hopes are high at Stoke ahead of the 2014-15 season.

Goal takes a look at the state of play at the Britannia Stadium.
 
INS

Stoke have strengthened wisely this summer, with Mark Hughes acquiring players with European pedigree and Premier League experience, despite missing out on key target Juan Agudelo, who failed to acquire a work permit for his move to England.

Bojan is the headline-grabbing signing, the ex-Barcelona wonderkid swapping the Camp Nou for the Britannia in one of the more surprising transfers of the summer.

That he did not fulfil his initial promise in Spain appears a moot point; his performances in pre-season have shown a willingness to learn and adapt to the rigours of the English game and there are signs that Hughes will look to build around his new marquee name.

Still only 23, his signing represents a remarkable coup, given that Stoke reportedly paid just £3m for his services.

Elsewhere, Mame Biram Diouf has been recruited on a free transfer to add further firepower and he will have a point to prove in the Premier League, given that his three-year spell at Manchester United yielded just one goal in nine senior appearances.

Steve Sidwell and Phil Bardsley have also joined the club for nothing and both bring with them significant Premier League experience. Sidwell impressed consistently for Fulham last season despite their relegation, while Bardsley was ever-present as Sunderland bravely fought off the drop.
 
OUTS

In terms of departures, Stoke have acted smartly and decisively. Key players – including goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and centre-back Ryan Shawcross – have been retained, while deadwood has been cleared out.

Michael Kightly, a winger who does not appear to have the quality to consistently perform in the top-flight, has joined newly-promoted Burnley following an initial loan spell at Turf Moor in 2012-13, while a clutch of young players on the fringes of the first-team, including James Alabi and Daniel Bachmann, have left on loan
 
SQUAD ASSESSMENT

While not boasting a host of star names, Stoke can be proud of the squad that has been assembled by Mark Hughes. Blessed with a steely determination, the Britannia is one of the toughest places to travel to in the Premier League and that is largely down to the gritty determination instilled in the players.

In goal, Asmir Begovic is a fine stopper and he has a more than adequate understudy in Jack Butland. Should the latter fulfil his potential he will soon be England No.1. The pair are also helped by the fact that they are shielded by a strong, uncompromising defence that conceded just two goals more than title challengers Liverpool last season. Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth offer a rugged physicality that no striker will relish going up against, while Marc Muniesa is tidy in possession and clean in the tackle.

STOKE ODDS FOR 2014-15
(From Bet365)
Top 10 11/8
Bottom 10 8/15
Relegation 11/1

Further forward, Steve Sidwell offers depth to a midfield lacking in guile and is likely to partner Charlie Adam, who has impressed since his move from Liverpool. Last season, for example, he created 32 chances and scored seven goals in 20 starts. A repeat tally this time around would be welcome on the Potteries, though further reinforcement may be required. Brek Shea, signed from FC Dallas, has failed to make any significant impact at the club and is reportedly set to leave, while Wilson Palacios appears to have regressed following his move from Tottenham.

Stephen Ireland and Matthew Etherington are both capable of delivering excellent performances but must do so consistently if Stoke are to finish in the top 10, while a move to sign Liverpool's Oussama Assaidi – so impressive whilst on loan last term – appears to have stalled. It would be a shame if the deal fell through, given that he would offer variety and pace to a rejuvenated attack also featuring the mercurial Marko Arnautovic and a redeemed Peter Odemwingie.

With the players at their disposal there can be little excuse if they resort to the long-ball game which eventually led to Tony Pulis' departure. The personnel to play an exciting, fast-paced game full of attacking intent is finally there, and it is clear to see why there is such excitement at the Britannia – despite the relative lack of depth in certain departments.
 

STAND-OUT STAR

A new signing he may be but Bojan is the man fans will be paying to see in Stoke this season. A lithe, pacey attacker, the 23-year-old may have failed to live up to expectations at Barcelona but numerous factors can explain his lack of progression, chief among them the presence of Lionel Messi at the Camp Nou.

First-team opportunities are hard to come by in Catalonia but Bojan can expect to start the majority of Stoke's games this season, fitness permitting.

Though he has swapped Xavi and Iniesta for Sidwell and Adam, there is little doubt that he will be given the ball at every available opportunity. If he finds his form he will score goals, regardless of the opposition.

Signed for a pittance, some may see the striker's signing as something of a gamble, given that he scored just five times whilst on loan at Ajax last season, but the one-cap Spain star appears ready to thrive in England, having already bagged an impressive three goals in pre-season.


 

MANAGER

Mark Hughes can be commended for instilling a new playing style at Stoke, whilst also retaining the key personnel that helped establish the club in the Premier League under Tony Pulis.

Having replaced the baseball-cap wearing Welshman at the end of the 2012-13 season, Hughes guided Stoke into the top 10 at the first time of asking, with Pulis having finished in 13th the campaign before.

An eight-point difference between the two seasons shows the instantaneous progression under the former Manchester City manager and Hughes will hope he can consolidate the Potters' league position this time around.

Despite going without the huge chequebook that he was handed at the Etihad, Hughes has bought well and has largely done away with the long-ball game that became synonymous with Pulis' Stoke.

Wins over Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal, plus a 0-0 draw with Manchester City, last campaign prove that the Potters remain a tough nut to crack and, with a supportive chairman and an optimistic, if not expectant, fanbase behind him, Hughes can expect a relatively pain-free 2014-15.
 
A GOOD 2014-15 WOULD BE...

Now an established Premier League outfit, Stoke's top-10 finish last season caught few by surprise, though the immediate challenge is to maintain their fine form.

Fellow mid-table clubs, including Swansea, West Ham and Sunderland, have all bought well and will hope to progress at Stoke's expense this term, though the Potters boast a talented and exciting squad filled with attacking promise.

There is little to suggest they have the nous required to challenge the likes of Everton and Tottenham for a Europa League place but there is scope to grow in future seasons if the current stability at the club lasts.

For now, Stoke can be happy with consolidation this term – another ninth-placed finish would undoubtedly be warmly received by the Britannia faithful.
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