Under Tony Pulis, Stoke City became regular middle-table Premier League finishers, but while Mark Hughes has not had a bad run as manager, there is a feeling among Stoke fans that club has not pushed on under his leadership, and a bottom-half finish last season did not help his cause, coming twelve months after they had finished ninth. Hughes, along with the Stoke players, will be under pressure in 2017-18, so can they deliver?
Having finished the previous campaign in a solid ninth place, Stoke’s 2016-17 season proved to be a significant disappointment. The team won none of their first seven matches and never really recovered. Although they never looked like relegation candidates, their 13th place finish was a poor return, given the quality and experience of the players in the squad.
Stoke could be set for another slow start as they face a tough beginning to the season, facing Everton, Arsenal and Manchester United in their first five matches, as well as potentially tricky away games against West Brom and Newcastle. If they repeat last season’s poor opening to the campaign, the pressure on Hughes could become intolerable.
Bookmakers’ are certainly taking a pessimistic view about Stoke improving on last year’s efforts. They are 1000/1 long shots with SkyBet to win the Premier League, but they are a shorter price to finish in the bottom half than the top half. In fact, they are as short as 4/11 with SkyBet to finish in the bottom ten, and best-priced 5/2 with William Hill to make the top ten. Relegation is still regarded as relatively unlikely and you can back that eventuality at 6/1 with BetVictor, while a top-six finish is available at 30/1 with Paddy Power.
A good cup run would help to take some of the pressure off the Premier League games, so Stoke will be keen to improve on their dismal cup record last season, when they were knocked out of the EFL Cup and the FA Cup early on. With the top seven sides likely to be resting players during the initial rounds of the cup competitions, these tournaments offer a good opportunity to pick up silverware. You can back Stoke at 50/1 with Sporting Bet to win the FA Cup, while they are priced at 50/1 with 32 Red to lift the EFL Cup.
Goals were a major problem for the club last season and Stoke fans will be hoping that main striker Saido Berahino will soon come to the fore. At his best he is a lethal finisher and now that he’s had the benefit of a full pre-season under his belt, and appears to be settled, he can return to something like his top form. Certainly, his goal-scoring ability will be crucial if Stoke are to move up the Premier League table, and if you think that he will rediscover his form this season, you can back him at 150/1 with BetFred to be the Premier League Top Scorer.
Stoke’s summer transfer business has been modest, with the biggest news surrounding departures rather than arrivals. Marko Arnautovic finally left to join West Ham, and the club has also parted ways with Phil Bardsley, Jon Walters and Glenn Whelan, while the only notable addition has been Kurt Zouma of Chelsea. Further signings are likely, and we can expect at least one more striker to be added to the squad before the transfer window closes.