Premier League Preview Number 12: Stoke City

09 August 2009

Stoke City

Biggest Ins: Stoke City have only brought one player in: Dean Whitehead. He’s a competent defensive midfielder and should be a day one starter.

Biggest Outs: Seyi Olofinjana. I like him in the midfield, yet Tony Pulis saw him as only an occasional starter. Vincent Pericard was only a fringe player at Stoke, and was allowed to move on.

Easiest Month: February. Stoke City opens the month hosting Blackburn before road trips to Wigan and Portsmouth. Stoke City ends the month hosting Arsenal. Considering Arsenal lost at the Britannia Stadium last season, this is a month where Stoke City could get 10 points in.

Toughest Month: The final three games of the season. Stoke’s final three games are away to Chelsea and Manchester United, with a home game against Everton sandwiched in-between. I would not be surprised if they only got a point against Everton at the end of the season.

Five Questions About Stoke City This Season
1) Will familiarity breed content? With the exception of Whitehead coming in and Olofinjana leaving, this is the exact same team as last year. If anything, this team should click right from the start. However, everyone should know exactly how to break them down.
2) Does Tony Pulis have a plan C? After teams figured out his long ball tactics that got them to where they were by Christmas, teams got the picture and Stoke went into a mini-slump. It was only after Pulis found a plan B did Stoke City get out of the slump they were in and finish safely away from relegation. Pulis will need another one or two of those same tricks this season.
3) Can Rory Delap find his long throw-in form that killed teams early last season? Once he got tendonitis in his shoulders, that weapon quickly left the Stoke arsenal. If it’s back this season, Stoke can stay in any game.
4) Is Liam Lawrence a 38 game starter? Last year he only started seventeen games and missed plenty of action due to an injury that you’ll see on the oddest injuries ever (falling over his dog). If he is able to start a bulk of the season, Stoke City solves their problem on the right side of the midfield.
5) Will the Britannia Stadium crowd again make a difference? Last season, despite the stadium capacity, they were the loudest venue I heard. Add to that the narrower than usual pitch size, it is one of the ultimate home field advantages. Again, expect the stadium to give clubs grief.

My Ultimate Reality: I will be the first to admit I thought this team would be one and done in the Premier League. Stoke City, however, proved a lot of people wrong. I expect Tony Pulis to continue to make just enough minor tweaks to his tactical set up to keep teams guessing. With two good lines of four at the back and Ricardo Fuller up front, this team will finish where they were last season. I don’t even expect this team heading into April to be a relegation threat at all.

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Johnathan Starling, the self proclaimed 'most brutally honest man on the net, dishes out his own unique brand of opinions, and analysis on the Premier League, Bundesliga, and all things US Soccer.

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