Stoke City Preview

Manager: Mark Hughes
Stadium: Britannia Stadium
Captain: Ryan Shawcross
Top Scorer: Mame Biram Diouf (12)

Stoke City seem to have surprised many in recent years by not being involved in the basement battle which has seen many good sides go down. Stoke always seem to be able to achieve that safe mid-table finish.

Stoke’s squad is built around having technically gifted midfielders they are solid and reliable but lack the attacking spark of say Everton or Spurs teams with a similar budget but a different play style. The gameplan has not changed much since the departure of former manager Pulis who was the man that built this side into the team that don the red and white today. They started last season with an indifferent run of form really setting the tone for the season. Their away form looked good until the 4th October when a trip to Sunderland derailed that as Stoke were beaten 3-1 with Adam scoring the only goal for Stoke. Their most promising early season display was a great win over Manchester City as Stoke won 1-0 courtesy of Diouf, it was made all the more impressive with the game having been at the Etihad Stadium.

Mame Biram Diouf celebrates a goal against QPR.

Mame Biram Diouf celebrates a goal against QPR.

Stoke’s life in mid-season was made more difficult by a tough run of 3 games against Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. After 2 losses to both Liverpool and Manchester United, Stoke were on a run of 3 straight losses, an emphatic 3-2 win over Arsenal at the Brittania Stadium saw Stoke pick themselves up and give their team a fighting chance of European football, the end goal for Stoke in any given season. This win however was avenged on 11th January as Arsenal won 3-0 in the return leg. Undoubtedly Stoke’s best football was played at the end of the season smashed Tottenham 3-0 before a draw with Burnley followed by the 6-1 destruction of Liverpool ruining Gerarrd’s leaving party.

Cup runs seem to be a thing of the past for Stoke, the FA Cup threw up what seemed a routine game against Wrexham which Stoke were losing until the final 10 minutes as Stoke fired home 3 goals in the final 10 minutes the 2nd coming 2 minutes from time and the 3rd in the 4th minute of stoppage time both thanks to former Manchester City player Stephen Ireland. They eventually crashed out to Blackburn Rovers who slaughtered Stoke 4-1 in the 5th round.

The best player for Stoke last season has to be Charlie Adam, the midfielder was in inspired form especially following Christmas. Ryan Shawcross may be the captain but the midfielder has a role to play in leadership of the club. Adam is tireless and fits the Stoke mould of a powerful, solid midfielder with little creativity, he is the heartbeat of the Stoke midfield offering himself as the man to go through linking the solid defenders with the towering strikers. His passing game is something to be admired whether you are a Stoke fan or a neutral Charlie Adam is a player to watch.

Charlie Adam after his outrageous long range effort against Chelsea.

Charlie Adam after his outrageous long range effort against Chelsea.

Business in the market has seen Stoke snap up 6 new faces and part company with 8 first team players. The signing of Irish keeper Given is big news having lost Begovic to title holders Chelsea resources were looking rather thin on the ground with Butland the only first team keeper but Stoke have boosted the ranks by signing the Irish veteran and the Danish 23 year old Jakob Haugaard. They have also signed England right back Glen Johnson, it was inevitable he would the leave the club what with Nathaniel Clyne moving to Anfield. Johnson will add experience to this squad and bring a wealth of Premier League knowledge. Stoke have also brought in Afellay from La Liga giants Barcelona. The midfielder has 50 Netherlands caps to his name and could be a hugely exciting player to watch should he play a big role in Stoke’s forthcoming campaign.

Shay Given making a save for former club Aston Villa.

Shay Given making a save for former club Aston Villa.

The loss of keeper Begovic is huge for the club, he was a massive asset and he will be missed by fans at the Brittania Stadium but with the pulling power Chelsea have the move was never in doubt especially after the departure of Cech. Steven N’Zonzi is also on his way out the midfielder has been a big part if the club for so many years and was impressive last season for The Potters he will be missed by the club as he leaves for Spain. They have also lost another club stalwart in Robert Huth the 30 year old spent 6 seasons at Stoke and established himself as 1 of the 1st names on the team sheet, he will be missed.

IN: Jakob Haugaard (FC Midtjylland, Undisclosed)
Phillip Wollscheid (Bayer Leverkusen, Undisclosed)
Shay Given (Aston Villa, Free)
Glen Johnson (Liverpool, Free)
Joselu (Hannover 96, £5.75 million)
Ibrahim Afellay (Barcelona, Free)

OUT: Asmir Begovic (Chelsea, £8 million)
Steven N’Zonzi (Sevilla, £7 million)
Charlie Ward (Free Agents, Free)
Tom Sorensen (Free Agents, Free)
Andy Wilkinson (Free Agents, Free)
Wilson Palacios (Free Agents, Free)
Robert Huth (Leicester City, Undisclosed)
Jamie Ness (Scunthorpe United, Free)

Stoke have recruited well and could well mount a challenge for Europe this season they must try and make the Brittania Stadium a fortress and if they can find a plan B alternative to the ‘long ball’ game they have made their own.

My Stoke City XI (4-3-1-2): 24 S.Given; 8 G.Johnson, 17 R.Shawcross, 26 P.Wollscheid, 12 M.Wilson; 16 C.Adam, 6 G.Whelan 7 S.Ireland; 14 I.Afellay; 18 MB. Diouf 25 P.Crouch

Bench: 1 J.Butland, 2 P.Bardsley 3 E.Pieters 15 M.Van Ginkel 21 S.Sidwell 10 M.Arnautovic 11 Joselu

Last Season: 9th
Prediction: 13th

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Crystal Palace Preview

Manager: Alan Pardew
Stadium: Selhurst Park
Captain: Mile Jedinak
Top Scorer: Dwight Gayle (10)

Crystal Palace had a real transformation when former Newcastle boss Pardew joined the club he had enjoyed a successful spell at as a player. He took Crystal Palace from a possible relegation scrap to mid-table safety and with some very talented players I see no reason they can’t secure an even better spot this season and possibly fight for European football.

Jedinak celebrates scoring against Liverpool.

Jedinak celebrates scoring against Liverpool.

Crystal Palace claimed some impressive scalps throughout the season against top sides with wins against Manchester City, Liverpool and Spurs all falling foul of the London club. The victories made them confident and that was expressed in the second half of the season and with players like Bolasie, Zaha and Jedinak made chances for the likes of Chamakh and Gayle. Crystal Palace are a force to be reckoned with as the teams found out over the course of the season.

After Pardew took over Crystal Palace won 10 games and lost only 7 in a run that lifted the club into mid-table and away from a relegation scrap which became closer to call as the season progressed. Crystal Palace’s form at Selhurst Park over the course of the season will give the club hope for next season especially with the recruitment Pardew has made over the summer as well as shifting some deadwood in the squad. Their cup runs were also credible only falling to Liverpool in the FA Cup and Newcastle in the League Cup in early stages but to only lose to Premier League opposition should stand them in good stead heading into the cup competitions this coming season.

Given the mentality Crystal Palace built under the stewardship of Pardew they can head into this season proud but eager to progress to the next level in terms of quality and clinical ability. Crystal Palace have proved themselves now and their aim for this season has to be a top 8 finish. The way they finished the season was impressive as they practically switched places with Newcastle as the latter crashed into the relegation battle which was something to admire when watching the London club.

Yannick Bolasie was so strong for Crystal Palace last season his pace down the wings make him very good at beating defenders some of the strongest full backs have their work cut out against him. The winger was instrumental to his team’s attack and worked well in covering in defence. When he fires though not many defenders would fancy their chances. I am surprised the winger has not been approached by the likes of Liverpool who are in the market for a replacement for City attacking midfielder Sterling. Bolasie will have a huge effect on Crystal Palace’s fortune this season.

Yannick Bolasie on the ball against Everton.

Yannick Bolasie on the ball against Everton.

Crystal Palace have seen a reunion over the summer with the recruitment of former Newcastle midfielder Cabaye to Crystal Palace. Cabaye adds some creativity to the Crystal Palace midfield and if the French international plays well then Palace will most likely have a good season. Cabaye is a strong provider and will also add goals with his venomous shot. Yohan Cabaye made 79 appearances for Newcastle and scored 17 goals, he also has made 39 appearances for France and scored 3 goals. Palace have recruited a goalkeeper to add strength to an already strong pool of talent with Speroni and Hennessy already at the club. He is unlikely to make the team with the already talented duo at the club.

Cabaye joining Crystal Palace will see a reunion with former Newcastle boss Alan Pardew.

Cabaye joining Crystal Palace will see a reunion with former Newcastle boss Alan Pardew.

Pardew has done well in recruitment and also in offloading some of the players that were not really adding anything to the squad except for taking up space on the wage bill. Jerome Thomas is leaving in one of the high profile names relative to some of the names on the list as Cabaye comes in another former Newcastle man Shola Ameobi leaves the club on a long list of names that leave the club this summer.

IN: Yohan Cabaye (Paris Saint-Germain, £10 million)
Alex McCarthy (Queens Park Rangers, £3.5 million)

OUT: Shola Ameobi (Free Agent, Free)
Sonny Black (Free Agent, Free)
Michael Chambers (Welling United, Free)
Shawniki Clement-Peter (Free Agent, Free)
Bradley Commins (Free Agent, Free)
Kyle De Silva (Notts County, Free)
Stephen Dobbie (Free Agent, Free)
Mandela Egbo (Borussia Monchengladbach, Undisclosed)
Morgan Ferrier (Free Agent, Free)
Owen Garvan (Free Agent, Free)
Jahmal Howlett-Mundle (Heart of Midlothian, Free)
Elliot List (Gillingham, Released)
Kiye Martin (Free Agent, Free)
Lewis Price (Sheffield Wednesday, Free)
Peter Ramage (Free Agent, Free)
Ghassimu Sow (Free Agent, Free)
Jerome Thomas (Free Agent, Free)

Crystal Palace have a squad capable of winning big games next season and finishing in a strong position couple with that with the addition of a star midfielder and there you have a team that could do something special. They have to aim for an improvement on last season and if they play like we all know they can then that is inevitable.

My Crystal Palace XI (4-2-3-1): 1 J.Speroni; 2 J.Ward 6 S.Dann 27 D.Delaney 34 M.Kelly; 15 M.Jedinak (C) 18 J.McArthur; 7 Y.Bolasie 14 Y.Cabaye 11 W.Zaha; 29 M.Chamakh

Bench: 13 W.Hennessy 5 P.McCarthy 4 B.Hangeland 28 J.Ledley 22 J.Mutch 42 J.Puncheon 9 P.Bamford

Last Season: 10th
Prediction: 8th