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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Leicester City Preview

Manager: Claudio Ranieri
Stadium: King Power Stadium
Captain: Wes Morgan
Top Scorer: Leonardo Ulloa (13)

Leicester City have played some great football last season only winning 2 games pre-Christmas. The transformation after Christmas was huge and played some wonderful football after Christmas. Leicester have a squad full of stars that if they perform can make a go of qualifying for European football.

A stunning 5-3 win over Manchester United was a wonderful game to watch and and 1 that I will remember for some time to come. Leicester showed some pace and slick movement to beat Van Gaal’s hapless Reds. They also enjoyed impressive wins over Newcastle (3-0) and QPR (5-1) that showed the rest of the league that they can be a very clinical side they managed to net 46 times over the course of the season although they conceded 55 goals in the process as well but the promoted side put in a good season under Nigel Pearson and it is a shame that scandal swept through the club costing the manager his job. However Ranieri is an accomplished professional and could raise Leicester to new heights.

Ranieri has enjoyed spells at a number of top clubs including Chelsea and Inter Milan.

Ranieri has enjoyed spells at a number of top clubs including Chelsea and Inter Milan.

Throughout April and May Leicester only lost 1 game and that was champions Chelsea, they also only conceded 7 goals in that time 3 coming in the 3-1 loss to Chelsea. They finished with a flourish, they would have been hoping the season would never end as they built up a head of steam and started to look the real deal throughout the Spring. They have some very strong players in attack with the likes of Vardy who earned himself an England call-up after a strong season for the Foxes. Jamie Vardy can be a great finisher and proved that on multiple occasions he has plenty of partners such as Nugent, Ulloa, Kramaric and Okazaki all of whom can finish.

Vardy celebrates scoring a goal for Leicester City.

Vardy celebrates scoring a goal for Leicester City.

Leicester have very big boots to fill after Argentine legend Cambiasso announced he will not renew his contract at the King Power Stadium. Esteban Cambiasso was named Player of the Season for Leicester last season and it is unclear who will replace even though Ranieri has said he will sign a replacement. They will hope to build on their return to England’s top tier and look to score like they did last season. They should have no problem avoiding relegation the question is by how much?

Jamie Vardy is a key man for Leicester as is Schmeichel who has been a rock in between the sticks always a key position for clubs looking to avoid going straight back down. The son of the legendary Manchester United keeper Peter is finally stepping out of his father’s shadow as a Leicester City star. He will be key again this season, the goalkeeper will hope he can keep Leicester playing well and hold off the challenge of 42 year old veteran Mark Schwarzer who has played for multiple Premier League clubs.

Robert Huth is a very good signing for the midlands club and his Premier League experience will be invaluable. Huth should be able to play a big part in Leicester kicking on as a Premier League side. The signing of Japanese striker Okazaki has made 93 appearances for his country netting 43 goals and at Mainz he scored 27 goals in 65 games. A very good finisher and sure to add some more firepower to an already powerful strike force.

Robert Huth in action for his new club.

Robert Huth in action for his new club.sche

Leaving King Power Stadium are some players that weren’t making waves bar Cambiasso who was huge for Leicester City. Knockaert has been at Leicester a while and made 93 appearances for the club scoring 13 goals as he leaves for Standard Liege. Leicester have also have offloaded Chris Wood who spent a lot of time on loan whilst he was at Leicester his move to Leeds sees Leicester lose a promising striker.

IN: Robert Huth (Stoke City, £3 million)
Shinji Okazaki (Mainz 05, £7 million)
Christian Fuchs (Schalke 04, Free)

OUT: Esteban Cambiasso (Free Agents, Free)
Chris Wood (Leeds United, £3 million)
Anthony Knockaert (Standard Liege, Free)
Paul Gallagher (Preston North End, Free)

Leicester City will be a hugely challenging prospect at times over the course of the season. It could be quite a tough challenge to go to King Power Stadium with a team that has big aspirations and a squad full of names that any self-respecting football fan knows add to that a couple of promising youngsters and there you have a team that can go places.

My Leicester City XI (4-4-2): 1 K.Schmeichel; 2 R.De Laet 5 W.Morgan (C) 14 R.Huth 19 C.Fuchs; 7 D.Hammond 10 A.King 8 M.James 11 M.Albrighton; 9 J.Vardy 23 L.Ulloa

Bench: 32 M.Schwarzer 17 D.Simpson 3 P.Konchesky 18 L.Moore 4 D.Drinkwater 20 S.Okazaki 35 D.Nugent

Last Season: 14th
Prediction: 14th