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Premiership Preview–20. Stoke City

August is finally here, and with it comes the final run-in to the start of the 2008-2009 Premiership season. You all know my preview plans by now — I’ll cover all 20 teams in the next 10 days — and it all starts today. Without further ado, let’s light this candle.

Stoke Premiership Preview–20. Stoke City 20. Finishing 2nd in the Coca-Cola Championship last season was a great accomplishment for Stoke City, the second-oldest club in the Football League after Notts County. The Potters hadn’t played in England’s top flight for over two decades, and their last showing — 17 points in 1984-1985 — set a record for futility that lasted 21 years. They’ll be hoping for a better run this season, but the gap between the Premiership and the Championship is larger than it ever has been and it’s going to be tough sledding for Stoke.

Tony Pulis is in his second stint as manager, taking the reins again in June of ‘06 after already leading the club from November 2002-June 2005. He’s brought in striker Dave Kitson from Premiership-relegated Reading for $11 million, a record signing, and tall Nigerian midfielder Seyi Olofinjana, who’s played the last four seasons for Wolves. Thomas Sorensen joined up on a free transfer from Aston Villa, where his services were no longer required after Brad Friedel and Brad Guzan were signed, and the Danish international should overtake the incumbent, Steve Simonsen, for the starting goalkeeper position.

Pulis hasn’t lost anyone of consequence; he released club captain Dominic Matteo, but Matteo played only sporadically last season and had no place in this team. With Matteo gone, right back Andy Griffin will wear the armband in his third go-around with the club.

Midfield will be Stoke’s strongest area, with Olofinjana set to occupy one of the central roles. Former Liverpool player Salif Diao will play in the “Makélélé Role” just ahead of the back four and behind his fellow African. Liam Lawrence, Stoke’s Player of the Year last season, will be on the right wing, with the versatile Danny Pugh opposite him on the left. Depending on the opponent, you could see five in the midfield and a lone striker, and when that’s the case, playmaker Glenn Whelan will be alongside Olofinjana in the center.

Projected Starting Lineup (4-5-1):
GK: Sorensen

RB: Griffin (captain)
CB: Leon Cort
CB: Ryan Shawcross
LB: Carl Dickinson

RMF: Lawrence
DMF: Diao
CMF: Olofinjana
CMF: Whelan
LMF: Pugh

ST: Kitson

Stoke jumps right into the thick of things; after starting the season at Bolton, the Potters will play eight consecutive games and 10 of 12 in which they’ll be the clear underdog. Those 10 (in order): Aston Villa, @ Middlesbrough, Everton, @ Liverpool, Chelsea, @ Portsmouth, Tottenham, @ Manchester City, Arsenal, @ Manchester United. In between the City, Arsenal, and United games, Stoke will need to win at home against Sunderland and get a result at Wigan. After their match at Old Trafford, Stoke gets four winnable games, the first two of which are at the Britannia Stadium against their fellow promoted clubs from the Championship, Hull City and West Brom.

January will be an extremely difficult month for Pulis’ side, as away games at Chelsea and Tottenham are sandwiched in between visits from Liverpool and Manchester City.

The last two months of the season are where Stoke is really going to have to make a run at survival, and out of the eight games they’ll play in that time, 12 points is certainly realistic and anything above 15 would be a bonus. That stretch brings home dates with Newcastle, Blackburn, West Ham, and Wigan, as well as manageable road game at West Brom, Fulham, and Hull City. Stoke finishes their season at the Emirates against Arsenal, so they’ll want to be safely out of the relegation battle before making the trip to North London.

Bottom Line: Stoke City has very little chance to stay up. I think they’ll give a better account of themselves than Derby did last season, but that tough opening stretch of games will put them in a hole that could very well be impossible to climb out of. There isn’t as much talent in this team as there is commitment and work rate, which could be beneficial over the long 38-game schedule, but for Stoke to have a prayer, Kitson will need to take the team by the horns and score 10-12 goals.

Check back this afternoon for my second preview of the day, #19.

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25 Responses to Premiership Preview–20. Stoke City

  1. James says:

    This is all wrong, Kitson was only 5.5 million not eleven

    Diao does not start for us as it is, and Pugh doesnt even though he should

    And as for Carl Wilkinson, he doesnt exist.. theres Andy Wilkinson and Carl Dickinson, get it right!

  2. Jeremy says:

    As the author of this article is, I understand, an American, it automatically invalidates his opinions on association football. I suggest he sticks to rugby with padding, glorified rounders and netball for giants.

  3. ?? says:

    He said $11m not £11m duhh how thick are you theres a diference between dollers and pounds

  4. By the time the season kicks off,Tony Pulis will have assembled a squad that will give us a fighting chance.
    We will be very strong ,direct,and very hard to beat.
    TonyPulis has never been relegated as a manager,and knows how to grind out points.
    Nobody has given us a cat in hells chance,and we will use this to our advantage.
    Of the promoted teams we will be hardest to beat on our own patch.
    The dogged determination within the club,and excellant team spirit will see us through..

  5. Moderator please remove any non football related input.genuine debate only please

  6. Michael says:

    James, I believe Diao will be starting. In the Premiership, you need a solid defensive midfielder, particularly in the 4-5-1 that Stoke will be playing in most of their games.

    Also, my apologies with the Wilkinson/Dickinson thing. It’s been corrected.

  7. Matt says:

    I am a life long fan of stoke, & I am literally stunned such a Superb talent Of Nikola Zigic, has signed for us. Truly i am stunned & cannot wipe the grin of my face :-) lol
    To all that have written stoke of surviving in the Premiere League, You may just be eating your own words, This shows are intentions on staying in Premier League!!!
    We have made some other fantastic signings, Kitson & Sorensen among them. But Striker (Nikola Zigic), is an OUTSTANDING Player, For a club record fee of around £7.8 Million & may go up to £9.4 Million depending on performances. Go on the STOKE!!!!!! City Till I Die

  8. Neil..StokeCityPremierLeague says:

    TONY Pulis has dismissed reports of an £8m Stoke bid for giant Serb striker Nicola Zigic.

    Spanish media claimed Stoke had offered 10m up front for the 6ft 7in Valencia hitman plus a further 2m dependent on his displays next season. Futbal Mercado said Valencia had accepted the offer, but suggested Zigic was unsure whether he wanted to join a newly-promoted side. His agent, Milan Calasan, said earlier this week that Stoke had also made a failed attempt to loan Zigic. However, Stoke boss Pulis said today the reports were untrue.

  9. Neil..StokeCityPremierLeague says:

    Michael..
    I believe that when fit Salif Diao is definately good enough to make a start,however he really struggled with his fitness,and it would be a big suprise for him to be anything other than a quality backup player this season.

  10. Matt says:

    Neil,
    I have read your above comment about Nikola Zigic. & I have also read the comment on pulis denying it was true about Zigic, Maybe he was just keeping his cards close to his chest. Until pen was put to paper. But just so you no i am not dreaming about my above comment, here is a link to the site confirming the serb striker has signed a deal, as mentioned above!

    http://footylatest.com/news/news.php?extend.1411

    I am still finding it hard believe myself, when there was interest for him from a lot of other Major clubs. I keep checking stoke’s website, but nothing as yet has bin published. Feel free check the Link above out & maybe comment back what you think about it stating hes signed. Or if any one else reads this & checks the link out, I am keen to hear your views on this if you have anymore info on the Matter???

  11. The Gaffer says:

    Michael,

    Excuse my ignorance, but is Stoke number 20 because you predict they’ll end in last place? Just checking, especially for newer readers to your previews.

    Great preview of Stoke, by the way.

    Cheers,
    The Gaffer

  12. Michael says:

    Gaffer, yes, I believe Stoke will finish last.

    For those that didn’t see my previews last year, I start with who I think will finish last and work my way up to the champion. Next will be my pick for 19th place, then 18th, then 17th, etc.

  13. Jeremy says:

    I trust you will excuse my initial facetious response. However, as a Stoke fan of over 30 years standing, I do get fed up of people who know very little about my club predicting the worst for us.

    Firstly, Tony Pulis will buy at least 4 or 5 more players before the close of the transfer window, including a wide midfielder (Pugh will hardly ever start, but is versatile cover off the bench), a left sided centre half (most likely Danny Higginbotham if a deal can be done with the mad man that is Roy Keane) and at least one new full back (he will not trust the impetuous Dickinson as first choice). He will not drop Rory Delap as his long throws are one of our major weapons, nor will he drop the mercurial Ricardo Fuller. He will play 4-4-2 as that is all he knows. Also Diao is well off playing ahead of Whelan, Olofinjana and Delap as one of the central midfielders on last season’s evidence.

    We will be tough to beat and our physical style may upset a few teams. I am not stupid enough to think we are destined for the top ten, but we are more than capable of finishing ahead of Hull and the Baggies, and then who knows?

    The team is far more likely to be:

    Sorensen

    Delap
    Shawcross
    Higginbotham (c)
    Griffin

    Lawrence
    Olofinjana
    Whelan
    New player – Jon Walters?

    Fuller
    Kitson

  14. Michael says:

    Jeremy, you may be right about Walters and Higginbotham, but if you read my post on my own site, I can only base my previews on the players that are there at the time of writing, not on transfer speculation or gossip that I see or hear in the media. I also obviously can’t predict injuries; certain players are more prone to them than others, but I can’t account for things that haven’t happened when I’m composing a team’s outlook.

    Basically, if a player isn’t there when I write these posts, I can’t factor him in.

  15. Neil..StokeCityPremierLeague says:

    Michael..

    Have you ever seen Stoke play ?

  16. James says:

    Cheers Michael

    I dont think Stoke will be playing 4-5-1 next season though

    And i reckon that Olinfinjana will be used as the more defensive midfielder out of two central midfielders

  17. Michael says:

    Neil, yes I have, did you not read any of the articles I wrote about the Championship last season? I sung the praises of the parity and high level of competitiveness in the league, so yes, I’ve watched plenty of games in that division, Stoke included.

    I understand the way they played last year, but they’re going to have to make adjustments against the better competition they’ll see this year, and now they have new players to fit in as well. Based on my understanding of those players and using common sense, this is how I see the team lining up.

  18. Neil..StokeCityPremierLeague says:

    Hi Michael,
    I am a new visitor to your website,so didnt see any of your previous articles.
    Last season the championship was very competitive,but also very open in terms of any team could beat any team.
    Stoke played to their strengths last season which resulted in promotion.
    At the same time no Stoke fan is under any illusions that last seasons squad alone will be strong enough for the premier league challenge.
    Don’t judge us on last seasons performances.We did what we had to do on a limited budget to get out of the division.
    This season is a whole new ball game,and I doubt if many of last seasons squad will be regular first team selections.

  19. Michael says:

    I understand that, but Stoke hasn’t done as much as Hull or West Brom to go out and get new players, at least not yet.

    Listen, I’m a big fan of the Championship, and I wish the teams that were promoted actually do stay up. I can’t write from a fan’s perspective though, I have to evaluate what I see, and in my opinion, neither Stoke nor Hull nor West Brom have what it takes to survive. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, and I’ll admit it. I have to judge Stoke on last season’s performance because I don’t have anything else to go on; I can’t just make something up out of thin air.

  20. Stoke City are reported to have a agreed a £1.5m deal for Southampton’s player of the year Andrew Davies.

    The report, by the Mail on Sunday, claims that a deal has been done and that the Potters just have to agree personal terms with the 23 year old former England U21 international.

    Davies only joined the Saints on loan last year and made his move to the south coast permanent in January this year and has played mainly as a central defender, but can play at right back.

    The Potters have already signed two players today, Amdy Faye,and Abdoulaye Faye and are still keen to bolster the squad as the season gets under way tomorrow.

    Charlton midfielder Amdy Faye became Tony Pulis’ fourth signing of the summer early on Friday afternoon when he joined on a 12-month deal and just hours later the potters landed Senegal defender Abdoulaye in a £2.25million deal from Newcastle.

    Stoke are also being linked with a move for Nantes striker Mamadou Bagayoko – a pal of City targetman Mamady Sidibie.

    Reports in France claim the 6ft 4in ex-Strasbourg hitman has an offer on the table from Potters boss Tony Pulis, who appears to have turned his attention to Bagayojo after the Nikola Zigic chase ended.

    According to a report in one of this mornings tabloid newspapers IpswichTown striker Jon Walters wants to leave Portman Road and join Stoke City.

    Ipswich boss Jim Magilton has challenged Stoke to make an offer for Jon Walters as speculation mounts over the Potters interest in the player.

    The Potters have long been linked with the Blues Player of the Year.

  21. Michael says:

    Good moves by Stoke City, and perhaps if they would’ve made them before I wrote their preview, I wouldn’t have had them 20th. But, I still do, and that’s how it’s going to be.

  22. The Mighty Potters 3 Aston Villa 2

    Sidibe Seals Stoke Win
    Saturday 23 Aug 2008

    A last-minute header by substitute Mamady Sidibe gave Stoke a thrilling first win in the Premier League after Aston Villa had twice come from behind at a packed Britannia Stadium.

    Sidibe climbed highest to meet one of Rory Delap’s trademark long throws and convert a neat back-header beyond Brad Friedel and into the far corner of the net.

    Villa barely had time to kick off before referee Mark Halsey blew the final whistle to end an absolute cracker.

    The Stoke fans were making a crescendo of noise in the opening stages and their fired-up players responded to provide a real test of Villa’s resolve.

    Martin O’Neill’s side began to look up to that test as the half progressed, with Gareth Barry and Stiliyan Petrov getting to grips in midfield as City’s energy levels appeared to dip.

    But that all changed on the half hour when Stoke were awarded a penalty after a mighty scramble ended with Martin Laursen’s rash challenge on Delap.

    Laursen’s pleas of innocence were to no avail and Liam Lawrence sent the Stoke supporters into delirium with a low shot inside Friedel’s right-hand post.

    Ricardo Fuller missed the chance to add a 38th minute second when he snatched his shot high and wide after a rush of blood by Friedel opened the door.

    Villa finally landed a decent attempt at the Stoke goal with John Carew spinning to curl a shot narrowly wide of former Villa keeper Thomas Sorensen’s left-hand post.

    But Stoke ended the first half in the ascendancy as Fuller headed another long throw from Delap narrowly off-target.

    The start of the second half was far more open than the first, with Stoke dispelling the myth they are a one-dimensional team.

    They were passing the ball better than Villa until a flash of brilliance from Ashley Young created a 63rd minute equaliser for Carew.

    Young caught out what had looked a solid home defence with back-heel into the path of Carew, who took the ball in his stride before burying a low shot from 14 yards.

    The goal lifted Villa and temporarily knocked the wind from Stoke’s sails and Barry was close to finishing from close range after more good work by Young.

    But Barry was the villain in the 81st minute with a misplaced pass which led to Stoke retaking the lead.

    Lawrence thread a super ball into the path of Fuller, who flicked the ball delightfully past Laursen before driving an unstoppable, angled shot past Friedel.

    Villa had the mettle to come back a second time with Laursen firing in from close range following a melee caused by Young’s free-kick.

    But Sidibe was to have the final say.

  23. Matt says:

    Michael, 3 League games played & 1 carling cup, Given the results & new signings, Do you still think Stoke will finish 20th???
    If so i think your crazy!!
    Yes, its going be very tough & fight for survival, But i honestly feel we will survive & end up around 15/17.
    So do you still think stoke will be rock bottom 20th position, Given the fight & belief stoke have. Namely Villa Win 3-2!!!!!! :-) & 10 men against Boro for 60 mins, & until the 85th min we was coming away with a very well earned point, Lots of other PREMIER teams would have crumbled & got battered.
    Michael give me your opinion now if changed or not?
    Matt.

  24. Michael says:

    Matt, my opinion hasn’t changed.

    Stoke is playing better than WBA right now, but I think the team with more quality is WBA, and that will prevail in the end. The only other team that Stoke has a chance to finish ahead of, in my opinion, is Hull City. If Hull continues to play like they did this weekend, Stoke could jump up into 19th.

    I’m impressed with Stoke’s fight and passion so far, don’t get me wrong, but we saw the same thing from Derby last season in the first month or so. Eventually the adrenaline fades and a team’s true colors come through.

  25. Me says:

    Egg on your face!

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