Saturday ‘s match against Aston Villa marks the start of Stoke City’s 2014/15 Premier League season. Pre-season matches have been more about fitness than flash, with results being draws or close defeats, and a solitary victory against Real Betis at the Britannia Stadium.
Squad changes have been swift and significant this pre-season, which is something of a shock to hardened Stoke fans used to being prime contenders in Sky’s transfer deadline day festivities at the end of August.
Transfers into the club include; Mame Biram Diouf, Diontan Teixeira, Phil Bardsley, Steve Sidwell and, of course, Bojan Krkic. All bar Bojan are free transfers, and local media reports infer that the fee paid for Bojan’s services is much less than is being suggested by the national newspapers. These incomings have been balanced by the offloading of Matthew Etherington, Juan Agudelo and Michael Kightly – none of whom made any significant impact for Stoke last season so are effectively dead wood being cleared (although in Agudelo’s case, this is forced by the FA’s stance on work permits for non-EU passport holders).
Diouf has been tracked for at least a season and a bid of £6million was turned down by Hannover last summer. But finally Mark Hughes has secured his top striking target, obviously impressed by 26 goals in 57 games for Hannover. A return of 15+ goals should be a challenging yet realistic target for Diouf to achieve.
Sidwell and Bardsley are proven Premier League stalwarts; steady, experienced and unglamorous – much like the team they have joined. As a specialist right back, Bardsley puts pressure on the USMNT star Geoff Cameron. Sidwell will be up against Le Sulk (Steven Nzonzi), Glen Whelan and Charlie Adam for a place in the center of midfield. Sidwell is a player who has seemed destined to sign for Stoke, with former gaffer Tony Pulis attempting to sign him when he was at Brentford. Therefore it’s something of a surprise that he did not end up at Crystal Palace this summer given his London roots. Sidwell explained to The Sentinel newspaper that “when I looked at the whole package and came up to see how the club was run, it was a no brainer really. I’ve also worked for Mark Hughes before . . . it was probably one of the most enjoyable times.”
Teixeira is an unknown quantity though has been stalked by Hughes since his time at Manchester City. He faces the tough task of displacing either Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth or Marc Wilson. However he could have three no better center backs to learn from and if he could assimilate their individual qualities into a single package he could prove a real prospect, and as proven by Marc Muniesa last season Hughes will play youngsters.