Last season: 13th
Mark Hughes managed to break Stoke City’s run of three consecutive ninth place finishes last season.
Unfortunately for Potters fans his side dropped to 13th in the table with their lowest points total since 2013.
That’s not to say there was a major dip in standards from the year before. In fact Stoke scored exactly the same number of goals (41) and conceded just one more (56) than they had in 2015/16. Such are the small margins in the Premier League between success and failure.
However, whatever the stats say the perception was that Hughes’ side had gone backwards.
The feeling of negativity has continued over the summer with the departure of Marko Arnautovic to West Ham, a particular chagrin to the club’s fans.
Thus far there have been relatively few incomings to ease the tension. Veteran midfielder Darren Fletcher has made the short trip from West Brom, while Kurt Zouma will aim to get his career back on track at the bet365 stadium after signing on-loan from Chelsea.
They will need to do more in the market in the coming weeks if ninth isn’t going to represent a glass ceiling to their ambitions.
Glass half full: Persuading Kurt Zouma to join is something of a coup and should go some way to fixing a defence that shipped 56 goals last season. The club are yet to spend the Arnautovic money and if they can bring in one or two attacking players between now and the end of the month they could be well placed for an assault on the top 10 and have a real go in the two cup competitions.
Glass half empty: Stoke’s summer transfer business has been underwhelming and comes on the back of the club’s worst league finish for four years. Walters and Arnautovic have both departed, the latter thinking West Ham are a long-term bet, while an ageing Fletcher and a loan deal for Chelsea’s Zouma are the only arrivals of note. The club will struggle to break into the top 10 unless there is significant investment between now and the end of the transfer window.
New kids on the block: Darren Fletcher – West Brom, Josh Tymon – Hull, Tre Pemberton – Blackburn, Kurt Zouma – Chelsea (loan).
Left the building: Jon Walters – Burnley, Shay Given – released, Daniel Bachmann – Watford, Liam Edwards – released, Harry Isted – released, Joel Taylor – released, George Waring – Tranmere, Glenn Waring – Aston Villa, Marko Arnautovic – West Ham.
The gaffer: Mark Hughes – The former Manchester United striker is entering his fifth season as the Potters boss as his tenure has been nothing if not consistent. A sequence of three ninth place finishes in a row was broken by a 13th last season but mid-table is probably where the club would expect to finish based on their resources. Whether he can get them to push on make a serious attempt to qualify for Europe remains to be seen.
Star man: Ryan Shawcross – The Stoke City captain is a colossus in the Potters defence and the 29-year-old remains integral to everything the team do. His England days may well be behind him but there are few better natural defenders in the league and his experience will be vital as he looks to build a partnership with Kurt Zouma.
One to watch: Kurt Zouma – Young central defender Zouma looked to have the world at his feet when he broke into the Chelsea team in 2014. However, he suffered a season-ending injury in February 2016 that kept him out for nine months and he failed to establish himself under new boss Antonio Conte when he returned last term. He’ll be keen to show he is now back at his best.
First five games: Everton (A), Arsenal (H), West Brom (A), Manchester United (H), Newcastle United (A).
Premier League Title Odds: 1000/1
Top Four Odds: 100/1
Relegation Odds: 6/1
Top Goalscorer Odds: Saido Berahino 2/1
Star Bet: Stoke City book-ended three successive ninth place finishes with a 13th place finish following last year’s bottom half finish. They’ve struggled for goals and since winning promotion to the top flight in 2008 are yet to break 50 goals in a season. They’ll be looking at Saido Berahino to break his duck since joining from West Brom and help fire the club towards this mark for the first time. If he can recapture his 2014/15 form there’s no reason to think Stoke can’t return to their favourite position of ninth and break the top 10 once again. Top Midlands club – Stoke City 5/2.