For Stoke City, this summer has been a further indication of their transition away from the style of football that they were associated with under Tony Pulis for so many years.
Often derogatorily called a ‘rugby team’ for their robust and functional style of play, Stoke battled their way to becoming a Premier League side.
However, last year, they dispatched with their effective, but not particularly entertaining approach to bring in a more aesthetically pleasing style of play.
It worked almost instantly. Tasked with introducing his methods slowly, Mark Hughes took over and brought in some finesse to add to the solidarity already in the squad.
The result was better than most expected – with a record points tally 50 points and a ninth place finished being achieved.
It has given the Potters a platform to build upon and they will be looking to ensure that they do not regress in Hughes’ second season in charge.
Reasons to be positive
Bojan: The signing of Bojan has created a real buzz around the Britannia for the new campaign. The Barcelona forward was once considered one of the finest youth-players in world football and, although his career has stagnated in recent times, he is a player of undoubted quality.
If Hughes can get the best out of the Spaniard then he will have one of the most potent strikers in the division and the signs in pre-season that he could hit top form have already been promising.
Summer signings: The aforementioned Bojan may be the headliner of Stoke’s summer additions, but there has been some other quality brought in.
Mame Biram Diouf should be a decent outlet and has a style perfectly suited to the Premier League, whilst Steve Sidwell and Phil Bardsley have proven their quality at the top level.
Asmir Begovic: The much heralded goalkeeper is seemingly always linked away from the Potteries in every transfer window now, such is his reputation, but it appears he will be a Stoke player for the foreseeable future.
The Bosnian in one of the Premier League’s finest stoppers and with him in between the sticks it provides Hughes with a solid foundation to build upon.
Reasons to be fearful
The ‘glass ceiling’: Such is the way with modern football, there is a disparity between the very top clubs in the Premier League and the rest.
Last season Stoke finished 14 points behind Manchester United in seventh and with the clubs at the top of the league strengthening again the best they can realistically do is to improve on last season’s finish by one spot.
The style: Although Stoke produced some excellent, passing football last season they still used the fundamentals of Pulis’ regime. As Hughes continues to place his stamp on the team he will drift further away from that era, but the Potters must ensure they still utilise their strengths whilst developing their footballing style.
Will the manager stay?
Although it is hard to say for definite given the knee-jerk nature of modern football, Hughes’ position in charge of Stoke looks as safe as anybody’s in the Premier League.
It would be a major shock to see him leave his job at the helm this season, given their successes last campaign and only a disastrous display would see him fired.
Prediction: 9th. A repeat of last season’s finish would represent an excellent campaign for Stoke and a good cup-run to go alongside it should be one of their major ambitions.
Where will Stoke finish this season?