Can Hughes’ Stoke make the next step?

Stoke City will continue their attempts to sign “top players” as they try to bring European football back to the club, the words of Stoke boss Mark Hughes.

The Potters of course failed in an ambitious attempt to sign Inter Milan winger Xherdan Shaqiri, but Hughes remains confident of adding stars of high quality to his squad as he looks to push for Europe.

“We will continue to look to bring in top players right up until the deadline at the end of August,

“If we have a good start to the season, we could well push for Europe.”

This has to be the aim now for the Potters, as since ‘Sparky’ took charge at the Britannia Stadium in 2013 he has guided the club to two consecutive ninth-placed Premier League finishes. That ninth place finish in his first season in charge was Stoke’s highest ever in the Premier League and was built on last season as Stoke got their record points total and finished just two wins short of the European places.

The Welshman will need to add some more quality to his squad, however, if they are going to close that gap on the Europa League places, and he has already been busy in the transfer window signing seven players – Moha El Ouriachi from Barcelona, Spanish striker Joselu, goalkeepers Shay Given and Jakob Haugaard, defenders Glen Johnson and Philipp Wollscheid and on-loan Chelsea midfielder Marco van Ginkel.

Some more quality signings could go a long way to getting Stoke two to three places higher up the division, however, the challenge of pushing on is not underestimated by Hughes: “It’s a challenge because in the last two seasons we had two top-10 finishes and we would like to do better than that.”

It will be a challenge of course, but the job Hughes has done at Stoke has gone under the radar a bit and every challenge so far has been met. Even though Stoke enjoyed real success under Hughes, he does not get enough credit for the job he has done at the Britannia.

It is taken for granted a bit, as many expect Stoke to remain strong at home, always be tough to beat and never really get threatened by relegation.

But that does not just happen though, a lot of hard work has to go in to achieve that. Hughes did also have a hard act to follow on from in fellow Welshman Tony Pulis who of course did a fantastic job at the Potteries. But, so far he has bettered the achievements of Pulis.

Not only has Hughes pushed Stoke forward in both of his seasons in charge, he also has recruited superbly well, without breaking their transfer record fee of £10m spent on Peter Crouch in 2011. He has signed some very good players like Mame Biram Diouf, Bojan Krkic and nabbed some shrewd loan-signings along the way such as Victor Moses and Van Ginkel more recently. This has allowed Stoke to develop and improve as a team, while staying financially solid.

He has transformed the way that they play football, too, improving their style and making the Potters an attractive team, while maintaining all that was good about Pulis’ side in terms of their ability to keep the ball out of their own net.

He has done a fantastic job at Stoke so far and, as Hughes has already eluded to himself, if they can bring in some more quality in the transfer window and start the season with a bang there is no reason they can’t challenge for European football.