There is a real fresh sense around the Britannia Stadium this season that has been absent for 12 months. On the outside to the average fan it seems the same, same style of football, same expectations, same Stoke.
But the reality is far different. There was a general feeling of stagnation towards the back end of the 2011-12 season and with a lack of transfer activity for most of the summer, combined with the clubs toughest start to a Premier League season, left many Potters fans cast a worrying eye over their shoulders for the first time in three years.
The Premier League did what it always does; it worked out the problem – Stoke City. Teams found a way to stifle the attacking, physical threat and deal with the set-plays while snuffing out the wingers which had served us so well. In the Premier League you need to evolve and improve your standards, standing still isn’t an option like Stoke did last year.
But deadline day delivered as it always seems to do for Tony Pulis and in came Charlie Adam, perhaps the most important signing the club has made in a long time as Adam is the figure head of the Stoke City evolution.
His inclusion has seen Stoke alternate to a 4-3-3- formation. They no longer get outnumbered in midfield and have added a creative spark (a midfielder that can pass a ball!!!), the main ingredient missing from and otherwise well-balanced side. Adam’s ability to retain and distribute the ball is key to the new Stoke. They have kept their rough approach, while adding a touch of class.
Adding to that has been signs of rejuvenation for Matthew Etherington and the fresh impetus of Michael Kightly down the wings. Stoke look a goal threat again in open play and Peter Crouch is no longer isolated on his own upfront. Adam controls the Stoke game, there are players finding space for him to pass into instead of waiting for it to be lumped in the general direction of Crouch. Geoff Cameron looks a fine full-back who is comfortable going forwards and backwards, N’Zonzi is flourishing in a three man midfield, Ryan Shawcross has been called up for England and have I mentioned we have signed Michael Owen?
Sitting 13th in the league may seem like par for the course as far as we are concerned, but in the opening eight games we have played both Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. Now with a kinder run of fixtures up until Christmas there is an air of excitement and quiet optimism that we can surprise a few teams and critics alike. But for now, as always, Stoke are going gently under the radar just how they like it.
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