Stoke City – The Premier League’s very own Barcelona?

For a long time now Stoke City have had a reputation as the physical and brute force that every team hated to face.

Former boss Tony Pulis built up a side with a strong, physical presence, who concentrated on unflattering direct long ball tactics and, of course, that ridiculous Rory Delap throw in.

Players like Robert Huth, Jonathan Walters and Kenwyne Jones were some of the stars of the side because of their large physical characteristics.

The Potters were an established Premier League side under Pulis, a great achievement on its own, but they were a club moving sideways, languishing in the bottom half of the table season after season.

When Mark Hughes replaced Pulis in 2013 he promised a complete transformation from top to bottom, and he has certainly delivered.

Stoke have finished in 9th place in the previous two seasons – their best ever position in the Premier League – and it has all been down to Hughes’ master plan.

The club have transformed themselves from long ball specialists to a side comfortable on the ball that look to play attacking possession football similar to that of many of Europe’s best sides including Barcelona.

Hughes has implemented his plan through some brilliant transfer business. The Welshman has revamped the playing staff at the Britannia Stadium, removing many of the less technically gifted players and replacing them with players who look to get the ball on the floor and play a positive, passing style of football.

He also looks for players that have a point to prove, where they have not been able to establish themselves at their previous sides but are extremely talented with a great deal to offer.

It all started off with the likes of defender Marc Muniesa, who joined from Barcelona on a free transfer and he has been followed by a number of technical talents including Stephen Ireland, Marko Arnautovic and Erik Pieters.

Last summer the Stoke boss pulled off a real coup when he managed to land Spanish attacker Bojan, again from his former side Barcelona. The little striker consistently impressed with his technical brilliance and creative flair before a serious injury ruled him out for six months.

There is hope he can pick up where he left off before his injury and take Stoke even further up the table.

This season he is going to be joined by more star names following a number of impressive Hughes signings, including Marco Van Ginkel, who joins on a season-long loan from Chelsea after turning down a number of Europe’s elite sides.

They are also joined by Ibrahim Afellay. The Dutch winger becomes the fourth ex-Barcelona player to join the side and, similar to his former team mate Bojan, is a real coup for the Potters.

Afellay is a very talented footballer, he possesses great skill and creative ability and would be playing for a top European side if he hadn’t of had a number of injuries hold him back.

The Dutch international is looking to put his injury troubles behind him and showcase the talents that Barcelona saw in him. Plus, by joining on a free transfer, it’s a no lose situation for Stoke.

It is not just the players that Stoke City are signing that should be impressing people, though. The club have shown some incredible ambition in who they are targeting, even if it doesn’t always prove successful.

Xherdan Shaqiri, Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko have all been pursued and although they all turned the side down, it is a sign of just how far they have come under Hughes. It wasn’t that long ago that these players were being linked to top sides like Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal.

There is also talk that the side will be making a move for Juventus striker Fernando Llorente. A striker who in recent weeks was heavily touted as Louis Van Gaal’s ‘special’ transfer target at Manchester United.

The Potters are a side on the up and you can be sure that there will be more household names on their way to Staffordshire in the near future.