Since getting promoted to the top flight in 2007/8, Stoke City have embarked on a project; transforming themselves from relegation favourites into a stable Premier League force. While they will always have their detractors, it may be about time that the somewhat patronising platitudes and plaudits finally heading their way come to an end, for they could be a serious threat to those with Europa League aspirations this term.
Of course, Stoke are already competing in Europe this season courtesy of an FA Cup final appearance last term against Man City, yet people still feel the need to belittle their achievements as merely a blip on the radar before the status quo is rightly resumed.
Whenever an article is written about Stoke praising their progress it is often met with the caveat about their style of play. It’s become an obsession for most that when discussing Stoke (granted, I accept the irony that I may be falling into that very same trap now) that to praise them is to highlight their limitations at the same time. With no other club in the Premier League does this happen.
Under Tony Pulis’s astute leadership Stoke have finished 12th on 45 points, 11th on 47 points and 13th on 46 points. This summer’s heavy spending in the transfer market then can be seen as nothing more than a statement of intent through fear of giving way to stagnation.
Cast your eye around Stoke’s squad now and it’s filled to the brim with Premier League, and in some cases, international quality players. The arrivals of Peter Crouch, Wilson Palacios, Jonathan Woodgate and Matthew Upson this summer all signify a step in the right direction and fittingly for a Tony Pulis signing, they all arrive with a point to prove.
We’ve all fallen into the trap before of praising ‘little old Stoke’ for doing well, but the biggest compliment that you can pay them is that last weekend’s 1-0 defeat of big-spending Liverpool at the Britannia Stadium didn’t come as a surprise. I’ve long been a fan of Pulis’s side and welcome the change for once of a team not merely settling to make up the numbers – see here for further proof of an article I did just over a year ago on the topic – https://www.footballfancast.com/2010/09/football-blogs/fortune-favours-the-brave-for-bold-stoke
Could they emerge as a serious threat to those challenging for a Europa League place this season?
Most certainly. Spurs are a dishevelled and deeply unsettled side after this summer’s transfer window. Arsenal, while they have strengthened, are susceptible to a challenge and have shown time and time again that they lack the desired mental strength over the course of a long campaign. Liverpool are likely to be inconsistent for the majority of the campaign as they begin to blood new faces. Everton are well and truly skint and a top-half finish would be an achievement in itself for Moyes’s charges and Aston Villa look like a side on the precipice of regression under Alex McLeish.
It’s far from certain, but when you analyse their nearest challengers, Stoke have the most dependable back line out of the aforementioned sides and the least amount of outside pressure on them. They will still struggle to score goals (Cameron Jerome, why?) but they remain difficult to break down and a pain to play.
They’re the model by which future Championship sides will base their first summer in the Premier League on. It seems that only now are they beginning to garner the plaudits that they truly deserve.
They’ve been labelled as ‘honest’, ‘hardworking’, ‘committed’ and ‘tough’ in the past, but perhaps before we all give way to the worst kind of revisionist thinking, it would be best just to praise Stoke for what they are good at for once, as opposed to judging them for what they aren’t.
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