9. STOKE CITY
Pts: 27 (8-9-3)
Preseason Prediction: 13th
Accuracy: Pretty far off
The injuries, especially with the age and lack of depth involved, are worrying, and there’s not too much margin for error for Pulis before Stoke starts getting close to the relegation trap door.
But let’s not forget that Stoke was 17 points clear of the drop zone to finish last season and nearly ended up in the top half of the table, even with Etherington injured for much of the time, Shawcross not really himself, and a mediocre – at best – home record.
Somehow Pulis will find a way to keep things together, and keep Stoke near the middle of the table.
Stoke still have four losses at home this season, but have had serviceable away form, and have limited their draws (only 3). They’ve found some ways to score that don’t include Rory Delap, and keeping Matthew Etherington healthy has actually added some creativity to their attack. They believe in what they’re doing and that makes them tough to beat, even though they don’t always look pretty doing it.
Preseason best new signing:
None, but that was before Kenwyne Jones was signed – Jones wore out his welcome with Sunderland, and is a perfect fit for Stoke, where they can play balls up to him and let him go after them. He’s scored a team-high 5 goals and he really doesn’t seem like he’s been in top form yet, and Stoke is still in the top half of the table. Jones has nearly twice as many shots on goal (21) as any other Stoke player.
Preseason key player:
Ryan Shawcross – He still hasn’t gotten back into the form he was in prior to the Aaron Ramsey incident last season, but he’s getting there. He has looked a little more confident lately, and that’s helping Stoke be better defensively. With so few really quality teams around, it gets the job done.
Key player now:
Robert Huth – Tony Pulis has finally moved Huth to his more natural center back spot, and he’s been tremendous. He’s also scored 2 goals on set pieces, which Stoke seem to get plenty of. Huth is rumored to be on his way to Liverpool, which may be a case of Stoke selling high, which you really can’t blame them for, either.
Inside the numbers:
1 – Number of red cards Stoke City have been given this season, ironically to Shawcross. For most of the season, they’ve been able to stay in the top half of the Fairplay table as well.
They lack in the middle of the field with an aging Delap, but there aren’t too many other weaknesses for a team that will get results. I see no reason why Stoke can’t finish in the top half of the table, which is quite the accomplishment for the club.