Since remerging back into the English top flight in 2008, Stoke City have certainly proved themselves worthy of competing at the top level.
With their notoriously physical way of approaching matches on a week to week basis, the Potters have successfully stabilized themselves in the Premier League, and have never really looked in danger of being relegated.
The Britannia Stadium faithful have witnessed their side slowly creep up the league table in recent years with a mixture of good performances and tricky tactics – yet as success doesn’t always equate to respect in today’s current footballing climate – Stoke have hardly won over many fans outside their immediate following.
Thanks largely to the influence of former boss Tony Pulis, the Potters have developed a reputation for being long-ball friendly, overly physical, and somewhat unpleasant on the eye in the way their team goes about its business. Rightly or wrongly, the boys in red & white have ultimately gone down as the ugliest footballing team currently plying their trade in the Premier League.
Since the appointment of Mark Hughes in 2013 however, is this notion still valid for the current Stoke outfit, or have the Potters successfully improved their image throughout his time at the club?
Within the context of this debate, it is important to remember just how far Stoke City have come in order to maintain their current position in the English top flight. Very few other teams have managed to solidify themselves in the Premier League since making the step up from the Championship – so at the very least – Mark Hughes’ side do in-fact deserve some credit for how much work they’ve put in throughout the years.
That said, in order to achieve such a seemingly tough task, the Potters have simply sacrificed the need to produce entertaining football in their team – instead opting to take the rugged approach when it comes to winning points. Tony Pulis’ men certainly weren’t the most technical group of players the Premier League had ever seen, and although comparisons with a rugby squad did seem a bit harsh at the time, they weren’t as wide of the mark as many might have expected.
Stoke became notorious for dragging games out, frequently fouling the opposition’s more gifted stars, and ultimately turning the would-be spectacle of their respective matches, into largely boring and unengaging affairs. Things became really embarrassing for Tony Pulis’ side however, when the desire to score goals from long-throw ins and even make their pitch smaller on occasion started to take hold.
It just wasn’t football, and even the most adamant Potters fans would have to agree. Bet on the top flight with the help of our Premier League predictions to get you some winning bets this weekend.
That said, Stoke equally drew praise for becoming a seriously organised defensive outfit and teaching the so-called ‘lesser teams’ how to hold their own against the Premier League’s top boys. Away matches at the Britannia Stadium are now always something to prepare for – regardless of how strong the opposition may be.
And yes, even though they were the clear anti-football team operating in the Premier League under Pulis, since Mark Hughes has taken control the Potters have in-fact veered off their more traditional image and at least tried to produce some entertaining footballing displays throughout the course of this season.
On occasion it has worked as well. Hughes has done well to give opportunities to the likes of Marko Arnautovic and Stephen Ireland this term, and as for former Barcelona and Ajax man, Bojan, in the middle of the park – well most teams in the Premier League would simply love to have such a promising talent on board. Their current position in the top ten only serves to show the progress made at the Britannia Stadium in recent seasons.
Even with that in mind though, the Potters still ultimately bare many of the hallmarks that made them famous under Pulis. Although they have proved themselves to have a lot more up their sleeves when on the ball this season, off it they are just the same old team that they’ve always been. There is still a shortage of technically gifted players in their squad, the fouls seem to fly in just as often as they used to – and whilst progress has certainly been made under Mark Hughes – ‘physical’ still remains the best way to describe the plucky Potters.
Yes, the future seemingly looks decent for Stoke going into the new season, yet in the end, it seems you just can’t teach an old dog a set of new, entertaining tricks – at least not overnight anyway.