When we play them: Home – December 26; Away – April 8
The Potters secured a third consecutive ninth-placed Premier League finish under Mark Hughes last term, continuing their strong progress since returning to the English top flight in 2008.
Compounding this, Stoke have negotiated the most lucrative kit deal in the club’s history this summer, reinforcing their credentials as a top-level power, and aiding their quest for self-sustainable success.
Retaining Hughes, following rumours of interest from Everton, is a coup for Stoke, who can now look to build upon a solid if unspectacular campaign that saw them lose to the Reds both home and away.
They have, of course, signed Joe Allen this summer – could they be this season’s surprise package?
To gain an insight into Stoke’s summer preparations and their hopes for 2016/17, we spoke to Tomos Knox of uMaxit Football to get the Potters’ view ahead of the new season.
Firstly, what are your thoughts on Stoke ahead of the new season?
Definitely positive. Hughes has made a solid signing in Allen, and while the arrival of Ryan Sweeney isn’t terribly exciting, Ramadan Sobhi is a fantastic young player with a lot going for him.
My outlook on this coming season is mostly positive, with the likes of Marko Arnautovic signing lengthy new deals at the club, and the likes of Giannelli Imbula and Xherdan Shaqiri given another opportunity to shine.
It hasn’t been a spending spree by us this summer, but transfers have been made when needed.
And how have you rated Hughes’ work in the transfer market so far?
I’d give it a 7/10. And that’s high, considering that the majority of football fans are never completely satisfied by their manager’s dealings in the window!
However, I’d still like to see Saido Berahino come in, and perhaps another centre-back.
What is Hughes’ likely first-choice lineup for the new season, and where do you see them finishing?
Depending on whether we’ll make more signings, I see the side operating in a similar way to last year: 4-2-3-1.
The real change is probably that Allen will sit in that two beside Imbula or Ibrahim Afellay, and that, given his good start to the pre-season, Mame Biram Diouf may find himself in the role of central striker.
Also, if a new centre-back comes in, that could mean Philipp Wollscheid being dropped from the lineup.
I personally see Stoke finishing in the top 10, but European football is pretty unlikely!
Onto Liverpool, what are your thoughts on their chances this season, and where do you predict they will finish in the Premier League?
I think that while Liverpool have made some sensible moves for Ragnar Klavan, Loris Karius and Georginio Wijnaldum, the signing of Sadio Mane is slightly questionable, especially given that the fee was a whopping £30 million—and it’s a striker that they should be after anyway!
However, given the overall quality of the Reds’ squad, as well as the undisputed talent of their manager, I can see a top-six finish easily within their reach.
However, I don’t see Liverpool making the Champions League. But you never know, and they may well prove me wrong!
When we play there: April 8
Away fans’ pub: The Terrace Inn
Stoke City, 2016/17
Players IN: Joe Allen, from Liverpool – £13m; Ramadan Sobhi, from Al Ahly – £5m; Ryan Sweeney, from AFC Wimbledon – £250k
Players OUT: Steve Sidwell, to Brighton – free; Peter Odemwingie, released
Tomos’ Best XI: Butland; Johnson, Shawcross, Wollscheid, Pieters; Allen, Imbula; Shaqiri, Bojan, Arnautovic; Diouf
TIA’s Stoke Predicted Finish: 10th
Where Tomos says Stoke will finish: 8th
Where Tomos says Liverpool will finish: 5th