Tall. Direct. Strong.
Awkward. Old-fashioned. Brittle.
Every season that Stoke has been in the Premier League we've been treated to the same show. Each season we're told that they're evolving past the "safety first" mindset and that their playing style is going to change. And we've had reason to believe it. Stoke have not been shy about spending money and players like Peter Crouch, Kenwyne Jones, and Charlie Adam came to the club with high price-tags and high expectations.
But it never really changed.
2012-2013 Season Review
Last season Stoke began well. They played the big teams tough, at least at the Britannia, where they remained difficult to beat. Mid-way through the season they had drawn the majority of their matches and found themselves 8th in the table. That included an amazing Boxing Day win against Liverpool, which would turn out to be the highlight of the season.
After that match they shipped three goals in a draw against Southampton, three against Manchester City, four to Chelseas (at the Britannia) and Crystal Palace (in the FA Cup), and three again to Swansea.
While the deluge of goals didn't continue, neither did the wins return. Stoke fell from eight place into a relegation dog fight, with only late-seasons wins against QPR and Norwich sercuing their Premier League safety.
That free-fall, and Tony Pulis' oddly, and increasingly stubborn reaction to it eventually cost him his job.
Mark Hughes was hired, and in many respects it makes perfect sense. Sparky's teams have been know for their no-nonesense, physical approach. His teams, like Stoke teams of the past, have played with wingers and a very direct style. The question is, can he recreate that with this side?
Asmir Begovic - Begovic was Stoke's player of the season for good reason. The keeper was the main reason Stoke allowed fewer goals than any team bar Manchester United and Liverpool. The downside of that form is that he's been linked with every available keeper job, including Liverpool and Arsenal. It would be a big coup if he stayed at the club, but if not, they do have the experienced Thomas Sorensen and England youngster Jack Butland as backups.
Steven Nzonzi - Nzonzi was a less heralded signing last season, but made the central midfield spot his own. He also has handed in a transfer request so it remains to be seen if he's in that spot come next season.
Marc Wilson - Wilson missed much of last season with injury, and the fact that the team missed him as much as it did was a testament to the Irish fullback (as well as Stoke's lack of depth at the position).
This list is much longer.
Strikers - Jon Walters was converted to an auxilliary right-sided midfielder yet was the club's top scorer. With a mere eight goals. Neither Peter Crouch nor Kenwyne Jones did enough to make the starting role their own. Cameron Jerome was a sometimes impactful substitute. And Michael Owen.
Right back - Ryan Shotton, Andy Wilkinson, Marc Wilson, and Geoff Cameron all played right back for Stoke last season. None with much distinction.
Charlie Adam - Adam was the marquee signing last season and it just never worked. He was in and out of the team, due to form and personal reasons. He was frequently played off the lone striker, a strange tactical decision by Tony Pulis that negated Adam's strengths. He wasn't even given much of the set-piece duties, with those going to Matt Etherington and Glenn Whelan.
Many of the pieces are already in place for Mark Hughes, if he can keep them (Begovic, Nzonzi) or find the right fit for them (Adam, Cameron). Otherwise, there are definitely new faces needed at the club.
Erik Pieters - The fullback has already signed at the club from PSV. Only Stoke, however, would announce the signing of Holland's starting left-back by mentioning that he can cover in the center of defence when needed! Danny Rose was linked to Stoke, as was Marcus Olsson and even Juventus' Paolo De Ceglie, but one has to figure that those links ended with the Pieters signing.
A new right back is probably needed too. Stoke have been linked to Chris Baird, but while he can play the position, Stoke have plenty of guys who can play the position, and require a specialist like Pieters.
Wingers - Stoke have been at their best when Matt Etherington and Jermaine Pennant gave them attacking thrust from the wings. Sadly, neither of them are playing at a reasonable level these days, and neither was Michael Kightly ever able to break into the team. Stoke need wingers to play Mark Hughes' brand of football, but also to get the best out of Charlie Adam. It really has the potential to work well, but players are needed. This being Mark Hughes, he's been linked to former players like Junior Hoilett and even David Bentley. In fact, Stoke even resigned Pennant after releasing him earlier in the month. This is going to be a crucial area of the team and hopefully for Potters' fans, they get better names attached to the club as we get deeper into the transfer window.
Attacking midfielder - Like left-back, Stoke have been linked to a host of players at this position including Steven Ireland, Adel Taraabt, and Jonjo Shelvey. They need more goals from anywhere on the pitch they can get them and these players could fit the bill, though each of them bring with them their own baggage.
With the right signings, and Erik Pieters is an encouraging start, Stoke City could begin utilizing the current squad to it's fuller potential and start playing some really good football. If not, safety first could become the club's only aim, and it could be a long, drab season for the club.