In leading his side to a second top 10 finish in successive Premier League seasons, Mark Hughes looks to be overseeing an exciting period of improvement at Stoke City.
Ending the campaign in ninth, the Potters came out on top of the other sides in Ladbrokes’ Top Midlands club market in 2014-15 and look a solid price to do so once again.
The Britannia Stadium outfit opened up as 5/4 favourites to finish above Aston Villa, Leicester City and West Brom in the season ahead.
A number of hefty wagers saw them clipped into 21/20, but for this writer at least, there remains plenty of juice in the price.
Goalkeeper Asmir Begovic may have left the club to sit on Chelsea’s bench, but it’s been a pre-season where Hughes and Co. have been quietly going about their business.
The arrivals of solid pros Glen Johnson and Shay Given on free transfers will no doubt improve their squad options, while the permanent capture of loanee Philipp Wollscheid can only solidify their team at the back.
Loan moves for Chelsea man Marco van Ginkel and Joselu from Bundesliga outfit Hannover add extra intrigue, while many will be hoping for another Bojan after Moha El Ouriachi moved from the Barcelona youth set-up.
It doesn’t look like Stoke are finished there though, with an exciting swoop for Ukranian Andriy Yarmolenko still on the table.
They finished the last campaign in fine style, particularly in Staffordshire, delivering wins against Southampton, Tottenham and Liverpool.
But it was their turnaround in away form that, while it was nothing extraordinary, helped them to the upper echelons of the table.
A total of five wins on the road matches the combined return of the two seasons previous for the side, while their 21 points haul on their travels is the highest since achieving promotion in 2007-08.
So what of their potential rivals in their battle to rule the Midlands?
Leicester City are second in the betting at 10/3, but one has to wonder whether the influence Nigel Pearson had on their superb turnaround and ultimate survival is being underestimated.
And while he is approaching his late thirties Esteban Cambiasso proved an excellent purchase last season, but the Foxes may have to make do without him after his contract expired.
They have decided to splash the cash on a striker for the second season running, though it remains to be seen if their £7m gamble on Shinji Okazaki will pay off.
This pre-season has been somewhat of a clear out at Aston Villa (4/1). The sale of Fabian Delph and imminent departure of Christian Benteke, not to mention the touted exit of Brad Guzan could leave Tim Sherwood a little short.
They will have money to spend, but having finished just three points clear of the drop zone, will need to spend it very wisely.
Finally, making up the quartet are West Brom. The Baggies are 9/2 to cause a shock, but the summer has been very quiet at the Hawthorns.
They were the nearest challengers to Stoke last season, finishing 10 points and three places inferior to the Potters, and you’d have to question whether the signing of James McClean is going to bridge that gap.
If Stoke can start off better than they did last season, when they won one of their opening five, it could be an uphill task for any of their neighbours to peg them back.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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