Stoke City’s signing of Barcelona youngster Marc Muniesa had many fans spitting out their 11 o’clock coffee in sheer disbelief and Ladbrokes have reacted with raised eyebrows to this harbinger of a new tiki-taka tactical direction for the club, making them 100/1 to top the Premier League passing charts next term.
Mark Hughes’ work on banishing Stoke’s reputation as long-ball-loving football luddites to the dustbin of history has stepped up a gear with the recruitment of the product of Barca’s famous La Masia hot-house, who has represented Los Blaugrana at Champions League level.
His signing comes hot on the heels of the Potters’ acquisition of PSV’s Erik Pieters, making it seem that Hughes is intent upon recasting his side as a passing team capable of playing out from the back, rather simply playing the attacking percentages with a barrage of long balls.
Both men are full-backs who are at least as comfortable in the centre of defence, meaning centre-half bruisers Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth may need to watch their backs too.
The duo have been used to playing for technical sides that are comfortable on the ball, but even so Hughes will have to pull a good few more rabbits out of the hat if Stoke are to get anywhere near the top of the Premier League passing charts in 2013/14.
Arsenal were last term’s most prolific passers, attempting to share the ball no less than 21,110 times with their teammates, with 18,075 balls finding a sympathetic target. Stoke on the contrary attempted just 12,287 passes – the second lowest total in the division – and their pass completion rate of 70.2 per cent was the outright worst in the Premier League.
Muniesa’s signing will offer encouragement of further dealings with Barcelona, where Hughes spent a season of his playing career in the 1980s and Stoke chief executive Tony Scholes confirmed that the new boss’ links with the Camp Nou had smoothed the deal’s completion.
The Britannia Stadium outfit posted just four victories during the 2013 segment of the last campaign as they narrowly avoided nose-diving to relegation and they can be backed at 10/3 for the drop in 2013/14.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.