[dropcap]S[/dropcap]toke City fans may well be disappointed by the nature of their last-gasp defeat to Liverpool on the opening day of the new Premier League campaign, but there is massive reason for optimism at the Britannia Stadium following news of a new signing.
The Potters have announced the club-record £12 million capture of Swiss attacker Xherdan Shaqiri, in what must be seen as a massive coup.
A proven performer, supremely gifted individual and someone with a considerable reputation, the star’s acquisition marks another point of progression in Mark Hughes’ project with the club.
The Welshman took over at Stoke following the Tony Pulis era, with the now West Brom boss keeping the modest side in the top flight with a brand of powerful and direct football.
Every team in the land new what to expect when they turned up at the Britannia; a physical battle and aerial bombardment from the first minute.
These simple but mightily effective tactics were maybe not to the tastes of the football purists, but Pulis must be commended on succeeding where many other clubs have failed in keeping a newly promoted side in the Premier League over a prolonged period.
With Hughes now in charge of the Potters, there has been a change in ethos as the Welshman looks to add footballing intelligence and quality to his squad and adopt a more expansive style of play.
Against Liverpool this was evident, with promising loan signing Marco van Ginkel looking to get the ball down and play, while Ibrahim Afellay showed a number of smart touches to suggest he is relishing a new chapter in his career.
However, after thumping the off-colour Reds 6-1 on the final day of last term, the visitors were understandably more cagey this time round, with Brendan Rodgers’ men looking like a 0-0 draw would have suited them just fine.
As such, Liverpool were careful not to overcommit too many players forward and approached the game with a defensive mentality.
Stoke, despite Hughes’ pleas to get his team to play through opposition, lacked the finesse in the final third to break their opponents down and as such on occasion were forced to retreat back to the tried-and-tested more direct route.
Shaqiri’s capture promises to fill the creative void, with the new signing most likely to be deployed as a number ten behind a lone striker.
The former Bayern Munich star has all the skills to unlock opposition defences, score goals himself and enthral the Stoke faithful for the rest of the season.
Nicknamed the Alpine Messi, Shaqiri’s finesse on the ball, trickery and pace make him an ominous player to shackle, with his individualism sure to be a key facet of Stoke’s attacking plans.
When fellow gifted diminutive striker Bojan Krkić returns from injury, all of a sudden Hughes has a superb forward line full of top-notch attackers.
For Shaqiri, the move to England will finally afford him regular first-team football – something he did not receive at Bayern.
His time at Inter was underwhelming to say the least, but at 23 he has the best years of his career ahead of him.
For Stoke, Shaqiri’s capture could well be the missing puzzle piece that takes Hughes’ project to the next level.
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