Stoke finished a highly respectable 9th place last season under Mark Hughes and Hughes has gone on record as saying he wants to go ahead and push for a place in Europe this year. In order to do that Stoke will need to add some quality upfront whilst still managing to retain their solidity at the back, which saw them concede just 45 goals last season.
Stoke has made some fantastic additions with the arrivals of Joselu, Philipp Wollscheid and Glen Johnson, who should all be high impact players this year. The addition of Jakob Haugaard has added goalkeeping depth, and the arrival of Moha El Ouriachi is a promising sign with a view for the future perhaps. The biggest loss they suffered is perhaps the fact Victor Moses doesn’t appear to be returning from Chelsea this season, with the other departures having little effect on fantasy. Perhaps the most relevant sold player is Steven N’Zonzi, especially when you consider that Sorenson and Begovic were likely to serve as a back-up to Jack Butland and Robert Huth was unable to get regular playing time last season.
Early Fixtures Outlook: vs Liverpool, @ Tottenham, @ Norwich, vs West Brom, @ Arsenal, vs Leicester
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A very mixed start for Stoke with three games you would expect them to struggle in and three games you fancy them to pick up points in. They will want to cash in against Norwich, West Brom and Leicester both in terms of fantasy points for their defenders and attackers. The games against Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal are the potential for Stoke to cause an upset, but I fancy that they will struggle to keep clean sheets in two out of those three, and goals may not be easy to come by either. There is no absolute stand out attacking options that you must have in the early week, especially if Bojan is struggling to get fit. At the back Butland has a least three potential weeks of usefulness as a match-up keeper and the defensive options have the potential to get some good points under their belt early.
Goalkeeper Outlook: Jack Butland (£4.5m)
Butland has extremely limited Premier League experience, having started just five games and appearing in six total. However, Mark Hughes looks set to throw his young keeper into the fire this season with the sale of Asmir Begovic. Butland kept two clean sheets in his three Premier League starts last season and with Stoke averaging approximately nine clean sheets a season, he is all set to potentially be a solid, top 20 option. Stoke’s defence is traditionally stingy but they do give up opportunities, so Butland should get a decent save total. And at a very nice price he looks to be a solid option to use in a match-up based rotation.
Stud: Ryan Shawcross (£5.0m)
Last year was a down year last season for Shawcross, who is generally good for around 110 points but only managed 92 last year. Shawcross played his lowest amount of minutes in the last five seasons in 2014/15 and missed out on three clean sheets, which is the difference between him falling short and equalling his season total. Shawcross averages 1.8 goals per season, which is a nice addition for a non-fullback defender considering they have limited assist opportunities. At £5.0m he is priced outside the top 30 defenders and a normal season for him is a top 20 finish, so this price looks like a potential bargain.
Sleeper: Glen Johnson (£5.0m)
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Johnson is coming off the back of his worst year fantasy year in the last nine years, scoring just 57 points. A big part of this is the fact that he only plated 1332 minutes last year as opposed to over 2000, which he has in seven of the nine years. That playing time is the reason he has moved on from Liverpool and Stoke looks a very good place for him to land given their lack of sure fire right back. Johnson should start most games for the Potters and playing alongside a solid centre back pairing of Shawcross and whoever wins the job should allow Johnson to get forward and get crosses in the box to potentially grab a few assists. He has topped out at £7.7m in the past so this price could be an absolute bargain for a potential top 20 defender, who could be even better in leagues which reward crossing.
Erik Pieters should line-up at left back for Stoke and he is close behind Shawcross and Johnson as desirable options in the defence. In draft leagues he should be owned, especially if the league has crossing points. The other central defender is up for some debate with Wollscheid, Cameron, Bardsley, Wilson and Muniesa all potential options. My money is on Wollscheid but I would gamble on any of them in any league format.
Stud: John Walters (£6.0m)
Walters is perennially one of Stoke’s top midfield options solely because of his ability to both score goals, averaging 7 goals a season, and provide assists, averaging 4 per season. Last season, Walters got back somewhere close to his best with 125 fantasy points after scoring 83 the year before in the same amount of match time. Walters goal scoring was a big reason for that dramatic increase and last season’s total of eight brought him back to where he was in his two 140 point years prior to the 83-point year. The difference with last season compared to those 140 point seasons, is he played a significantly reduced amount of time but still managed to match those seasons on goals. If he can carry that form into this coming season then we could be looking at 10-goal season from Walters, which would be good enough to make him a top 10-15 midfielder. When you consider he is priced outside the top 30, Walters looks a potential bargain in salary cap leagues. He isn’t a shiny exciting player so he’s also someone that you can sneak in under the radar in draft leagues as your fourth or fifth midfielder who can then provide you top 20 play with potential for much more.
Sleeper: Peter Odemwingie (£5.0m)
Odemwingie’s season was cut short by injury after just a couple of games, and for that reason he will enter this season criminally under rated. With Victor Moses appearing to be part of Chelsea’s plans this season, Odemwingie has the perfect opportunity to prove that he can be the other winger to Bojan this season. His big rivals are potentially Marko Arnautovic and Moha El Ouriachi, but in Odemwingie we are talking about a guy who has had 15, 10, five and seven goal seasons across the four seasons leading into last year. Odemwingie could provide extra goals to Stoke as well as being a good crosser of the ball who should be able to find the head of their big strikers to provide a few assists. Odemwingie has the potential to be a top 30 midfielder, with a top 15-20 ceiling, at a bargain basement price. But only if he can make one of the wing spots his to start the season.
As I said above, Arnautovic and new boy El Ouriachi are the other big potential midfielders in Stoke’s team right now, but I cannot see how Stoke can fit all four of Bojan, Odemwingie, El Ouriachi and Arnautovic in. To me that leaves Arnautovic and El Ourachi on the outside looking in, initially. And while I expect Arnautovic to end up a bench impact player, I think El Ouriachi could end up doing a similar role or out on loan in his first year in the Premier League. Charlie Adam will score points because, well, he is Charlie Adam and that’s just what he does, but his playing time is decreasing every year making it hard to predict his usefulness. Again at £6.0m it is hard to use a player who struggles to play every week no matter what he does when he is on the field. In leagues that lock at individual kick off then Adam is a solid option who can put in if and when he is playing. The guy I expect to partner him is Chelsea loanee Marco van Ginkel who looked good in that defensive role two years ago before suffering a nasty injury. van Ginkel is a quality player but for fantasy purposes he is unlikely to register. The Whelan, Sidwell, Ireland combination will be used sparingly and will have no value in any leagues especially whilst Adam and van Ginkel are healthy.
Stud: Bojan Krkic (£5.5m)
Bojan was just starting to catch fire for Stoke last season when his season was cut short by injury. He was on pace to score over 120 points, which would have comfortably made him a top 15 striker last season. However, the worry is that players returning from nasty knee injuries do tend to struggle to return to being the player they were pre-injury (see Falcao, Radamel). But each player is an individual case and I trust Mark Hughes to have dealt correctly with Bojan, as they will need him if they want to push for Europe this season. Bojan has true top 10 potential as a striker, and his role out wide could make him even more valuable to crossing leagues as well. So, for him to be priced at a ridiculously low £5.5m could rival Jermain Defoe for biggest bargain in FPL this season. Initially, just keep an eye on him because he isn’t 100% to be fit for the start of the season and then he may need a couple of weeks to get going. But be prepared to jump in with both feet in salary cap leagues if he shows hints of firing. In draft leagues I would be willing to pull the trigger on him as a high-end #3, especially if I can get two solid dependable guys earlier in the draft.
Sleeper: Joselu (£6.0m)
Joselu hasn’t set the scoring record alight in Germany but at just 25 his best years are probably still ahead of him. A big advantage for him at Stoke is there is no stand out striker he has to replace with Diouf and Crouch more suited to the second striker on the team role. Joselu has a really good chance to win the starters job. Joselu fits well with the current profile of Stokes striker as a 6ft 3in striker who wins a lot of aerial duels and his time in Germany may have prepared him well for the physical game he will find in the Premier League. Joselu was once prolific for the Real Madrid B side but struggled to step up and challenge the likes of Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo which is why he ended up heading to Germany to find full time opportunities.
Predicted Opening day line-up:
GK: Jack Butland
RB: Glen Johnson
DC: Ryan Shawcross
DC: Philipp Wolscheid
LB: Erik Pieters
CM: Marco Van Ginkel
CM: Charlie Adam
RW: Peter Odemwingie
LW: Bojan Krkic
CAM: Jonathan Walters
FWD: Mame Biram Diouf