Few would have predicted it this time four summers ago, but Stoke City boss Tony Pulis is about to begin preparations in earnest for a fifth consecutive year in the Premier League.
From relegation certainties to FA Cup finalists and secure mid-table top-tier outfit, the Potters have defied all the odds since promotion in 2008 and as Pulis starts to put his players through their paces at a training camp in Switzerland, the fact that they are as long as 7/1 in bwin’s relegation market shows the progress the unfashionable club have made. Not that Pulis will rest on his laurels, of course – the Welshman will no doubt be gunning for the 40-point mark as soon as possible.
Preparations for another tough season are well and truly underway and with climate and altitude training high on the priority list over in the Alps (insert your own joke about the ball always being high in the air during Stoke matches), Pulis has cranked up the fitness regime for his players ahead of their first match of pre-season against FC Sion at neutral venue Sportif du Perose in Saxon.
The odds are interesting – Stoke and Sion are both at 3/2, while the draw is 9/4 – but not as interesting as the last few years the Swiss club have endured.
With their fitness way above that of Stoke – who will be going into the match with heavy legs after a demanding week – it may be worth a small play on the 3/2 that Sion take advantage of the Potters’ desire for conditioning over victory.
One of the more renowned names in Swiss football (Olympique des Alpes SA have won two top flight titles and 12 domestic cups, the last in 2011), Sion have endured a torrid few years as off-the-pitch financial troubles and on-the-field irregularities have blighted the last 15 years.
Most recently, Sion were banned from European competition for fielding an ineligible player against Celtic and deducted 36 points in the Swiss Super League for similar offences, which meant Christian Constantin’s men needed a relegation play-off victory against FC Aarau to remain in the top flight.
The light is at the end of the tunnel now, however, with all troubles seemingly behind them and notable signings in the shape of Kyle Lafferty and former AC Milan star Gennaro Gattuso raising hopes for the new season – a season which is already underway, making me lean towards the 3/2 on a Swiss victory.
Punters registering with bwin can claim a free £20 bet and placing this on Sion to beat Stoke would return £46 if successful.
After all, Sion won their opening match of the new campaign last weekend, a 2-0 victory away at Grasshopper that laid down a marker for the coming months.
And with their fitness way above that of Stoke – who will be going into the match with heavy legs after a demanding week – it may be worth a small play on the 3/2 that Sion continue that fine form and take advantage of the Potters’ desire for conditioning over victory.
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