Stoke City may be heading for a fifth consecutive year as a Premier League club, but there are no signs of Tony Pulis resting on his laurels.
As the Potters complete their 11 day, three match tour of America, manager Pulis has spoken nearly every day of the need for Stoke to go into the new season as fit and sharp as they possibly can, with his emphasis on the increasing demands of the Premier League a warning to all his players that the top flight can be an unforgiving place.
Pulis is right to have that attitude: you only have to look at the fate of Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers, both relegated last season after 11 years in the top division, to see that in the ever competitive bottom half of the Premier League, one bad season can undo over a decade’s worth of hard work.
Sporting lie third in the Eastern Conference, just a point behind leaders New York Red Bulls, but have hit the buffers recently as an injury crisis has taken hold.
And to that end, Stoke’s trip to America has gone according to plan for Pulis. The Welshman has worked his players into the ground, putting his squad through three training sessions a day in hot and humid conditions, even making the players train twice on the day of an actual game.
Pulis described the schedule as ‘gruelling’ (I’d love to know how the players described it) but the former Gillingham boss is of the opinion that far from being an established Premier League force, the club faces ‘it’s toughest challenge’ come August and that all this extensive work is necessary for Stoke to prolong their stay at the top table.
With the season less than three weeks away, the time to concentrate on results and performances will soon be here but for now, Pulis is still concentrating on fitness, which makes Stoke’s American outing an interesting one. The Potters face Sporting Kansas City at Sporting Park and the odds are intriguing: Stoke are favourites at 5/4, with their hosts at 9/5 and the draw at 9/4 and there are question marks about all those odds.
I can’t have Stoke at that price given the way Pulis has dismissed the results of these friendlies as irrelevant and the manner in which he is preparing his side for them, but similarly Kansas aren’t quite the bet they appear either.
Sporting lie third in the Eastern Conference, just a point behind leaders New York Red Bulls, but have hit the buffers recently as an injury crisis has taken hold. Kansas have won only two of their last nine MLS games, losing four, and manager Peter Vermes has said that untried players will take to the pitch against Stoke as he saves his big hitters for the regular season.
But with Pulis not bothered about the match either (and concerned about how the heat will affect his players) neither side appeal at the prices, so it may be worth going with the 9/4 that Stoke, after a win and a loss, end their tour with a draw.
Recommended bet: Stoke to draw with Sporting Kansas City @ 9/4
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