Rewind six years and Stoke City were midway through their first Premier League season, with their slightly unique brand of physical and direct football, encapsulated by Rory Delap’s missile long throws, already making life difficult for visiting defences.
That same season Barcelona were starting a new era. Gone were the likes of Ronaldinho and Deco, as Pep Guardiola came in swinging the axe as he looked to get across his own ideas of possession-controlling tiki-taka football.
It immediately worked as Barca celebrated a first treble in Spanish football history and a style of football that arguably hadn’t really been seen for the best part of 30 years was back in fashion again.
However, the last team that many would have expected to want to adopt some of the players accustomed to playing this way was Stoke.
The Potters didn’t have much to gain from a defender that was comfortable on the ball, a midfielder who wanted to dictate games and a nimble striker with clever movement, who wanted possession into feet so that he could run at defenders.
However, Mark Hughes has already raided Barcelona for two such players in Bojan and Marc Muniesa and now he is attempting to complete the hat-trick by returning to the Nou Camp for the latter’s friend Sergi Roberto.
There are images doing the rounds of the 22-year-old Barca academy graduate on the pitch at the Britannia Stadium with Stoke’s current two Spaniards after their defeat at Chelsea.
Despite once being referred to as Xavi’s most likely replacement emerging through the Barcelona ranks, Sergi has started only one La Liga game for Luis Enrique this season and stepped off the bench on only four more occasions.
His anticipated first-team spot has been taken by summer signing Ivan Rakitic and at his age, Sergi cannot afford to be spending any more time sat on a bench or in many cases in the stands.
Having flickered between Glenn Whelan, Charlie Adam and Stephen Ireland, Hughes still doesn’t seem to have found the ideal midfield partner for the all-action Steven N’Zonzi, but Sergi’s mightily impressive pass completion statistics suggest that he could give Stoke the midfield control of the ball they require.
Stoke’s failure to beat any team in the bottom half of the Premier League heading into the Xmas period is the chief reason they find themselves down in 13th in the standings at present.
But an improvement in these fixtures and the signing of Sergi would make 4/1 seem a monster price that they finish in the top ten for the second consecutive season.