Stoke City were a different side without England goalkeeper Jack Butland between the sticks last season, so the 23-year-old’s crushing absence from the XI ahead of their opening-day trip to Middlesbrough must be seen as a huge boost for the newly-promoted outfit.
Boro are 27/20 to see off the Potters in their first Premier League fixture at the Riverside since 2009, and visiting stopper Butland’s omission makes that a bet worth having.
The ankle fracture that ruled the Bristol native out of Euro 2016 also saw Butland miss his side’s last seven games of the 2015/16 Premier League campaign, having been in situ for four wins in Stoke’s previous six matches.
Mark Hughes’ side won just one of that septet of fixtures, their last game of the campaign at home to West Ham, losing four and drawing two with a combination of Danish custodian Jakob Haugaard and veteran Irishman Shay Given donning the number one jersey.
Even more significantly, Stoke conceded a whopping 14 goals in their four outings immediately following Butland’s forced absence, shipping four goals in three matches on the spin against Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham during April.
In all competitions, Hughes’ men won 47 per cent of the time when Butland made the teamsheet, and just 27 per cent of games without their star stopper, going down to defeat just 12 times (34 per cent) with Butland, and picking up five losses (45 per cent) in his absence.
Middlesbrough’s form at the end of 2015/16 was nothing to write home about either, drawing their last four Championship matches, but six wins on the spin prior to that run means Aitor Karanka’s men are unbeaten since mid-March.
Hosting a Stoke side that lost that winning feeling without their number one as the campaign closed, Boro are worthy favourites to kick off their latest Premier League era with all three points.