Stoke City are 11/4 to lose their Premier League status after six successive years in the top flight and after the departure of Tony Pulis following last season’s battle with relegation, new boss Mark Hughes has a tough task ahead of him, with the Potters in desperate need of a consistent goal threat if they are to survive.
Hughes has addressed a need at left-back, with Dutch international Erik Pieters snapped up for £3m from PSV Eindhoven and has also added 19-year-old centre-half Marc Muniesa, who arrives from Barcelona on a free transfer.
Stoke already have adequate numbers at centre-back, however, with Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth and Geoff Cameron (who plays in the position for the USA, if not in the Premier League) providing excellent cover in front of Asmir Begovic as the Britannia club conceded the least goals outside the top seven last season.
At the other end of the pitch only bottom club QPR found the net fewer times than Stoke, with strikers Peter Crouch, Cameron Jerome, Kenwyne Jones and Jonathan Walters all failing to break double figures.
So far, Hughes has only brought in 20-year-old Juan Agudelo from New England Revolution up-front and with the USA international not due to arrive until January, the former Blackburn and Manchester City manager needs to buy a proven goalscorer before the end of the transfer window, with Hamburg hot-shot Artjoms Rudnevs and Hannover’s former Manchester United flop Mame Biram Diouf thought to be targets.
In midfield, Charlie Adam showed glimpses of the form that took him from Blackpool to Liverpool in a £9m move two summers ago and Hughes has already pledged to keep wantaway midfielder Steven N’Zonzi at the club, after Stoke rejected the six-foot-four-inch French midfielder’s transfer request earlier this summer.
January signing Brek Shea is due for another spell on the sidelines after suffering knee ligament damage in pre-season and with fellow winger Matthew Etherington struggling with fitness in recent seasons, Hughes may have to bring in cover on the wings beyond Jermaine Pennant – who is returning from a loan spell at Wolverhampton Wanderers – and Michael Kightly.
Stoke have quality in midfield and had been consistently reliable at the back, but after a mid-season run of 10 losses in 13 Premier League games last term, they were in real danger of going down and with little transfer activity thus far – and reinforcements desperately needed up-front – Hughes could find himself relegated for the first time in his career as a player or manager.