After a convincing victory over Roy Hodgson’s Palace, and an encouraging performance against Manchester United, it appears that we’re starting to see the foundations of Mauricio Pellegrino’s work.
But whilst we know what we can come to expect from Southampton this weekend, just how much do we know about our upcoming opponents?
To find out more, I spoke to Stoke City’s very own club journalist, Jon Sidaway.
How would you summarise Stoke City’s season so far?
We’ve had a tough start, but we have picked up a satisfying four points from games against Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea at the bet365 Stadium prior to tomorrow’s match as well as drawing at West Brom – who have become somewhat of a bogey team in recent seasons. We played ok on the opening day against Everton and were unfortunate to lose in my opinion, while our other defeat at Newcastle was a little disappointing. That said, I think a lot of people are happy with our return of five points from six games, particularly against quality and stubborn opposition who we failed to take many points off last season. Performances have genuinely been ok, although I feel we haven’t truly threatened or punished teams enough in the final third despite seeing much of the ball in most games. We’re a side that is perhaps still gelling after several summer signings, so I’ve no doubt that things will click and come to fruition when the season starts to pick up pace. Overall, I would say we have had a promising start whilst seeing some encouraging signs.
Who has been the brightest light from last summer’s transfer business?
We signed some top players in the summer including the experience of Darren Fletcher who has made a massive difference, while Maxim Choupo-Moting arrived as an unknown quantity on a free transfer but has impressed in the games he’s played. For me though, Kurt Zouma has been the brightest signing for us and it’s a massive shame we only have him on a season-long loan from Chelsea. His physical presence is outstanding and he has a surprising amount of pace for a big guy! He has certainly helped strengthen things at the back and he has quickly become a favourite amongst players, staff and supporters alike. He’s a bright young player who you just know will go on to have an impact at a bigger club. His reading of the game is very good, he’s not scared to put a foot in and he excels in confidence on the ball when looking to play out from the back.
Who do you think could be your star man this season?
It’s a big season for Xherdan Shaqiri, both on an individual and Club level. He will obviously want to have a good campaign and be in the best form possible heading into next summer’s World Cup while he has had to become the main marquee man for us following the departure of Marko Arnautovic to West Ham. That’s nothing new for him though because he’s the face of Swiss football and played for Bayern Munich and Inter Milan who are elite clubs, so he will thrive under that added bit of pressure like all top-class players do. He arrived back from pre-season in good shape and has certainly looked up for it ever since. The main objective for ‘Shaq’ is to stay fit and get a run of games under his belt because that was a burden for him last season and when he’s out of the team you really do miss his presence. If he can do that, then he will thrive and be our biggest threat in attacking areas. If you could pick any Southampton player to join The Potters, who would it be? Southampton
If you could pick any Southampton player to join The Potters, who would it be?
Southampton are notorious for having top quality players, as well as nurturing youngsters from their academy into the first team, so it’s quite difficult to choose just one player. I look at players like Virgil Van Dijk who is strong and composed alongside James Ward-Prowse who really is an exciting talent. Then there’s Shane Long, who I really rate, he’s a workhorse and is constantly looking to chase down defenders and cause a problem. If I were to assess our current situation, then I would have to choose someone like Ryan Bertrand. We’re crying out for an experienced wing-back, we currently have Mame Diouf playing that role who – to his credit – has performed admirably, but that’s not his natural position. Bertrand has pace and strength alongside vital top-flight and international experience. He’s exciting and is at the prime of his career and although I would class him as a fullback – with how popular the 3-5-2 wing-back formation is lately – he has all the attributes to be a success in that role.
What would make for a successful season?
The manager’s aim is to always better the previous season’s finish, so ending the 2016/17 campaign in 13th was a disappointment, especially after three successive 9th place finishes in the Premier League. The primary aim is to better that this season and cement ourselves in the top 10 at the very least. We’re ambitious and we want to do as well as possible, so if we can pick up positive results and remain consistent then there is no reason why we can’t push for 6th place and potentially bring European football back to the Potteries. To do that, we need to top our recent positive results against Arsenal and Manchester United by taking as many points off the likes of Southampton and other clubs who share the same ambition. There’s no reason why we can’t because, on our day, we can really punish teams. The biggest blow is that we’re out of the Carabao Cup, a competition we wanted to do well in. It’s been a long time since this football club won a major trophy so hopefully we can get the luck of the draw and perform well when we kick-off in the FA Cup in January.
You’re stranded on a desert island and can only be joined by one Potters player; who’s it going to be?
We have a quality dressing room and there are some good characters, but most importantly they’re all very good people. But if I were to choose just one it would have to be Crouchy! He’s a great guy to be around and has a very witty, yet chilled personality. He has time for everyone and I can’t imagine there are many people out there who dislike him. Plus, on a desert island, he would come in handy if ever there was a coconut too high on the tree!
And finally, what is your prediction for this Saturday?
As I said, it’s important we follow up our results against Arsenal and Manchester United by recording a positive scoreline in these types of games. It will certainly be a tricky contest and I think it will be a very close encounter. Either side has the potential to nick it, so it’s pivotal we look to control the game from the word go, especially at home. When the crowd are behind us, there’s no sound like it and you can see it really spurs the team on. I also think after the last week, we will be eager to get back on track so I’m going to go for a hard fought 2-1 Stoke City win.