Mark Hughes is aiming to break back into the top half of the Premier League after missing out for the first time in his tenure last season. After three consecutive ninth place finishes, Hughes starts his fifth season in charge trying to recover from a dour 13th position in his last campaign.
During the pre-match press conference ahead of today’s game at Everton, Hughes admitted that the difficult season last time has made his job a little easier. Following the disappointing results of last season, expectations for Stoke City are lower and some outlets are tipping them to struggle further. Hughes does not share those concerns, however, saying that he is positive but admits there is some negativity around.
“There is a little bit of negativity which is misplaced in my view and maybe expectations are lower this year than they have been in previous seasons.”
“Last year in terms of the season itself was a disappointment, the league position. Maybe there wasn’t that excitement we had in previous seasons beating the top six teams.”
He went on to point out that the top six are particularly strong at the moment and the real challenge will be to take points from these sides. Stoke on their day can compete, but it is that little extra quality or ‘x-factor’ as Hughes put it, which can decide a game and the top teams have more.
On the subject of the current squad and if they are ready for the season ahead the manager was again positive. First of all, there are no injury concerns ahead of today’s game at Goodison Park but, Stoke have lost some key and experienced players this summer including Jon Walters, and Marko Arnautovic.
“I’m aware that we’ve lost a bit of experience in the dressing room but we’ve still got good players here who can step up to leadership roles.”
“He’s really impressed me so far with his strength, technical ability, and character.”
“Saido has come back and is in great shape. He was playing catch up last season. We feel he is ready to go.
“After the loss of Arnautovic, the club brought in Max Choupo-Moting who can play anywhere across the front line. I think people who don’t know much about him will be surprised by his quality.”
Stoke will continue to look into further transfers before the window closes but Hughes will not rush anything. He will only bring in a player “if the right quality is available” and not to just fill holes in the squad.
When asked about Stoke’s difficult start to the season Hughes said:
“Our fixture list is probably one of the hardest.
“More often than not our start is difficult. Other clubs have easier starts but more difficult periods at times when we have easier games. The key this year is to start better and get points on the board if we can.”
“They have made significant changes, brought a lot of players in, lost key players as well including Lukaku.”