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Season preview: Stoke City

With Mark Hughes now in control, Sports Mole takes a closer look at what the upcoming season may have in store for Stoke City.

With the Premier League season beginning this weekend, Sports Mole casts its eye over Stoke City's summer and their prospects for the 2013-14 campaign.

In:

Alex Grant (Free), Marc Muniesa (Free), Erik Pieters (PSV Eindhoven, £3m), Juan Agudelo (from New England Revolution, Undisclosed)

Out:

Dean Whitehead (Middlesbrough, Free), Michael Clarkson (Released), Rory Delap (Released), Matthew Gledhill (Released), Jadan Hall (Released), Matthew Lund (Released), Andrew Musunga (Released), Carlo Nash (Released, George Rigg (Released), Matthew Upson (Brighton & Hove Albion, Free), Mamady Sidibe (Released), Michael Owen (Retired)

Last Season: 13th

Manager: Mark Hughes

Three key players:


Asmir Begovic© PA Photos
Asmir Begovic - Stoke shipped 45 goals last season, which was just two more than champions Manchester United. A major factor behind that statistic was the form of Bosnian Begovic, who as a result saw his services linked with a host of European clubs. He has remained in the Potteries though and despite the arrival of Jack Butland, it would be a major surprise if he was not Hughes's number one choice come Saturday's trip to Liverpool. If the Potters are to stay up, the 26-year-old must carry on his fine form of late.


Robert Huth and Steven Fletcher© PA Photos
Robert Huth - Although Begovic deserves a large slice of the credit for a more than respectable goals against tally, German centre-back Huth also played his part. The 28-year-old has been with the club since 2009, but many will argue that the most recent campaign was his most consistent. Although primarily a defender, Huth has also shown in the past that he can weigh in with a few goals. During his second year at the Britannia Stadium, he found the net nine times in all competitions.


Peter Crouch© PA Photos
Peter Crouch - Unless additions are made between now and the end of the transfer window, Stoke appear to be a little light in the attacking department. In turn, it means that the majority of the burden will rest upon Crouch's shoulders. By his own standards, his return of seven Premier League goals from 34 appearances last term was below par. If he can move into double figures this time around, it could go a long way to helping Stoke retain their status.

First game: Liverpool (A), Complete fixture list

Sports Mole says: Having struggled so badly at Queens Park Rangers, Hughes has arrived at Stoke with the pressure of having to prove that he is a capable Premier League manager. What's more, he has replaced Tony Pulis, who did remarkably well not only to get the club promoted, but to keep them in the top flight. They did struggle last season, though, and if truth be told, what has been recruited so far to the squad does not suggest that there will be a significant improvement. While there may be three or four weaker teams than them, it looks likely to be a nervy few months ahead for Stoke supporters.

Predicted finish: 16th

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Birmingham goalie Jack Butland sits dejected after a late Huddersfield equaliser on January 12, 2013
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