When we think of Stoke, what comes to mind first? Rory Delap’s throw ins, long ball football or perhaps Tony Pulis’ baseball cap?When thinking from an FPL perspective you should think ‘clean sheets at home’. With no Europa league commitments, Pulis is likely to settle on his first choice starting XI, and stick with it, offering us a prime way in to those coveted clean sheets and renowned Stoke defensive solidity. This brings us onto the first area to consider:
Stoke are blessed with two Premier League quality goalkeepers, in Asmir Begovic and Thomas Sorensen, who have been battling for the number 1 jersey in recent seasons. Fortunately for us, Pulis tends to decide this battle early on, and leave one keeper playing the league fixtures, while the other takes the cup competitions. Last season saw Sorensen lose his position as the starting keeper in the league due to an alarming loss of form and a few gaffes, frustrating many fantasy managers, but with a little pre-season sleuthing we should be able to pick the right keeper and hope their performances allow them to keep the number one jersey.Begovic and Sorensen are both available for the bargain price of £4.5m in the FPL game, and Begovic looks the likeliest to start the season as number 1, allowing for cheap rotation with Fulham or West Ham at the back.
Moving on to the outfield defensive assets, the Stoke back 4 looks fairly settled. With the reclassification this season of Marc Wilson as a defender, we have a cheap link in the Stoke defence that isn’t injury prone, and at £4.5m for the defender could represent a bargain.Andy Wilkinson looks like he has the right back position under wraps, also for £4.5m, but after an injury prone campaign last time out and competition from Ryan Shotton, the versatile midfielder, he looks best avoided.
The imposing Stoke centre backs traditionally represent a goal threat, especially from set pieces, and the increased prices of Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth, at £5m and £5.5m respectively, acknowledge this. Huth had a subdued last campaign, not hitting the goal scoring heights of the 10/11 season, and his fall in price means he could represent good value again if he replicates the 6 goal haul of 2010/2011.Shawcross managed 2 goals last time out, 1 less than Huth, but picked up more bonus points than his partner due to his physical game.
Stoke’s attacking options are so far much the same as last season, barring any new signings which could still arrive. I don’t expect anything of the magnitude of their deadline day buys last August though.One new face is former Rangers midfielder Jamie Ness, who provides competition for Dean Whitehead and Glenn Whelan in central midfield, but has been priced as a £4.0m defender.It remains to be seen whether he can oust these two Stoke stalwarts from their central midfield berths in Pulis’ 4-4-2, but should he manage it could be a great OOP option, similar to the Ryan Shotton bandwagon last year.
Whitehead and Whelan are cheap starting options, at £4.5m and £5.0m respectively, but offer little attacking threat, a with most of the Stoke attacking play coming down the wings, however if you want one of the two, Whelan is definitely the man, thanks to a more creative game.
Wilson Palacios is something of a forgotten man at Stoke, but has pledged to fight for his first team place, with assistant manager Dave Kemp asserting that he is a ‘quality player’ who will prove his worth this season, and could provide more competition in central midfield.
Moving out to the wings then, and Matty Etherington at £6.5 could be worth a gamble if he can reach the heights of his potential, offering both goal and assist threat, and a nailed on left wing spot.
Jonathan Walters has again been classified as a midfielder, and at £6.5m with penalty duties firmly in the bag could create a bandwagon similar to last year if he performs well. Operating most effectively as a second striker behind Peter Crouch or Cameron Jerome, he can also play wide right. He was utilised there towards the end of last season, after Pulis fell out with Jermaine Pennant, but unfortunately his fantasy returns subsequently tailed off.
If Pennant (£5.5m) or Shotton (£5.0) can nail down that right wing berth they could be great fantasy value, and increase Walters’ worth by seeing him played centrally.
As for the Stoke strikers, Peter Crouch is first choice, and has been priced generously at £6.5m, just above the Holt/Lambert/Graham bracket, and if picked up for a streak of form, a replication of his 10 goals and 5 assists could make him a useful fantasy player.
Cameron Jerome (£5.5m) is likely to come in alongside Crouch if playing 4-4-2, but has never been prolific, and looks best avoided.
Stoke do often struggle for goals, especially away from home, so a good run of fixtures is required before the Stoke strikers are considered in my opinion.
Stoke have so far only signed Ness, but have released several fringe players including Jonathan Woodgate, Ricardo Fuller and Salif Diao, so perhaps a few new signings are expected to boost the squad depth somewhat.
The club are apparently interested in getting both Jarvis and Fletcher from relegated Wolves, but have so far been rebuffed, and informed it will take a big offer to secure the duo’s services.
They have also been linked with a loan move for Lukaku, though this seems more unlikely.Onto more solid ground, they have apparently reached a £1.6m deal for American centre back Geoff Cameron, who will likely fill the departing Woodgate’s role on the bench.
So far, the team seems likely to continue as it finished last season, and the likely lineup is:
Wilkinson, Huth, Shawcross, Wilson
Shotton/Pennant, Whelan, Whitehead, Etherington
So, in conclusion, what’ve we got in terms of tangible fantasy prospects?
In Begovic, a cheap keeper, occasionally prone to rotation.
In Wilson a cheap, nailed on, way into a solid defence
In Huth, a possible goal scoring behemoth, but one for the watchlist I feel, at £1m more than Wilson.
In Walters we have a homeboy, a penalty taker, and a good mid-priced midfielder
Or a cheeky punt on Etherington or Crouch at the right time could pay off.
And keep an eye on Jamie Ness 🙂