Quick Reminder, Real Life
Fortress at home, inept on the road. Slightly fewer wins than losses. Slightly fewer scored than allowed. By far the fewest goals allowed in the bottom half of the table (their 48 were 8 fewer than next closest Bolton). Lots of tall players and lots of bruising defending. Yup, it was a Stoke sort of season. Never really in danger of relegation but never really likely to do anything more than mid-table. Given that they’ve only been back up since 2007-08 it must be said that having solidified themselves in the top flight and not fretting over relegation is a big deal. With that goal achieved though, one wonders whether there is a next achievable goal along the path or if this is it. They are in the process of qualifying for the Europa League so maybe a protracted European campaign is the next thing they can treat their fans to. Hopefully, they can use it to catapult themselves into the top half rather than it becoming a distraction that sees them dip closer to the relegation zone in the league.
Quick Reminder, Fantasy
As usual at Stoke, there wasn’t an exceptional fantasy performer. There were, however, a few fairly solid performers between wings Etherington and Pennant, forward Jones, defender Huth, and keeper Begovic. The only downside to the season was that Pennant’s arrival and the typical injuries detracted a bit from Eth’s season. He took fewer kicks and the attack was focused down the left side of the field less because there was a second competent option for the first time in a while. Aside from the review of the regulars, Danny Higginbotham was excellent in limited duty. He managed two matches where he went over 20 points. Who would have guessed?
- Faye Leaving - If Big Sam Allardyce’s Bolton teams are the spiritual predecessors of the current Stoke style then Abdoulaye Faye is returning to his spiritual home as Big Sam gets the Bolton band back together at Upton Park. Having started only 12 matches, it isn’t a huge loss but it does represent depth of huge bodies which there can never seemingly be enough of at Stoke. And speaking of which...
- Tony Pulis’ Woody - I don’t know the contract details but I have to assume that the contract that Jonathan Woodgate signed was what you would describe as “incentive laden”. If he manages to stay healthy, they Stoke get a strong central defender. If not, probably not a big loss financially (like say the one Spurs absorbed over his last contract).
- Generally Quiet - Outside of those two very low profile transactions, there hasn’t been much action at the Britannia Stadium this summer - recent rumors of a bid for Scott Parker that is likely to be rejected by the player have surfaced but that’s about it.
2011-12 Outlook, Real Life
With little change to the team there’s little to lead you to believe that their performance will be much different than last year’s. The possibility of qualification for the group stage of the Europa League may mean some weeks where they perform worse than they did during the corresponding week last season (not that they could perform much worse on the road than they did). Given that it would only take the dropping of a couple of home wins to home losses from last season to get them near the drop zone, this could be worth watching. If they can figure out how to navigate European travels (or they crash out in the qualification process) then I’d imagine we’re looking at 11th or 12th with a downside of 16th if they can’t figure out Europe.
Probable Starting XI
Begovic, Woodgate, Shawcross, Huth, Whelan, Delap, Wilson, Pennant, Etherington, Jones, Walters
2011-12 Scouting Report, Yahoo Fantasy
- Fantasy Gold - In years past I’d be tempted to include Etherington in this category but with Pennant vulturing some of his set pieces it’s hard to get too excited about either player at their current prices.
- On The Rise - Every season a variety of factors create opportunities for value buying in the Yahoo! game:
- Pennant (recently returning to the league) a very nice second half of the season from a fantasy standpoint. With Stoke’s attack being what it is it seems unlikely that he’ll be a 10 point/match guy but he’ll be worth cherry picking when they’re playing at home.
- Woodgate(injury return) has played most of two straight Europa Cup matches without hurting himself and Stoke earned to clean sheets in the process. At 4.99, if he can stay healthy and if say some North London team needing defensive reinforcements comes in with a bid for Shawcross, you’ll do a lot worse for a team that piles up the clean sheets at home.
- Walters (relative newcomer) was new to being a regular starter in the Premier League last season. He had some good moments and some very quiet times. He is entering his prime at the age of 27 and with a season in the rear-view mirror to acclimatize to the league, he might be ready to increase his productivity. Not a guarantee but he might go from 6 goals in the league to 12 with more starts and more comfort with the level of play.
- Traps - Robert Huth had a 30+ point match toward the end of last season and it along with two pretty strong matches to close out the season (around 15 and 10 respectively) is still reflected in his price. There may well be a similar smattering of 10+ point matches from last season when Stoke are playing at home but it seems unlikely that he’ll approximate the value of his current price even on his best days.
2011-12 Outlook, Official PL Fantasy
Studs: Etherington isn’t priced as nicely as he was last year (in the 5M - 6M range) but his distribution from wide areas are key to Stoke’s success. Stoke are organized from set pieces and he’ll get his fair share of assists from the run of play as well - so you could do worse than investing in him at 6.5M or saving half a million and going with an ‘oldie but goodie’ Pennant - as they are both bargain priced studs. Kenwyne Jones is also a reasonable ‘stud’ investment at 6.5M - and has consistently scored 8-10 league goals per season for the last 3 or 4 years. That said, he must improve on his total of just 2 assists last season to fall into the ‘stud’ category other than when Stoke are at home or have kind fixtures. 10 goals and 5 assists are not out of the question - and that’s a decent return for a 6.5M player.
Duds: Robert Huth is the dud of all duds in my opinion. His stats are deceiving and he finished last year with 6 goals and 3 assists - an abnormally high return. I doubt he’ll be able to duplicate those offensive numbers again. 2 goals and 2 assists should be expected, not 5+ goals. For 6M you can invest in the likes of Vincent Kompany or Joleon Lescott, who will keep more clean sheets than Huth will. Just avoid him unless you really believe he can continue to find a goalscoring touch. I don’t.
On the fence: Ryan Shawcross is the ‘opposite’ of Huth for me. He only scored 1 goal last season but is just as dangerous on set pieces and the price is right at 5M. I expect Shawcross to score 2-4 goals this season and chip in an assist or two, in addition to raking in bonus points when Stoke win and keep a clean sheet. He’s improving with age and as long as he can stay healthy, he’s a decent mid-priced option. Yellow cards and red cards are the only reason I don’t include him as a ‘stud’ selection. He needs to control that aspect of his game.