In the 12th part of my "Three Transfers" series, I will be looking at Stoke City—a team widely expected to go straight back down to the Championship, but ended up finishing in mid-table.
Their form at the Britannia Stadium was fantastic as they were only beaten four times there. It was also at home that they saw off the likes of Arsenal, Aston Villa, and Manchester City.
And while they were not so good away from home, they did manage crucial victories over fellow relegation rivals like West Bromwich Albion and Hull City.
Perhaps the most enduring image of Stoke's season would be that of Rory Delap wiping the ball with his sleeves before launching a missile right into the six-yard box. That has won them a fair few points this season, getting them the goal that allowed them to defend stoutly for the rest of the game to grab a point or three.
If they are to succeed this season, they will need to strengthen their team, (especially in the attacking department) so that they can get a few more goals from alternative sources.
Here's a look at who I think Stoke should, and realistically, could sign.
Currently, Liam Lawrence takes up the right midfield spot for Stoke. He has had a decent season for them, and should definitely be kept at Stoke for next season.
However, beyond Lawrence, there is no established right-winger at Stoke City.
This could be dangerous in case of injuries or suspensions, which would force them to field someone who does not favour playing on the right.
Leaving aside injuries and suspensions, my opinion is that Lawrence is better suited to playing in the middle as he has considerable play-making ability, and possesses a good long shot.
He is also not exactly fast or tricky, so a good left-back would be able to clamp down on him pretty easily.
To allow him to play through the middle, Stoke should sign a right-winger, and I think they should go after the signature of Kris Commons.
A tricky little winger who brings the ball up with pace, he has a good long shot on him, making him very difficult to mark as defenders don't know whether to back off him to avoid getting beaten, or to close him down to prevent the long shot.
Once linked with the likes of Newcastle and Wigan in January, Commons has disappeared off the radar a little in recent months, but he remains a quality player.
He would definitely add another dimension to Stoke's play.
If that move does not work out, then Stoke could try going for Commons's international teammate, James Morrison.
Also a winger capable of operating on both flanks, James Morrison has the added advantage of having played in the Premier League for a few seasons with Middlesbrough and West Bromwich Albion.
A slight problem with this is that West Brom does not need to sell, and, with their plans to bounce straight back up, would be unwilling to let go of one of their prized assets.
Andy Griffin and Andy Wilkinson have been played in this position this season, but for me, neither cuts it at Premiership level.
Both of them aren't terrific defenders and are terrible going forward as well.
Certainly this is an area that Stoke could improve in, and I suggest that they look to bring in Chris Gunter.
The Welsh international was touted as the next big thing in Welsh football, and performances on the pitch seemed to justify it as he was an integral part of the Cardiff side at such a young age.
A decent defender who can bring the ball up into attack, he will definitely be a good addition to Stoke City.
Tottenham has a little collection of right-backs down at White Hart Lane, and should be willing to let him go if the price is right.
If they regard him as part of the future, then Stoke would still do well to bring him in on loan for the season.
Alternatively, Stoke could target Lauren from Portsmouth. His uncompromising style and tough tackling should go down well with the Britannia faithful, while he also has the technical ability to provide some threat from the flanks.
Age is not on Lauren's side though, as he is 32 this year. However, he is still definitely more athletic than Andy Griffin and would be a good addition.
With Portsmouth being the latest club to be taken over by people with insane amounts of money, it can be assumed that players like Lauren will be allowed to leave for a relatively low price as they will look to sign more exciting talents.
Currently, the club has James Beattie, Mamady Sidibe, Richard Cresswell, Ricardo Fuller, and Dave Kitson as their striking options.
Of the four, only James Beattie and Ricardo Fuller can qualify as successes.
Dave Kitson was the club's record signing at the start of the season, but after failing to score a single goal he was shipped out on loan to Reading in January.
Stoke then moved to sign James Beattie, a move that was hugely successful. Kitson is not a bad player, but he just seemed unsuitable for the Stoke system, and I think his long-term future will not be at the Britannia Stadium.
Mamady Sidibe is a giant target-man for his teammates to punt long aimless balls to, but aside from that, he is really not good enough at Premiership level. Now that James Beattie has been brought in and used as a target-man, Sidibe is probably going to find his playing time reduced even more.
Richard Cresswell, like Sidibe, does not belong in the Premiership. And, if Stoke wants to guarantee safety next season, they definitely need someone better than Cresswell.
However, any recruitment in this department would need to be cheap and also of sufficient quality, as Stoke does not have loads of cash to squander on another Kitson-like signing.
As such, I would suggest they pick up Daniel Sturridge from Manchester City.
From his performances this season, it is clear that he is good enough to play in the Premiership as he combines pace with a good eye for goals.
Sturridge is a free agent, having rejected a new contract from Manchester City—probably because he will not be seeing much first-team action if he stays at the City of Manchester Stadium, which could hinder his development.
If Stoke does offer him the chance of guaranteed first-team football, then there is a chance that Sturridge would be persuaded to call Britannia Stadium his home for the next few years.
Alternatively, if Stoke has enough money, they could try bidding for Benjani Mwaruwari of Manchester City.
Strong and hardworking, he would be a good addition to the Stoke frontline.
He will probably be allowed to leave the City of Manchester Stadium as well, seeing that there are 436 strikers currently on their books.
So, that's my take on who Stoke City should go for in the summer.
And, if they somehow manage to secure the signatures of all the players mentioned above, they might even make it into the top half of the table next season!
This article and more can also be found at thetipsters, a website set up by my friend Roland and I.
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