Stoke just missed out on the Asia Trophy Final after losing 5-4 to Everton on penalties following a goalless draw on Wednesday, but what did we learn about Mark Hughes’ men in their first game back after the summer break?
1. Jakob is here to give Jack a run for his money
Asmir Begovic’s Stoke departure was inevitable, and it’s something Mark Hughes and his backroom staff would have been preparing for over the last couple of months. Not only do the Potters have England Under-21 captain Jack Butland and the experienced Shay Given to fight for the vacant number one spot, but Jakob Haugaard showed us he’s not just here to make the numbers up. The 23-year-old made a number of fantastic saves, from one-on-one positions, and showed he was quick off his line. He was also fairly impressive with his feet, and Mark Hughes seemed very impressed speaking in his post-match interview. Butland would have thought the jersey was his, but the two new signings won’t want to be here to make the numbers up. The goalkeeping situation is one to watch.
2. The future is bright for Ollie Shenton
Potters fans love a local lad in their side, and following last season’s departures of Andy Wilkinson and Ryan Shotton, that has left Blythe Bridge born Oliver Shenton to step forward. We saw glimpses of his potential last year during a Capital One Cup third round tie against Portsmouth, and supporters’ faces lit up when they saw him in the starting line-up against Everton. After the first few minutes passed him by, we saw what Ollie was all about. Calm on the ball, an accurate passer and an ability to play in a number of areas. He can spray balls from in front of his two centre-halves or play behind the front man linking up with the wingers, and he’s more than capable in either position. It’s important he’s eased in at the right pace, but there’s no reason why he can’t feature a little more next season and potentially come through to be a first-team regular over the coming years.
3. Muniesa and Shawcross could be the next Potters solid centre-half partnership
You always know captain Ryan Shawcross is going to be one half of Stoke’s centre of defence, but his absence through injury yesterday gave us a chance to see Marc Wilson, Geoff Cameron and Marc Muniesa stake their claim to partner Shawcross when the Premier League campaign gets underway. One would expect Cameron to start the season at full-back, but Muniesa looks the perfect fit to start in the middle of the back four. His ability to play the ball around so calmly alongside Ryan’s no nonsense defending could make the perfect partnership. We saw glimpses when both were fully fit last season, but if the pair can get over their injury problems for the new campaign we could be looking at a long-term partnership.
4. Arnie itching to get back at it
Most Potters fans will agree Marko Arnautovic is a frustrating player. When he’s at his best he is an absolute joy to watch, but other times, when things aren’t particularly going his way, he can be too quick to let his head drop. Against Everton, a joy to watch is what he was. Flicks, tricks, turns – you name it, Arnie had it. He really looked like he’s got that drive to have a strong pre-season and start the league campaign strongly, which isn’t exactly his forte. If we can see him produce his best on his regular basis, then Mark Hughes will have some player on his hands. He’s a key part to the counter-attacking style of football played by Hughes, as seen the several times he broke forward yesterday. He has great pace and fantastic vision, and an ability to display his qualities on a regular basis would make him a crucial part of next season’s starting XI.