Focus today turns to two sides that battled it out in an FA Cup semi-final last season. It was less a battle and more a bludgeoning though as Stoke ran out 5-0 victors. How will they end up faring this term though?
Bolton Wanderers(Last season: 14th Premier League)
The lowdown: Manager Owen Coyle hasn’t had the best of summers after seeing 18 goals taken from last year’s side that ended up finishing a disappointing 14th. Johan Elmander’s wage demands were too high so he jumped ship to Galatasaray with Daniel Sturridge returning to parent club Chelsea after a successful season on loan. It means that much will rest on whether Kevin Davies can still do it as he approaches the age of 35 next March.
Coyle has added depth to the midfield with the free signings of Darren Pratley (Swansea) and Nigel Roe-Coker (Aston Villa). This adds to surprise package Stuart Holden and stalwart Fabrice Muamba. Winger Chris Eagles also joins to play on whichever flank Lee Chung-Yong doesn’t like the look of. The back four is strong and they’ve signed up Tyrone Mears for when Paul Robinson’s grey legs finally give way.
Key player: Kevin Davies (Striker) – The captain is being relied upon more than ever this season and if he gets injured you’ll realize just how key he is.
One to watch: Mark Davies (Midfielder) – His performances are lauded over whenever he manages to get in the side and last year saw him receive goal of the season for his strike against Blackpool. Expect him to feature regularly.
Expected finish: Keeping Davies fit and adding another striker could see them finish even higher than last term. 11th.
Line-up (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; Robinson, Cahill, Knight, Steinsson; Muamba, M. Davies, Holden; Eagles, K. Davies, Lee.
Stoke City(Last season: 13th Premier League)
The lowdown: The bad news: every team’s worst nightmare is still plying its trade in the top flight and the no nonsense thuggery is still alive and well at the Britannia. Manager Tony Pulis has managed to hang on to much of that side and even added some solidity at the back in the shape of Jonathan Woodgate. Loanee John Carew was asking for wages that were deemed too high so the tried and tested front two of Kenwyne Jones and Jonathan Walters will spearhead the attacks.
Pulis will have to continue to hide Rory Delap’s long-throw somewhere in amongst the rest of the team and he could add a left-back to a side that will be playing in the UEFA Europa League this season.
Key player: Kenwyne Jones (Striker) – The club record £8million signing has scored 12 goals in all competitions since signing last summer and embodies the Stoke style down to a tee.
One to watch: Jonathan Walters (Striker) – Signed for what now seems a cheap £2.75m the scouser should build on a first season that saw him also achieve double figures in the goal column (12).
Expected finish: With the same settled team they could easily push on and make it into the top half. 10th.
Line-up (4-4-2): Begovic; Huth, Shawcross, Woodgate, Higginbotham; Pennant, Delap, Whitehead, Etherington; Jones, Walters.