New-look Stoke City ready to progress

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STOKE, England — These are heady days at the Britannia Stadium.

[ MORE: PW’s picks for PL Week 12 

Stoke City are in their ninth-straight season in the Premier League and the coaching staff, players and fans are optimistic this will be the best yet as they continue to progress on the pitch.

Ahead of their clash against Chelsea on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra) ProSoccerTalk went along to Stoke’s Clayton Wood training ground to speak with U.S. national team defender Geoff Cameron, England goalkeeper Jack Butland and Spanish playmaker Bojan Krkic. Typically it was raining. Hard. It was cold. It was wet and windy. What else did we expect?

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Since Mark Hughes arrived at Stoke as boss for the 2013-14 season the Potters have steadily been building a new philosophy, a new identity and playing style. Back-to-back ninth placed finishes, recording their highest points tally last season and attracting exciting talents from overseas has seen a new-look Stoke City take the Premier League by surprise.

USMNT center back Cameron is in his fourth season at Stoke, his third under Hughes, and has seen a big shift since the Tony Pulis era.

“It is definitely a new-look Stoke. From the staff to the way things are run day-to-day it has changed. Physios, fitness coaches, nutrition, everything. From top to bottom it has changed,” Cameron said. “Under Tony Pulis it was different. He was a good coach, different style, different ideas and we were successful so not taking credit away from him. But under Mark Hughes he has come in and changed the whole philosophy of the club, a different idea of playing the ball on the pitch and being creative, letting guys go into their own ability and I think with the players we have like Bojan, a player of that type of caliber has come in and you see that it took him a little while to adjust but he is now blossoming into a big player for us.”

The man Cameron singled out, Bojan, was a shock signing for Stoke as the Spanish playmaker arrived from Barcelona last summer and perhaps signifies just how Stoke’s image has altered over the last few years. The 25-year-old was dubbed “the new Messi” when he broke through at Barca at 17 years old but moves to AS Roma, AC Milan and Ajax saw his career at the Nou Camp stall. Bojan revealed why he was excited to join Stoke, even if he didn’t know too much about the club to start with.

Fulham v Stoke City - Capital One Cup Third Round

“I think when I came here I didn’t know the history about Stoke City and a lot of people say, ‘oh, why you go there because it’s a different style and a different style of football?’” Bojan said. “But when Mark Hughes called me, I spoke also with Marc Muniesa, he told me the philosophy of the club and what Mark wants to play. I said yes for that. When I come here and started to train and play I enjoyed it since the first day.”

It was clear from Hughes’ first day in charge of Stoke that the much talked about tactics under Pulis — direct, long balls and playing up to a target man with a reliance on long throws and set pieces consolidating them in the PL — would dissipate and they would play more attractive soccer. It’s been a case of steady progress but one of the players who was there on Hughes’ first day in charge was Butland and he believes the new philosophy is evident in the way his team plays.

“From the minute the manager came in and first day of preseason he said things are going to change,” Butland revealed. “There is a lot of talent in this room that isn’t being allowed to play at their full potential. From that moment we knew it was going to be exciting, a lot of changes, the balls came out quite early. We were getting into football quite early and what the manager wanted. As the years have progressed we have improved a great deal.”

Mark Hughes

One of the main reasons Stoke seem to be improving each season is the caliber of players Hughes is attracting to the Britannia Stadium. Last year Bojan joined Austrian international Marko Arnautovic to boost the attack and over the summer Hughes added another two star attackers in Ibrahim Afellay from Barcelona and Xherdan Shaqiri from Inter Milan, the latter for a club record $20 million.

“You can tell the pedigree that they bring, the caliber and skillset that they have, they are all unique in different ways,” Cameron, who has been a mainstay in Stoke’s defense since arriving from MLS in 2012, explains. “A guy like Shaqiri, it is going to take time for him to adjust, like it did for Bojan. It is difficult coming from different leagues which is something I experienced myself, you come in and everything is a little different. The Premier League is quicker, faster, it is more physical. It took a little while for Bojan to find his feet then a month or two into the season that’s when he started feeling the game coming to him and he was scoring goals for us but then unfortunately he went down with his injury. You can see already this season that he is back and things are starting to happen for him.

“It does take time and it is going to happen with Shaqiri. You know what he brings to the table, you see it on the training pitch every single day. The games are a little different and it will come. You have a guy like Afellay, he is clever, he is quick and he likes to dribble at guys, which is the same with Arnautovic. They have power and pace. We are a threat offensively. I think we are a little off right now, we are trying to find that final ball and it hasn’t been there but we are creating chances. It is just a matter of us finishing them and sharpening up in the final third. Once we all start clicking together as a team, I think we will be pushing for the top 10 for sure.”

A big reason why Stoke may not be gelling as quickly as they hoped was that over the summer 12 new players arrived. The Potters didn’t win any of their opening six games of the season. However, a three-game winning streak followed that and despite a blip against Watford last weekend, Stoke’s new boys are finding out what it’s all about in the Premier League.

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Butland believes the new flair players are adapting to chipping in defensively, a trait which is still very important at Stoke despite all the changes, as well as showing their attacking talents.

“They are adapting to that really well. The minute you do bring the more technical players in with flair, you are always going to veer a little bit away from what the team was but that’s kind of the sacrifice that we are making,” Butland said. “We want these players here because they are incredibly talented but with that they know and we know that we still have to work hard and be tough to beat as a team. Nothing changes on that side of things but as you do start to bring these players in, your team does become a little bit smaller, a little bit more technical and you have to try and play to that.”

Bojan, the hub of Stoke’s attack who says he is enjoying playing in the No. 10 role, believes the foreign players who have arrived know their responsibilities on both sides of the ball.

“It depends in what team you play but I think football changes every year,” Bojan said. “Before, the strikers they really don’t need to do a lot of defensive work but now yes and more if you play in a club like Stoke City. Everyone has to work 100 percent, offensively and defensively. We know that and we have to.”

Stoke City v Chelsea - Capital One Cup Fourth Round

The man leading this new approach at Stoke, former Manchester United and Barcelona forward Hughes, quietly goes about his business on the sidelines with a calm persona and with Stoke in the Capital One Cup quarterfinals at home to a Championship team, trying to push up the PL table and playing more attractive soccer, Cameron reveals that his boss is a real players’ coach. Even if he does explode in the heat of the battle.

“He definitely has that bit of a temper that he had when he was a player but at the same time he is very cool, calm and collected coach,” Cameron laughed. “He is a players’ coach. He is a guy you want to play for. You can tell that he wants to win and he wishes he could still go out there and play, which he can, but he wishes he could go out there every weekend. That shows his desire to do whatever it takes to win and do whatever it takes to help this club. He is a great guy to play for.”

Stoke City v Chelsea - Capital One Cup Fourth Round

With Chelsea rolling into town this weekend with six defeats in their opening 11 PL games, many would say this is a great time for Stoke to face the reigning champs. Butland, still only 22, became Stoke’s starting goalkeeper this season after Asmir Begovic left for Chelsea and is pushing Joe Hart to be England’s starting goalkeeper following his great start the campaign. Butland saved Eden Hazard‘s penalty kick in the League Cup shootout last week to hand Stoke victory over Chelsea but is expecting a completely different game this time around and believes his side can’t take anything for granted.

“It will be very different. Even though it was only just a week ago, a lot has happened since then with both clubs. Chelsea have had a hell of a lot more, a Champions League game which they managed to get through in the dying minutes which is going to give them a massive boost but then obviously Jose is not going to be in the stadium for the game at the weekend so there is still a lot going on with their side,” Butland said. “For us, if we apply ourselves like we did in the League Cup game and try and be hard to beat and prevent them from breaking us down, that’s when we need our players to step up going forward and try to get something for us. It will be a very different game but we still need to apply ourselves well and be difficult to beat and try to keep that clean sheet, then it’s about, ‘can we nick one going the other way?'”

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Stoke’s players respect Jose Mourinho, despite the tough spot Chelsea is currently in, and believe he will turn things around. Bojan also believes that one of the players heavily criticized during their poor run, Hazard, can still deliver the goods.

“I saw Eden Hazard play here last week against us in the League Cup and he was amazing,” Bojan said. “I don’t see every game but I watched that game and he played amazing. I think Hazard is one of the best players in the world. Also, it can happen, you don’t play [well] some games. That is life. That is football. But he is an unbelievable footballer.”

With reaching the final four of the League Cup a real possibility and the club aiming for a good run in the FA Cup, Butland believes that Stoke should not lose focus on improving their PL finish from last season. When asked about qualifying for Europe, for now, he sees it as a long-term goal.

“No matter how successful we are in the cup, anything less than what we’ve produced in the league in the last two years won’t be acceptable,” Butland said. “We are normally a slow starting team. We did have a slow start to the season last year but we finish well. We have not had a bad start and anything less than a ninth place finish we won’t be very pleased with…

“[Getting into Europe] is the progression we are trying to make. We are not going to be able to turn it around and get in the top six or seven just like that. It is a process but hopefully with another positive season and hopefully a good run in either cup or finishing eighth this year, those kind of accolades are going to attract more players to the club. It is going to be a much more exciting team to be a part of. It is certainly something in the future that will be a target.”

Stoke City v Leicester City - Premier League

Bojan and Cameron both echo that sentiment of building slowly at Stoke but as new high-quality players continue to arrive for big money, expectations will soar.

“We have to go step by step. We have players to have a good season. Of course we want to be in the top 10 and we want to win a cup,” Bojan added. “For that we have to do better, we have to correct some things to have a chance to do that.”

Mistakes will be punished on Saturday, despite a struggling Chelsea arriving at the Britannia. Cameron is hoping Stoke can invoke a well known fact to get one over on Chelsea for the second time in 10 days.

“It’s what they always say, ‘can you do it on a cold, wet, rainy night in Stoke?’ … so hopefully it will be a cold, wet, rainy night in Stoke on Saturday!” Cameron laughed. “Then we will get after it and make it difficult for them to play.”

No matter how many things change at Stoke on the pitch, that old adage will always remain.

Terry: Lampard ‘will have an impact on young players and improve them’

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It’s not a surprise that John Terry is supporting his longtime teammate and fellow club legend Frank Lampard for the open Chelsea managerial role.

However, it is interesting why Terry thinks Lampard is right for Chelsea.

[READ: Derby County confirm Chelsea approach for Lampard]

With Lampard the bookies favorite to become the new Chelsea manager, Terry has come out in support of the former midfield great, stating that Lampard can finally fully open the pipeline between the Chelsea academy and the first team.

“For some time, perhaps only myself and Ruben Loftus-Cheek had come through the academy to become regulars and that has probably left many young players questioning their future,” Terry told the Daily Mail. “Callum Hudson-Odoi will be assured he has a big role to play at Chelsea. Having Frank in charge and the transfer ban will give young players throughout the academy belief that there is a genuine pathway into Chelsea’s first team.

“Frank and Jody have tremendous knowledge of the youth set-up. I guarantee they will watch as many Under-23 and Under-18 matches at Chelsea as possible and open potential opportunities for the academy players. In fact I think it will be an exciting time to see what can happen.”

Chelsea is currently appealing a transfer ban from FIFA for signing underage players, but even if the transfer ban is imposed this summer, the club has dozens of players out on loan that could potentially come into the first team. These include Mason Mount, who starred for Lampard at Derby County last season, and American defender Matt Miazga, though he still has a long way to go until he’s ready for regular Premier League matches.

Other players like Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori, Kurt Zouma, and Tiemoue Bakayoko could also potentially return to the club and add to the strength in depth.

Of course, some of Chelsea’s youngsters didn’t come through the academy, but with Eden Hazard gone, Hudson-Odoi and Loftus-Cheek out long term and a need for some fresh talent in attack – to go with Christian Pulisic of course, Terry believes that Lampard could trust, and empower, some young players as Chelsea looks to build on a third-place finish this year.

Report: FIFA to consider disciplinary actions for Cameroon after Women’s World Cup outburst

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It didn’t help that refereeing decisions had gone against them, but Cameroon’s meltdown at the Women’s World Cup could cost the team, and potentially the federation in the future.

Per a report in the BBC, FIFA has begun investigating Cameroon for “team misconduct, offensive behavior and fair play breaches.” Specifically, Cameroon’s players appeared to lose their emotions surrounding two incidents that involved video assistant referees, or the VAR.

[READ: Transfer Rumor Roundup]

In the first case, just before halftime, England’s Ellen White was initially ruled offside on a goal she scored, only for VAR to overturn the assistant referee and rule White’s goal could stand, because she was onside by about two feet. After that instance, Cameroon’s players appeared to make an on-field protest, and it wasn’t clear if the game would restart.

In the second half, Cameroon had a goal that was somewhat harshly disallowed after Ajara Nchout had scored to make it 2-1 for England and cut the deficit in half. Gabrielle Onguene, who played the pass into Nchout, was ruled by the VAR to be offside but only by the absolute slightest of margins, her heel.

Again, following this decision, players lost their emotions on the pitch and it took five minutes to restart the game.

Afterwards, Cameroon coach Alain Djeumfa criticized the officiating, calling the game a “miscarriage of justice” as Cameroon were knocked out of the World Cup.

England coach Phil Neville meanwhile said that he was disappointed with the match for all the young generations of fans watching, and it’s possible that FIFA is looking at it from this angle to potentially send a message that everyone must act professional on the field from start to finish, even if tempers run high.

Picking the Copa America knockout stage

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The Copa America has eliminated four nations, including the two Asian visitors, and now the stage is set for the final eight teams to battle for the title.

The field is wide open as the traditional powers Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and even perfect Colombia and Uruguay have all struggled at times in the competition. With that in mind, here are the picks for our PST writers, and as you can imagine, it’s all over the place in what promises to be an entertaining and exciting final eight. A potential Brazil v. Argentina semifinal matchup would be mouth-watering, while Colombia and Chile meet in the quarters in a matchup that tells you just how brutal this competition can be.

Who do you have going all the way in the South American tournament? Will Lionel Messi carry Argentina to his first major international title? Will James Rodriguez or Alexis Sanchez reignite their career? Can Luis Suarez best his Barcelona teammate and help Edinson Cavani to the crown?


Kyle Bonn

Quarterfinals:
Brazil def. Paraguay
Venezuela def. Argentina

Chile def. Colombia
Uruguay def. Peru

Semifinals:
Brazil def. Venezuela
Chile def. Uruguay

Final:
Brazil def. Chile


Joe Prince-Wright

Quarterfinals:
Brazil def. Paraguay
Argentina def. Venezuela

Chile def. Colombia
Uruguay def. Peru

Semifinals:
Brazil def. Argentina
Chile def. Uruguay

Final:
Brazil def. Chile


Daniel Karell

Quarterfinals:
Brazil def. Paraguay
Venezuela def. Argentina

Colombia def. Chile
Uruguay def. Peru

Semifinals:
Venezuela def. Brazil
Uruguay def. Colombia

Final:
Uruguay def. Venezuela


Nick Mendola

Quarterfinals:
Brazil def. Paraguay
Argentina def. Venezuela

Colombia def. Chile
Uruguay def. Peru

Semifinals:
Argentina def. Brazil
Uruguay def. Colombia

Final:
Argentina def. Uruguay

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Spurs snag Clarke, Arsenal eyeing French youngster

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According to a number of reports across England, Tottenham may have secured its first new player signing in 511 days, rumored to have completed a deal for Leeds United winger Jack Clarke.

The BBC reports that Clarke has flown south to London for a medical and that the $12.7 million deal is finalized. The report states there are further, unspecified add-ons to that base payment should they trigger.

The 18-year-old made 25 appearances for the Leeds first-team last season, scoring two goals assisting two more as they reached the playoff semifinal. Clarke’s arrival will mark the first Tottenham signing since Lucas Moura joined in January of 2018, famously failing to sign a player last summer to much criticism, before making a run to the Champions League final during the season.


Arsenal is reportedly after a pair of transfer targets, one on either end of the pitch.

First, more concretely, reports indicate that the Gunners are set to bat the signature of young French defender William Saliba. The 18-year-old currently plays for St. Etienne and saw significant playing time last season, bagging 16 league appearances good for over 1,200 minutes as he helped the club secure a Champions League place with a fourth-place finish, aided by the third-best defensive record in the league.

According to an ESPNFC report by Julien Laurens, the two clubs have reached an agreement for Saliba in the range of $28 million, with the Gunners beating Tottenham and PSG to the punch. Saliba will stay at St. Etienne on loan next season as he looks to continue developing at his boyhood club.

The Gunners are reportedly also following Monaco winger Keita Balde, with the Senegal international currently on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations. The 24-year-old spent last season on loan at Inter, where he racked up 24 Serie A appearances – mostly off the bench – scoring five goals and assisting three more.

Reports in Italy indicate that while Inter had the option to buy at the end of the loan spell, they declined as they believed the $38 million price to be too expensive. With Monaco struggling mightily this past season and in serious flux, it’s likely that Balde could move on and help the French club gain funds to reinvest.

Balde found the back of the net in Senegal’s opening AFCON match, a 2-0 win over Tanzania, marking his fourth international goal in 24 caps.


Another African on international duty is Kalidou Koulibaly, whose future is still under serious speculation.

Napoli manager Carlo Ancelotti said Wednesday – completely joking, mind you – that he won’t even return from his vacation in Canada if the club sells Koulibaly. That won’t stop the two Manchester clubs from having a go, and to this point Napoli president Aurelio de Laurentiis has held firm that only a bid that reaches his $154 million release clause will pry him from the Italian side.

Koulibaly wouldn’t be drawn into speculation about his future when approached at the tournament in Africa, saying, “I don’t know [if I’ll still be at Napoli next year], I think so, but I have to play the AFCON and then after that I’ll go back to Napoli.”

Manchester United has been much closely linked with Koulibaly than Manchester City, but it may be difficult to convince him to switch with the Red Devils not participating in the Champions League next season.


Everton is reportedly in the hunt for Juventus striker Moise Kean according to the Liverpool Echo, with the 19-year-old breaking out last season with The Old Lady. He scored six goals in 13 appearances down the stretch of the season, coming into the squad after the club had all but secured the league title.

While he is a big strike prospect for Juventus, the club is somewhat crowded at the position with Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala, and Mario Mandzukic at the position. The club surely could take its time bringing him along, but apparently a disciplinary issue while with the Italy U-21 team at the Euros this summer has added to the club’s concern, along with his hesitation at signing a new contract. Kean’s current deal expires next summer, so this would be the time to cash in on his high-rising stock.

The report states it would cost around $34 million to land the youngster and Ajax is also in the mix.