When the transfer window closed at the end of August, Stoke City looked to be in a reasonably healthy position. Mark Hughes signed an intriguing blend of attack-minded and defensive players, with a mix of mercurial overseas talent and proven Premier League experience.
It’s been a mixed bag so far for Stoke, with three wins, three draws and five defeats leaving them in 14th-place on 12 points. There’s been the good (a win against Arsenal and a 2-2 draw with Manchester United), the bad (a 4-0 defeat to Chelsea) and the downright ugly (a 7-2 demolition at the hands of a Kevin De Bruyne-inspired Manchester City).
Now, after 11 games with which to settle into their new surroundings and with another international break, it seems like as good a time as any to analyse how the Potters’ various summer arrivals have got on at the bet365 Stadium (or the Britannia for the traditionalists out there).
Kevin Wimmer – B-
Only West Ham United have conceded more goals than Stoke, so it certainly doesn’t look good from the defender’s perspective, but the £18million signing from Tottenham Hotspur has shown some promising form.
Admittedly, there have been errors that he will need to iron out, including allowing Riyad Mahrez to cut back onto his left foot for Leicester City’s goal at the weekend.
The 24-year-old Austrian has averaged one tackle, one interception, 4.3 clearances and 1.3 blocks per game this season. Those numbers most certainly can improve but the hope is that he has the potential to become a mainstay in the Potters defence.
He looked solid alongside Kurt Zouma in the win at Watford and Hughes hopes that they can build an understanding that can help shore up the defence as the games continue to come thick and fast.
Kurt Zouma – B+
The Frenchman joined on loan from Chelsea to secure regular starting football and that’s exactly how it’s panned out, with the 23-year-old completing 90 minutes in ten out of Stoke’s 11 games. The only game he didn’t appear in was the defeat to Chelsea as he was ineligible for selection against his parent club.
Zouma has the highest WhoScored rating of any Stoke player this season with an overall average of 7.23. That includes a man of the match performance in the win at Watford, when his haul of 14 clearances, three successful tackles and eight wins in aerial duels helped the Potters to just their second clean sheet of the season.
Hughes has clearly been impressed with him, too, saying that he believes the defender would be worth £40million in the current market. He mat have some way to go to justify that lofty amount but, if he continues in a similar manner, he will certainly give Antonio Conte something to think about at Stamford Bridge.
After spending last season at the club on loan, the Netherlands international arrived for around £7million in the summer. He has struggled with a calf injury, which has restricted him to just three starts, while he offered a brutally honest assessment of his own contributions in the defeat to Manchester City.
The former Porto man recovered from a groin strain to replace Wimmer at half-time at the Etihad but said he was ‘very disappointed’ with his own performance. Stoke got the score back to 3-2 and, at a crucial point in the game, Martins Indi lost possession and was punished as De Bruyne found Gabriel Jesus in the box, the Brazilian making it 4-2 and killing Stoke’s hopes.
The 25-year-old is currently injured and has not played since that haunting 45-minute cameo at the Etihad but, when he returns, he will hope to offer a more convincing demonstration of his defensive abilities.
The Cameroon international, signed from Schalke, has been virtually ever-present in the Stoke side, starting all but one of their matches.
Inarguably, his most decisive contribution in red and white came against Manchester United, scoring twice to earn Stoke a point in a 2-2 draw.
His xG is 3.34, per Understat, which is far from terrible but, with Saido Berahino still struggling to find his best form, Hughes will be hoping the 28-year-old can chip in with a few more goals.
He is a hard-working and likable character, though, and has notched three assists in his last five games to go with his brace against United, so there have certainly been signs that he can be a key Stoke player in the next few seasons.
Darren Fletcher – A
Now 33, the former Manchester United favourite has played every single minute of Stoke’s campaign, seamlessly slotting into the Potters midfield after joining on a free following the expiration of his contract at West Bromwich Albion.
Considering that he didn’t cost any money, Fletcher represents Stoke’s shrewdest piece of business, with Hughes identifying the need for a combative, defensively-disciplined midfielder following the departures of both Glenn Whelan and Giannelli Imbula.
Fletcher has been a predictably steady and metronomic presence in the middle, with a solid 78 per cent passing accuracy and winning an impressive 1.9 tackles per game, offering the Potters both composure in possession and decisiveness in midfield duels.
He even popped up with a fantastic goal, channeling the technique of former United teammate Paul Scholes to volley home against Watford and give Stoke three valuable points.
Jesé – B-
The former Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain forward was the summer’s headline signing. Capturing the 24-year-old on loan was both exciting and intriguing, given his track record for producing both spectacular goals and anonymous displays.
The Potters have seen a bit of both. He scored a brilliant winner on his debut to beat Arsenal in what was Stoke’s greatest moment this season, but hasn’t added to his account since. His lack of threat up top has resulted in him being dropped from the starting line-up and has been an unused substitute in the last two games.
However, the former Spain U21 international may be excused for his mind not being exclusively focused on football recently. Last week, Jesé released heartbreaking images of his son, born prematurely, fighting for his life in a Spanish hospital. The boy, Nyan, was born on August 16, shortly before Jesé moved to Stoke but remains in hospital following complications from an operation.
It’s admirable that Jesé has continued to train through such a difficult personal period and, with that, it seems almost trivial focusing on his on-pitch contributions.
Josh Tymon – N/A
The 18-year-old joined from Hull City and, although he starred in the 4-0 Carabao Cup victory over Rochdale back in August, he is yet to feature in the Premier League. Despite that, Hughes still has high hopes for the England Under-20 international so expect to see more of him in the next couple of years.