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EPL Season Preview: Stoke City--They Can Really Throw A Pot

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Team name: Stoke City Football Club

Nicknames: The Potters. I have nothing witty or clever to say about that. So called because the area was formerly the home of the majority of the pottery industry of England.

Location: Stoke-on-Trent, Straffordshire, West Midlands, England

Ground: Britannia Stadium (Capacity: 28,383). Very hard to win against Stoke at their ground.

Manager: Tony Pulis. Pulis is one of the youngest professional players to have obtained his UEFA license, at age 21, and to date no club he has managed (six in total) has seen relegation under his leadership. In his previous stint at Stoke, 2003-2005, Pulis was dismissed for disagreements with the previous ownership, primarily regarding transfer funds. He was invited back for the 2006-2007, but it was in 2007-2008 that Pulis made his mark on the club, with Stoke finishing as runners-up in the Championship League and securing a spot in the top division for the first time in 23 years.

Last year's record:

Premier League: 11th position

League Cup: Fourth Round, lost 4-0 to Portsmouth

FA Cup: Stoke had a good run, defeating Arsenal 3-1 in the Fourth Round Proper and beating Manchester City 3-1 in the Fifth Round Proper replay before losing to eventual winners Chelsea in the Sixth Round.

Brief History: The Potters were bad. Now, somehow, they have become a side battling for mid-table in the Premier League. Stoke are the second-oldest English football club, formed in 1863, and were one of the founding members of the Football League. Oldie doesn't mean goodie, in this case, with Stoke spending much of its long history in the lower divisions. Stoke won their most significant trophy, the League Cup, in 1972.

Stoke considers the past decade to be their decade of success. They kicked off the 2000s by winning the Football League Trophy. Then came some bouncing back and forth between the lower leagues, the manager of which I cannot quite determine, even through the team's official site. What is important is this: Stoke City began 2000 in the Second Division. It ended the decade in the Premier League. Last season, with an eleventh place finish, was the most successful in their history. While the Potters are still often not remembered when considering Premier League teams, they've had a ridiculously successful run recently.

Rivalries: Port Vale. Who? A league two side with whom they contest the Potteries Derby. I imagine this involves seeing which club can sculpt a vase quickest. With the two clubs now three divisions apart, the newer rivalry with fellow West Midlands club West Brom is now becoming more relevant.

Players to Watch:

Rory Delap: Delap is Stoke's main offensive weapon, a player so dangerous that Arsene Wenger has demanded that the rules be changed so that his throw ins can no longer eviscerate Arsenal's back line and send the erudite Frenchman scurrying in search of a Kleenex. While an adequate player in the center or right side of the midfield, the Irish international's main strength is the ability to turn any throw in in the final third of the half into a devestatingly effective set piece. Faced with a 60 mph thunderbolt coming in flat six feet off the ground (and with no offside rule), defenders have got used to watching helplessly as the ball ricochets into the net, sometimes going so far as to help it along the way.

Ryan Shawcross: 22 year old Ryan Shawcross is a top prospect at center back recently named as Stoke vice-captain. As a player he's a hard-working traditional center half, strong in the air and the tackle, with more poise than you might expect from someone so young. He's also known for his bone-breaking challenges, having severely injured Emmanuel Adebayor in 2008 and more recently breaking Aaron Ramsey's leg in a clumsy tackle in February. While Shawcross clearly has much to learn about the finer arts of tackling, the rest of his game is refined enough to be a player to keep your eye on.

Ricardo Fuller: Fuller had the honor of scoring Stoke's first ever goal in the Premier League, but the streaky forward has been noticeably inconsistent of late, scoring just three goals in the league last season - as opposed to four in five games in the FA Cup. When he's not bedazzling goalkeepers with blindingly blinging 57 carat diamond studs, Fuller can often be found participating in such activities as being sent off for slapping his own teammate and giving fans the finger. Still, he's a potent goalscoring threat when he's on, his combination of the sublime and the bizarre making him one of the focal points of the Stoke team.

A Villa Fan Says... "At least we managed to score a goal against Chelsea. So that's...something."