COLUMBUS, Ohio – Stoke City’s pre-season preparations to date have involved running up hills in Switzerland and training in the oppressive summer heat and humidity of America’s Midwest and Central Florida.
It’s all part of manager Tony Pulis’ plan to get his players fit, prepared and ready for their opening English Premier League game at Reading on August 18.
“They’re newly promoted and they’ll have a big crowd behind them,” said Pulis after his side’s 2-1 loss to Columbus Crew in Tuesday’s friendly. “It will be like a cup final, so it’s a difficult start for us.”
Things don’t get any easier for The Potters over their next seven league games – Arsenal and defending champions Manchester City are the first two visitors to Stoke’s Britannia Stadium, and Pulis’ side face trips to Champions League winners Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United by October 20.
“We’ve got a real tough start to the season, we understand that,” Pulis said. “Irrespective of what’s thrown at you, if you lose a game you’ve just got to make sure that you get them up and get them prepared for the next game.”
This will be Stoke’s fifth straight season in the Premier League since Pulis guided them to second place in the Championship in 2008.
The club has remained comfortably in mid-table since being promoted, gathering between 45 and 47 points each season to finish 12th, 11th, 13th and 14th last year. They enjoyed a successful run in last season’s Europa League that was earned after reaching the 2011 F.A. Cup Final – a game that Stoke narrowly lost 1-0 to Manchester City.
Improved form on the road will be key to whether Stoke can climb into the top half of the league this season. Over two-thirds of The Potters’ accumulated points total from the past four years have been earned at home. The team has averaged just 15 points per season from away games.
“Britannia Stadium is a fabulous place to go with fantastic supporters,” Pulis said. “It’s been one of the bedrocks of why we’ve been successful over the four years.
“We need to maintain that and be nice and strong away from home.”