Bojan continuing to turn heads at Stoke
Stoke recorded their first win of preseason and Bojan Krkic got his third goal in as many games as the Britannia faithful saw their side overcome Real Betis 2-0.
Having been a little disappointed with the side picked to start at Blackburn last Sunday, the selection this time was much more reflective of the starting XI likely to feature in team's opener against Aston Villa on Aug. 16.
Unlike the Blackburn game, the shape and personnel were such that the side were comfortable from the off on what was their first game at the Britannia since May.
It was the home crowd's first sight of their latest Spanish import and he didn't disappoint with another encouraging performance, and of course another goal.
It probably goes without saying but he looks a class apart on the pitch and uses his diminutive frame well to jink from one foot to the other creating space for himself and his colleagues. Linkup play will prove crucial for a side who will need to understand how his floating brief is best utilised and covered. Stephen Ireland will be key in this respect, and early signs suggest that he is enjoying the challenge.
The urge to avoid blurting out Bojan's name on an hourly basis is proving too much at times for a player Stoke fans still can't believe plays for the Potters. I'm conscious that whenever I talk to anyone about football, much like that annoying friend on a new diet, it's all I find myself bringing the conversation around to.
That excitement is entirely forgivable given the absence of such flair and promise over the years at the Britannia, and in Bojan the club have the perfect poster boy for Mark Hughes' revolution. To see such a huge turnaround on the pitch in 12 months is little short of amazing, though the signing and early success of Bojan mean that Stoke's uprising is now well and truly on the radar of the press who were unsurprisingly oblivious to it last season.
If any move epitomised Hughes' new Stoke, it was the one that resulted in their first goal of the evening: a series of neat interchanges that pulled the Betis defence all over the pitch culminating in one full-back, the impressive Phil Bardsley, crossing for the other, Erik Pieters, to finish.
Marauding fullbacks is something Hughes is clearly keen to encourage, and in Bardsley he seems to have found the balance between good old-fashioned grit and a player comfortable taking the ball down the flank and more than capable of delivering a telling cross into the box.
The space in front of him, though, remains up for grabs, with Bojan, Mame Diouf, Brek Shea, Peter Odemwingie and Ryan Shotton all tried during preseason. I expect that fans will see Diouf and Bojan interchange quite a bit there to best exploit their respective attributes and of course depending on the opposition's threat down that right side.
Poor Odemwingie seems to have been lost in the wash somewhat amid the excitement of the new arrivals, and many are forgetting the impact he had following his arrival in January. He almost single-handedly transformed a front line devoid of pace for the second half of the season and, despite playing an unfamiliar role, managed to score five goals to help the Potters secure the top-10 finish that eluded them for so long.
Of course, players continue to be linked for the attacking positions, and while the Nigerian striker is a more than capable talent, at the age of 33 he will most likely find his chances of starting limited.
However, as Hughes proved so often last season, the bench will more than play its part again this term. Whether any new faces will arrive in time for the big kickoff is yet to be seen, and while they would be welcome additions to an increasingly balanced squad, the side is great shape regardless as they look ahead to the big kickoff.