Stoke City manager Tony Pulis admits "second-season syndrome'' is presenting an extra challenge to him and his players, as his side prepare to take on in-form Everton at Goodison Park.
Pulis' side surprised almost everyone last season when they made a mockery of their status as relegation favourites.
But the respect Stoke earnt by finishing 12th has had its repercussions, with opponents better prepared for them this time around.
"Chelsea and Manchester United both fielded very strong teams against us and I'm sure other top sides will do the same," Pulis said. "There is a different attitude to us this season and our opponents are giving us the respect we deserve. They are better prepared.
"That was bound to happen in our second season in the Premiership and what we have to do is lift ourselves and rise to the challenge. Second-season syndrome was always going to have an effect and I knew that before a ball had been kicked.''
Stoke failed to cover themselves in glory in last weekend's defeat by Manchester United and Pulis admitted it was a rare off day.
"The players were a bit flat and weren't really at it, which is very much a rarity for this bunch. We didn't put them under pressure or create any real chances, but of course you have to take into account the quality of the opposition we played against.
"My players are only human beings and they were second best against a great team.I watched Manchester United beat Wolfsburg on Wednesday and they made the German champions look second rate. They were different class when they went up a gear.
"Clubs like ourselves have to accept there are a small number of teams who have a stranglehold on the best quality players.''
Pulis analysed footage of the United defeat with his players this week, but it did not prove to be quite the video nasty he was expecting.
He added: "Manchester United didn't provide a serious threat until they scored their first goal and it wasn't all bad. We know we've got to improve and I'msure we will do.''
Sunday's visit to Everton will provide Stoke with another tough challenge and Pulis anticipates a much different type of game.
He said: "Everton are a big, strong and powerful team and they also have a lot of very good players. Manchester United and Chelsea played through the pitch but the ball will go from back to front a lot quicker on Sunday and we have to be prepared.
"They've got Yakubu, Louis Saha and Jo up front and then Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini will be bursting up to join them from midfield. Everton have come through their bad spell and it is not a surprise they have turned it around.''
One Stoke player busting a gut to be fit for Sunday is former Everton striker James Beattie, who has struggled with knee and ankle injuries of late.
"Beatts is making progress and I know he will have a point to prove if he plays, Pulis added. We've all taken the United defeat on the chin and I'm confident there won't be any hangovers. Goodison Park is a great old stadium with a great atmosphere and we are all looking forward to it.'