After a series of ninth-placed finishes, Stoke City slumped to 13th last season, flirting with relegation in the process. Potters boss Mark Hughes did well to lower the eyebrows raised by his appointment four summers ago but the former Fulham and Manchester City manager failed to build on his side's respectable recent placings. He may struggle to elevate a rather stagnant, hackneyed Stoke squad back into the top half this season.
The core of last season's squad still remains, but there have been a few notable departures from the Bet365 Stadium. Marko Arnautovic has joined West Ham United for £24m, while club stalwarts Glenn Whelan, Phil Bardsley and Jon Walters have left for Aston Villa and Burnley respectively.
The aforementioned quartet were all rather important to Stoke's make-up for a number of seasons, but Hughes' men have not decided to spend big in order to replace them. Young full-back Joshua Tymon, versatile attacker Eric Maxim Choupo Moting and Darren Fletcher have all arrived on free transfers, while Kurt Zouma has joined on a season-long loan from Chelsea.
The recruitment, while shrewd, far from refreshes a Stoke squad in need of major surgery. A lack of meaningful transfer business saw them drop down the league last season - repeating the same mistake could see Hughes out of a job.
Premier League: 13th
FA Cup: Third round
League Cup: Third round
Manager - Mark Hughes
Hughes has managed to rebuild his reputation in Staffordshire. Since taking over in the summer of 2013, the Welshman has managed to rid Stoke of their brutish, route one tag and establish them as competitors for the upper mid-table spots.
But while Hughes has steered the Potters away from their direct, old-fashioned tendencies, he has not been quite able to transform them into the neat, passing side that he seemingly wants them to be. Stoke are in the midst of an identity crisis at present, and Hughes needs to help them realise their individuality if he does not want to suffer the third sacking of his managerial career.
Key player - Jack Butland
Butland missed virtually the whole of last season with an ankle injury suffered while on international duty 18 months ago, but the former Birmingham City stopper has now fully recovered from his ailment and will be like a new signing for the Potters, for want of a better phrase.
Lee Grant deputised well in Butland's absence, but the England international is simply a cut above his goalkeeping counterpart at Stoke and could be the difference between them finishing in the top half or mixing with the wrong crowd at the bottom of the table.
Commanding, agile and aerially dominant, Butland could spark a battle with Everton's Jordan Pickford for the England number one jersey ahead of the looming World Cup, providing he stays fit.
The presence of Zouma at the back should provide added solidity to a Stoke backline that creaked a little too much last season, while much will be expected of Choupo-Moting, who struggled for fitness during his final season with Schalke. A tough start to the new campaign lies in wait for Hughes's side, who endured mixed results during their pre-season schedule.
Prediction - 14th
Stoke seem to be allergic to consistent attackers at present, and their toothlessness combined with the failure to substantially strengthen will seem them flirt with the drop but ultimately bob along as one of the Premier League's also-rans.