7 August 2014 08:24
Mark Hughes is confident Stoke City can build on an encouraging end to the 2013-14 season when they kick off the upcoming campaign.
Stoke broke new ground last term, securing a maiden top-half finish in the Premier League on the back of seven wins from their final 11 games.
An upturn in results was also accompanied by a more cultured style in the closing stages of the season, as Hughes sought to continue a gradual progression away from the more direct approach utilised by his predecessor, Tony Pulis.
After seeing Stoke defeat Real Betis 2-0 at the Britannia Stadium on Wednesday, Hughes expressed satisfaction with the development of a squad bolstered by the likes of Mame Biram Diouf and Bojan Krkic, who marked his home debut with a third goal in as many games.
“In the first half, I was really pleased with what we produced,” said Hughes.
“We created a lot of good chances and it got a little fragmented in the second half, but that’s usually the case when you make changes.
“Both goals were outstanding in different ways, but certainly the first goal [scored by Erik Pieters]. In terms of build-up play, picking the right pass at the right time and then picking the right person out to convert the chance – that was excellent play at any level.
“The more we play together, the more similar situations we’ll create because we’ve got quality players on the pitch.
“We’ve got another game at the weekend [against Freiburg] and that will kick us on again, so we’re in a good place at the moment.”
New arrivals Diouf and Bojan each demonstrated their versatility against Betis by occupying central and wide roles as part of a fluid front three.
“I like my teams to be flexible in terms of their understanding of the tactics we’re using,” explained Hughes.
“If I change things halfway through a game I expect them to be able to understand very quickly because they’re intelligent footballers.”
The form of ex-Barcelona forward Bojan could well prompt heightened expectations at Stoke ahead of next weekend’s Premier League opener against Aston Villa, yet that does not concern Hughes.
“We can’t do anything about that, but if he continues to play well then we benefit from that and we win football matches,” added the Stoke manager.
“If the focus on Bojan increases, that means we’re doing well as a group as well. He’s a quality player and people will talk about quality.”