With their recent run of form, Stoke City have moved themselves into 8th place in the Premier League table. If the season were to end today, the Potters would have their highest ever finish in the Premier League, and their highest placement in top flight football since the 1974-75 season, when the Potters finished 5th. It’s clear that manager Mark Hughes has Stoke heading in the right direction, the question is now: How far can he take them?
Stoke City was established in 1863 and is the second oldest football club in the world, trailing only Notts County. In their over 150 year history the Potters have participated in European competition just 3 times, always in what is currently known as the Europa League.
The first two times came during the 1970s, when the Potters were eliminated in the first round in the 1972-73 by German side 1. FC Kaiserslautern and in 1974-75, when Ajax eliminated Stoke. The most recent European campaign came during the 2011-12 Europa league, when the Potters qualified for the group stage, and advanced to the round of 32, where they were defeated by Spanish side Valencia.
In order for the Potters to return to European competition next season, a few things must break their way to conclude this season.
1. Arsenal or Liverpool must win the FA Cup:
Any scenario in which the Potters qualify for the Europa League centers around Arsenal or Liverpool winning the FA Cup, and the Europa League berth that comes with it. Both of these sides are well positioned in the EPL table so that the Europa League birth would pass on to the next highest placed EPL team should Arsenal or Liverpool win the FA Cup.
This is the result of a new UEFA rule which states that instead of the FA Cup birth passing to the runner-up of the competition as it had previously done, it will now pass on to the next highest placed side in the domestic league. An FA Cup win by any of the other remaining teams (Aston Villa, Bradford City, Reading, or Blackburn Rovers) would send that team to the FA Cup, rather than the next highest placed side in the EPL.
At this point, the Europa League birth given to the FA Cup winner would be the 7th place EPL team. A spot in the Europa League is also designated for the winner of the Capital One Cup which was won by Chelsea. That cup win, and the positioning of the Blues in clear Champions League territory, means the birth associated with the Capital One Cup will instead go to the 6th placed side in the EPL.
2. Tottenham or Southampton must begin to struggle:
Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton are the two teams currently sitting in 6th and 7th place of the EPL with 50 and 49 points respectively.
For the Potters to move into 7th place, one of these sides must take a nosedive over the final 10 matches. Both sides have matches at the Britannia Stadium still to come, which represent a chance for the Potters to make up 3 points, however, there must also be other points dropped by one of these two sides if Stoke want to move into 7th place.
Spurs appear the more likely of the sides based on the remaining fixtures, but have played stronger of late. Tottenham and Southampton meet at St. Mary’s Stadium on April 25, one week after the Potters play the Saints. The result of that match could determine just who Stoke City will be chasing during the final weeks of the season.
3. Stoke City must do their part:
All of this becomes a moot point unless the Potters can continue their strong form of late and make a push up the table. 3 of the next 4 matches for the Potters are on the road, including a trip to Stamford Bridge to face league leaders Chelsea. It’s crucial that the Potters play well in their upcoming fixtures if they want to have any chance at European Competition.
A return to European competition is certainly something the Stoke City faithful would love to see, and while it may not be likely this season, it is certainly something that the side should hope for in future seasons under Mark Hughes. If the Potters can continue their recent form, then there is certainly a chance they could return to Europe as early as next season. If that isn’t the case, then it should absolutely be a goal of theirs for next season.