Martin Smith: Was all that England pain really like watching Stoke?
THE release of the Premier League fixtures put into sharp into focus just how quickly the new season will be upon us; seven weeks this Saturday.
And a study of Stoke's opening eight games also shows what a tough start we have ahead of us.
Five our first eight matches are against Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United, while the other three, against Reading, Wigan and Swansea, offer challenges of their own.
Reading will be expecting to get off to a flier in front of their own eager fans after winning the Championship in such fine style last season, while Wigan always seem to present an unfathomable obstacle for TP's team.
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We have just one win in eight Premier League games against them over the last four years.
We are going to have to hit the ground running if we want to avoid being among the early-season strugglers, and that means we need to have any team changes sorted out as quickly as possible.
Recent history shows we tend to do most of our business in the last 24 hours of the transfer window, but that may be cutting things fine this year.
Our two opening home fixtures – against old foes Arsenal and champions Manchester City – are sure to generate a superb atmosphere at the Britannia Stadium, but both will be very searching challenges of our early credentials.
With that tough schedule stretching out ahead of us, I wonder how we will approach the season to come.
It's easy to assume TP will stick to his tried and tested approach, but rumours concerning the possible acquisition of Michael Owen lend a tantalising glimpse into a possible change of thinking.
There is no way a player of Owen's ilk could be shoe-horned into any of the roles we employ in our rigidly disciplined 4-4-1-1 system, so either the speculation is simply wrong or we're thinking of moving things around a little.
I'd like to think it's the latter, but we'll have to wait and see, especially after the warnings we've heard from the Stoke City management team about the tough season we're facing.
England's exit from the European Championships highlighted the shortcomings of our national game.
Even our highest-paid stars looked well short of matching most of the teams we played in terms of passing, movement and technical ability.
Sure, we did better than most of us had expected ahead of the tournament, but we were never convincing.
For the country with the richest league in the world, paying the highest averages wages across the board, this is a sorry state of affairs.
As someone who had two sons who played in local junior leagues, I can vouch for how early on we demand on field success – and how, as a result, we quickly come to value those strapping lads who run around a lot and hoof the ball down field.
You don't have to stand on the sidelines of a local junior match for too long before you'll hear the likes of "get rid", "down the field", "kick it", "row Z".
It's crude advice that will haunt the English game for years to come.
Which brings me back to Stoke. Watching England at Euro 2012 was a lot like most of Stoke's away matches last season.
We concede territory and control of the ball, allow our opponents to have as much possession as they like and hope we can do more with our very few chances than they'll do with the substantially more that they get.
Given that we're often out-gunned by our opponents, it's understandable why we adopt this approach, but for England it is unforgivable and shows just how much needs to be done to resurrect our national game.
There needs to be a change of thinking about the way children are introduced to football and what our immediate expectations for them are.
For Stoke, there also needs to be an upgrade in aspects of our approach, particularly in terms of creating chances and scoring goals.
I know I'm guilty of labouring this point, but I make no apologies for it.
We have to look to improve on last season's meagre attacking stats or that prophecy of a tough season ahead will almost certainly come to pass.
As our chairman, Peter Coates, pointed out at the end of last season, we have been one of the biggest net-spenders in the Premier League in recent years.
But that investment has only managed to raise us to the level already achieved by many of our Premier League rivals.
Such a substantial outlay certainly makes last season's paucity of goals and scoring chances all the more baffling.