Stoke City: Potters facing toughest start yet, warns Tony Pulis
TONY Pulis has told Stoke City fans to brace themselves for possibly their toughest start yet to a Premier League campaign.
His warning follows the publication of next season's fixture list, which sees the Potters facing three of the four Champions League qualifiers – Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea – in their first five games.
And it doesn't get much easier thereafter as Stoke are sent to Liverpool and Manchester United on successive Saturdays in October.
"I've got to say that our first pocket of five games is unbelievably tough," said Pulis ahead of Stoke's fifth Premier League season.
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"We play three Champions League teams in our first five fixtures, including the champions of England and the champions of Europe, so it's as tough as they come.
"And we'll certainly have to improve on our record in recent seasons against Wigan when we play at their place third match up."
And Pulis isn't too thrilled either about Stoke's opening-day fixture on August 18 at Reading – a team in buoyant mood after topping the Championship last month. Pulis, who arrived home from his annual holiday today in time for the birth of his first grandchild, said: "I've got to be honest and say a promoted team away on the first day is one you would choose to avoid if you had the choice.
"Reading will be bouncing after winning the Championship, and their fans will be really up for it too.
"It will be a big, big test for us and one we have to be ready to face come the big kick-off."
And Pulis will be hoping the experience of previous starts in the Premier League – not least against Wolves, Tottenham and Chelsea in their first three games two seasons ago – will stand his team in good stead.
"It's certainly something we are getting used to now," he joked.
"Then again, we have to remember we are playing in the most competitive and most difficult league in the world, so you are not going to look at any little run of fixtures and say there are easy points to be had there.
"It just doesn't work like that in the Premier League and even the big teams will think that way. Every single point has to be battled for at this level."
Stoke have been gifted mouthwatering holiday fixtures on Boxing Day and New Year's Day after drawing Liverpool at home and Manchester City away respectively.
The Premier League's opening-day fixtures also feature champions Manchester City at home to newly-promoted Southampton, while Sam Allardyce's fellow newcomers West Ham entertain Aston Villa and Manchester United travel to Everton.
The potentially title-deciding Manchester derbies are scheduled for December 8 at the Etihad Stadium and April 6 at Old Trafford.