Mark Hughes is adjusting Stoke’s targets this season, with a top-four finish in the Premier League now not out of the question.
Hughes’ side face league leaders Arsenal at the Britannia Stadium on Sunday currently occupying seventh spot and they are only four points off Tottenham, who sit in the final qualifying berth for a place in next year’s Champions League.
With Leicester, West Ham and Crystal Palace all also in touching distance of one of those four spots, England could be represented by a surprise team in Europe’s premier competition next season.
And while such a feat seemed improbable before the start of the campaign, Hughes is beginning to think a historic season might be possible for Stoke.
“It wasn’t what we were aiming for at the beginning of the season but, as the season progresses and the league takes shape, your realistic targets change,” the Welshman said when asked if a top-four finish was achievable.
“It’s fair to say we’ve changed our targets in terms of what we think we can achieve this year. I’m not necessarily saying we’re going for the Champions League at all, but you never know? It’s one of those seasons. We could get to a point in March, April where we’re very much in the mix and we’ll have a go.
“For our part, we’re really pleased where we find ourselves at the moment, it’s higher than we anticipated before the beginning of the season.
“At the end of the season we hope we can look back and pat ourselves on the back by virtue of the fact we’ve beaten our previous total over the last two seasons. If we do that, it’s fair to say we’re progressing.”
The Potters are yet to wade into the January transfer window and Hughes is happy with the strength of a squad that is still competing in both the FA Cup and Capital One Cup.
That is why if he does make an acquisition to bolster a Champions League charge this month, it will likely be a marquee name to rival the likes of previous recruits Bojan Krkic and Xherdan Shaqiri.
“I think it’s fair to say that,” Hughes noted.
“The squad is strong, we’ve proved over the last couple of years that the depth that we have should be able to maintain us. It certainly did last year and it’s looking like it will again this year.
“If we’re going to improve then we need to get those players that can make a difference. It’s key players who can make a difference, those are the ones we’re looking for.”
Switzerland international Shaqiri will not face Arsene Wenger’s Gunners after suffering a hamstring injury while Geoff Cameron is highly unlikely to return because of an ankle problem.