- Associated Press - Thursday, May 10, 2018

MANCHESTER, England (AP) - They were perennial mid-table finishers boasting some of the clearest identities in the English Premier League.

Stoke City - physical, tough and with a hostile home stadium. Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson once labeled Stoke’s players “the jolly green giants.”

West Bromwich Albion - direct, well-organized and dangerous at set pieces.

Swansea - stylish passers, dominant in possession and always looking to attack.

From 2013-17, the three teams ended each Premier League season between eighth and 15th - except for West Brom’s 17th-place finish in 2014. Opponents knew what they were going to get when they played Stoke, West Brom and Swansea, and still found those teams difficult to handle.

Being safe and stable can be dangerous in England’s wealthy top division, though. Owners can grow restless and fans can demand ambition, wanting teams to get to the next level or try something different. And that type of thinking has done Stoke, West Brom and Swansea no favors at all.

Heading into the last weekend of the season, Stoke and West Brom have already been relegated, and third-from-last Swansea is almost certain to join them. For so long part of the Premier League furniture because of their differing styles, it seems none of these teams will be greatly missed by English or international audiences.

In all three cases, the teams’ identity has been lost and their squads have been assembled with an increasingly unworkable mix of players. Stoke, West Brom and Swansea have all tried to change in recent years and now they might be wishing they hadn’t bothered.

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STOKE

Stoke has undergone perhaps the biggest transformation of any Premier League team in recent years.

The turning point came in 2013 when Tony Pulis was fired after seven years. Stoke was by then an established top-flight team that reached the FA Cup final in 2011 - losing 1-0 to Manchester City - and played in the Europa League the following year, but the style of football was increasingly turgid and among its most dangerous ploys was Rory Delap’s long throw. “If you’re given steak and chips every day,” Pulis once said, defending his style, “steak and chips becomes the norm.”

Wanting a bit more entertainment from the team, Stoke hired Mark Hughes that year and in a couple of years went from being compared, by some opposition fans, with a rugby side to being branded “Stokealona” in a lighthearted reference to Barcelona.

In came exciting attacking players who had lost their way at big European clubs - Xherdan Shaqiri, Ibrahim Afellay, Bojan Krkic and latterly Jese Rodriguez, for example - and Stoke briefly became fun to watch, if less defensively sound.

Hughes pulled off three straight ninth-place finishes and then a 13th place last year. But Stoke lost its way this season after selling its X-factor attacker Marko Arnautovic in the offseason, becoming a team that not only struggled to create chances but was the most porous at the back.

Hughes was fired in January, Paul Lambert was hired in March but he couldn’t rectify the situation. Stoke’s relegation was confirmed last weekend.

WEST BROM

The shadow of Pulis has also hung over West Brom after he brought his pragmatic and direct approach to The Hawthorns from Stoke (via Crystal Palace) and typically delivered a couple of solid mid-table finishes - 14th in 2016 and 10th in 2017.

He was fired in November, though, after West Brom’s slump in form that stretched back to the end of the last season. Fans had also become disenchanted with the team’s style and the club’s new Chinese owner clearly wanted more from a squad containing $40 million of new signings

Alan Pardew was hired as a replacement, promising a side that “plays on the front foot, tries to sustain attack” and was “slightly more hairy scary perhaps.”

It proved to be a bad appointment, with a squad still partly infused with a Pulis mentality unable to adapt to Pardew’s style. West Brom won one league game in four months under Pardew and was 10 points from safety when he was fired in April.

Caretaker manager Darren Moore has restored West Brom’s team ethic, collecting 11 points in an improbable five-match unbeaten run that included wins over Man United and Tottenham, but the club’s relegation was confirmed on Tuesday. It remains to be seen if the club still opts for a more glamorous name to be permanent manager next season.

SWANSEA

Swansea’s reputation as one of the most admired and pleasing-on-the-eye teams in English football began under the stewardship of Roberto Martinez from 2007-09, and continued under Brendan Rodgers (2010-12) and Michael Laudrup (2012-14).

The “Swansea Way” disappeared, however, in a haze of hirings that didn’t fit the club’s ethos or playing philosophy. After Garry Monk’s departure in December 2015, Francesco Guidolin (10 months), Bob Bradley (three months) and Paul Clement (one year) came and went as the Welsh team’s bid to become more streetwise, and less reliant on its old passing game, stuttered.

What is Swansea now? Few could put a label on a team that is facing relegation under charismatic Carlos Carvalhal after a run of four losses culminating in the damaging 1-0 home defeat to Southampton.

With Huddersfield drawing 1-1 at Chelsea on Wednesday to secure its Premier League status, Swansea needs to beat Stoke at home on Sunday and hope Southampton loses at home to Manchester City - all with an unlikely nine-goal swing because of Swansea’s inferior goal difference.

After seven years, Swansea’s stay in England’s top flight is coming to an end.

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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80


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