Can Stoke live up to favourites tag in the Championship?
Stoke City’s 10-year stay in the Premier League came to an end last season. They’ll be looking to bounce back at the first attempt in the new campaign.
There were a number of reasons for the Potters’ demotion. They had an ageing squad. Several big-money signings failed to make any real impact. And there was lack of goals at one end, while they conceded far too many at the other.
Despite that, there are grounds for optimism. We’ve got them as 6/1 favourites to win the Championship this term. They’re just 2/1 to go up too. But will they be able to live up to those expectations?
Gary Rowett has replaced Paul Lambert in charge. The 44-year-old has proven himself in the second-tier during spells with Birmingham City and Derby County.
But Rowett may have to do without Jack Butland and Xherdan Shaqiri. If they do go, there’s still the makings of a good side in place.
Moritz Bauer, Ryan Shawcross, Bruno Martins Indi and Erik Pieters has the makings of a solid defence at this level. Talented youngsters Josh Tymon and Harry Souttar will get chances to develop too. There’s also talk that Ashley Williams is being eyed to add further experience.
In midfield Joe Allen’s decision to sign a new deal is a major boost. He’s likely to partner new arrival Oghenekaro Etebo. The Nigeria international’s energy really stood out at the World Cup.
Rowett can also call on Darren Fletcher, Charlie Adam and Ibrahim Afellay. Badou Ndiaye and Giannelli Imbula have been linked with a departure, while wingers James McClean and Matt Ritchie are reported to be targets.
If Max Choupo-Moting stays, there’s a real variety in attack. He and new man Benik Afobe offer pace and movement. Peter Crouch may be getting on but he’s still a huge threat in the air. Mame Biram Diouf is hard-working and versatile.
Then there’s Saido Berahino. Will some time out of the Premier League spotlight help him get back to his best?
Rowett will make sure Stoke are well-organised and hard to beat. They’ve got the strength in attack to cause real problems for opposition sides too. They should be right up there at the business end of the season.
All Odds and Markets correct as of date of publication