STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - JULY 25:  Gary Rowett, the Stoke City manager, looks on during the pre-season friendly match between Stoke City and Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Bet365 Stadium on July 25, 2018 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Stoke City 2018/19 Season Preview: Strengths, Weaknesses, Key Man and Predictions

Stoke City are billed as the Championship favourites by bookies, pundits and fans alike following their relegation from the Premier League, with many expecting the bet365 stadium to become a fortress in England's second tier.

With a highly rated manager and a number of Premier League quality players from Jack Butland and Ryan Shawcross to Joe Allen and James McClean, there are plenty of reasons to be positive.

The Potters kick off their first Championship campaign in over a decade against Leeds on Sunday hoping to kick-start their push for an immediate return to the top flight.

Here's how things are shaping up for Gary Rowett's side...

1. Last Season

Last season was nothing short of a disaster for Stoke, they had shown signs of slipping in the previous campaign but failed to arrest the slide. Sinking to new lows the Potters were rarely competitive last season and were, in fact, the first team relegated from the Premier League that year.

Underperforming stars and unprofessional behaviour marred the entire campaign as the club unravelled behind the scenes. AWOL absentees and training ground bust-ups became part and parcel as the Mark Hughes era span out of control.

Losing his job midway through the season, the incoming Paul Lambert proclaimed he couldn’t believe the lack of discipline at the club upon arrival. The Scotsman tightened the ship and improved standards but similar dour tactics undermined the improvements where it mattered.

Conceding a league high 68 goals and scoring fewer than most meant the writing was on the wall as Stoke’s decade in the top flight came to an end. 

2. Transfers In

Incomings have been good so far for the club but even Rowett himself as admitted he’d like to see several more late arrivals. The Potters are ideally in need of more reinforcements but at least the players they have signed look to be good additions.

Benik Afobe was a huge boost Wolves last season, helping get them over the line and Stoke hope he will continue that form. Peter Etebo looked lively for Nigeria at the World Cup whilst Tom Ince has a proven track record at this level and adds some much needed width.

James McClean also looked Stoke’s most dangerous player since making his debut in pre-season and could be a surprise star for the club.

The club still looks absent of a proven goalscorer to provide a focal point for the attack and is still in need of cover for the wide areas. Rowett is also hoping to add another centre-half with Martins Indi having spent half of last season injured.  

3. Transfers Out

Departures have been a mixed bag for Stoke, on the one hand they have held onto the majority of their star talent so far. The only key departure of the summer has been Xherdan Shaqiri, with second choice shot-stopper Lee Grant the only other who is likely to be missed. 

Ramadan Sobhi, Stephen Ireland, Glen Johnson, Kevin Wimmer and Marc Muniesa have all left but none of those players were first team regulars last season. The concern is that Stoke haven’t managed to shed a lot of deadwood who were expected to be cut lose this summer. 

Saido Berahino is yet to score a goal for the club, whilst they still appear to have no plans for the likes of Ibrahim Afellay or Giannelli Imbula. With several players seemingly clogging up the books it’s prevented Stoke from completing further business. 

Stoke are left relying on these players’ fortunes to improve at the club whilst a few key men could still depart. Badou Ndiaye, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Bruno Martins Indi have all being linked with moves abroad. With most transfer windows extending beyond the English one the Potters could still see players depart after deadline day.

They are also anxiously watching the Chelsea goalkeeping situation with Jack Butland another possible late departure. Stoke could be seconds from disaster if they can’t bring players in before any of these potential deals materialise. 

4. Strengths

Stoke’s biggest strength lies in one thing the Coates family have prided themselves on since their takeover of Stoke - stability. A key contingent of this squad has been together for over five years and have delivered great highs for the club.

Ryan Shawcross, Peter Crouch, Geoff Cameron, Charlie Adam, Erik Pieters and Butland all still form a core of the squad. There’s also plenty of other top flight experience in that side like Joe Allen, Mame Biram Diouf and the recent addition of McClean. 

Overall it’s a very strong looking squad with many years experience competing at a higher level than this one. There are nine members left of that Stoke squad that finished ninth for a third year running in 2016. 

Bringing in a manager who will adopt a similar style and game plan means a shallow learning curve and the players should be able to pick up where they left off. The club are banking on this team rediscovering it’s form and have ensured as little disruption as possible to that process. 

5. Weaknesses

There are two key problems that plague Stoke, execution and goals. 

General confusion, a lack of cohesion and non-existent pressing were key issues on the pitch for Stoke last season and they don’t just go away. 

Stoke have failed to win any of their last five warm up games scoring just once as they lost three consecutive fixture to some of the Bundesliga’s second and third tier sides in a pre-season tour. 

They also failed to score in two dour draws with St Pauli and newly promoted Wolves. There were some familiar looking performances and some familiar problems with concerns Stoke haven’t expelled these issues from the team. 

It’s still hard to see where the goals are going to come from to fire Stoke to promotion. The defensive tactics make it hard for the Potters to create chances and the misfiring forwards continue to be a problem with Stoke missing several guilt edged chances in that tour of Germany. 

6. Key Man

Stoke’s best performer last season was Allen who has committed his future to the club but unfortunately is not the kind of player Stoke can back to deliver promotion. Allen’s box-to-box role will be important for the Potters next season but only goals can fire them to the top of the table. 

The main goal threat last season was Shaqiri who contributed to 15 goals total but he has since left the club. With little inspiration left in that frontline Stoke need someone to step up and take that mantle which could hopefully be new signing Benik Afobe. 

He has 28 goals from his last 62 appearances at this level but he’s still going to need a better supply line from Stoke. Rowett needs to work on a game plan that allows them to get the ball forward more effectively, if Stoke can feed Afobe he could deliver for them this season.

Potential Breakout: Tyrese Campbell

7. Predictions

A lot will depend on what happens between now and the end of August, which could have a dramatic effect of Stoke’s fortunes. The club should be aiming to live up to the billing, winning the league title and securing an immediate return back to the top flight. 

The cups will likely prove nothing more than a distraction to Stoke, with a job to do, don’t expect them to heavily involved in either of those competitions. The league will remain the sole target but there is a lot of healthy competition in the Championship and Stoke could find life in the second tier a lot harder than they expect. 

They should at least be competing at the right end of the table all season barring another collapse. At an early assessment expect them miss out on automatic promotion but finish comfortably inside the playoffs, probably fourth. 

They have an excellent record at Wembley and will fancy themselves to go all the way, not exactly glamorous and convincing but Stoke should get the job done and secure a return to the top flight.