The Bet365 Stadium has been a hive of activity over the summer so far as Stoke City prepare for life outside the top-flight for the first time in a decade.
The Potters were relegated from the Premier League in May but the club have been quick to begin to address some of the issues, mistakes and frailties that underpinned their failures last season and, arguably, can be traced back throughout the previous twenty-four months.
Gary Rowett was appointed as manager at the start of the summer and his arrival was seen as something of a coup after Stoke were able to persuade the 44-year-old to leave Championship rivals Derby County.
He moved quickly to secure the impressive signings of Benik Afobe and Nigeria’s World Cup star Oghenekaro Etebo whilst Joe Allen was also convinced to sign a new contract that saw him pledge his long-term future to the club.
All of these events have been widely discussed but something that many media outlets failed to highlight was that Stoke have also been able to sign the best fullback in the Championship.
It was announced at the start of July that Moritz Bauer had signed a new long-term deal that will see him remain at the Bet365 Stadium until 2023.
The Austrian defender may not be the most instantly recognisable name in English football yet Stoke supporters will be quick to highlight the considerable impact that he has made at the club since arriving in January.
The 26-year-old was signed from Ruben Kazan for an undisclosed fee six months ago and he produced a string of hugely impressive performances as he cemented his place in the starting eleven.
In what was a disappointing season that ultimately ended in relegation, Bauer was one of the few bright sparks that supporters could take some heart from.
He made 15 appearances in total with his energy, enthusiasm and pace enabling him to easily make the transition into a prominent performer in the Premier League.
Bauer is naturally a full-back and he proved to be equally adept at undertaking his defensive responsibilities as he was driving forward with the ball or making overlapping runs into the opposition half.
He ended the campaign being used as a winger as Paul Lambert struggled to find a solution to the team’s woes on the pitch but he undoubtedly applied himself to the best of his ability.
Immediately following relegation the Austrian publicly announced that he would be happy to remain at the Bet365 Stadium and it is refreshing to see a player showing a degree of loyalty to a club that he had only recently joined.
The fact that he signed a new contract at the start of the month confirmed that he was a man of his word and leaves Stoke having signed what will be the best attacking fullback that you are likely to see in the Championship this year.
Bauer’s natural athleticism combined with his technical ability will make him a force to be reckoned with in the second tier and, if used as a fullback, his overlapping runs will add another string to Stoke’s attacking repertoire.
If supporters thought that he had adapted well to life in the Premier League then they will be licking their lips at the prospect of him being unleashed in the Championship.
The 26-year-old’s new contract has continued to add to the feel-good factor surrounding the Bet365 Stadium during the summer and there is a real sense of positivity around the club.
Rowett’s side are among the favourites for promotion and his activities so far as manager, both in terms of new arrivals and persuading key squad members to stay, clearly demonstrates his intentions.
Bauer possesses all of the attributes to be a star for Stoke in the Championship and he will be a key feature in the team are to immediately bounce back into the Premier League.
The best attacking fullback in the Championship? We will have to wait and see.
One winner and loser as Stoke City close in on signing Sam Clucas
Stoke look set to sign the Swansea midfielder on deadline day
Stoke City are closing in on a deal to sign Swansea midfielder Sam Clucas in a fee thought to be around £6 million, a shrewd bit of business from The Potters, who will be looking to improve on their Championship opening day defeat.
Manager Gary Rowett will be hoping the midfielder can hit the ground running and bring with him some much-needed versatility that his current midfield options lack.
Stoke haven’t been able to find a permanent central midfielder capable of running the show since Steven N’Zonzi’s departure in 2015. However, Clucas may just be the man to fill the void.
Winner – Stoke’s midfield
Clucas will bring with him a versatility to play anywhere in the midfield, a trait which their current options all lack and a quality vital to succeeding in the Championship.
During his time at Hull City, Clucas played left wing, left back, defensive midfield and a number 10 role; a testament to the 28-year-old’s ability and something Stoke can use to their advantage this season.
Clucas is comfortable on the ball and has a passing range which is second to none. If the Potters are going to gain promotion back to the Premier League they’ll need a midfielder with these kinds of attributes in their side.
Loser – Burnley
It seemed as though Burnley would be the destination for Clucas this season. However, in a sudden change of events Sean Dyche’s side lost out on their target.
This will be a blow for Dyche’s side, who have struggled terribly during this transfer window, despite securing European football for the first time in the clubs history last season.
It remains to be seen whether or not they’ll make a move for anyone else today before the deadline strikes, but a few deadline day signings wouldn’t go amiss for Dyche’s men.
Three things learnt from Leeds’ opening win over Stoke: Bielsa hype justified
Leeds United have kicked off the season in style with a 3-1 victory over recently relegated Stoke City. Marcelo Bielsa and Gary Rowett were both taking charge of their teams for the first time in a competitive fixture but it was the Argentinian who came out on top.
Mateusz Klich opened the scoring before Pablo Hernandez added a second, thanks in part to an error from Jack Butland. After the break, Stoke revived a lifeline with Benik Afobe converting from 12 yards after Barry Douglas brought down Tom Ince.
Liam Cooper extended the home team’s lead only three minutes later to kill the tie off and Leeds remained composed as they saw out the tie for the win.
Here’s what can be taken from the clash…
Bielsa is already having an impact
There has been an awful lot of excitement surrounding Marcelo Bielsa’s appointment as Leeds United manager but few knew quite what to expect from the man in charge. With the line-up revealed, people were equally at a loss but on the opening day it worked to perfection.
Perhaps the clearest example is Mateusz Klich. A disappointment in the past, in pre-season and against the Potters he has looked a formidable potion and opened the scoring with a well-taken goal on Sunday, his first in Leeds colours.
Gary Rowett’s problem is the hangover of last season
On paper, Stoke City’s squad is probably the strongest in the division. Yet, in reality, it hasn’t quite worked out. Bringing on players like Darren Fletcher and Bojan Krkic as substitutes is something that most Championship managers could only dream of, yet his team looked a shambles for much of the tie.
Like much of 2017/18, big names with talents to match, such as Jack Butland, Ryan Shawcross and Joe Allen, didn’t live up to the occasion and left plenty to be desired. Even new signing Tom Ince was lazy in his tracking back and defensive duties, costing the side dearly for the second goal.
Leeds may not need another striker after all
What will have impressed Marcelo Bielsa most will have been that his team looked to have a goal threat even with £10 million signing Patrick Bamford on the bench. Goals from a defender, holding midfielder and more advanced midfielder showed that goals will come from all over in the current team.
Kemar Roofe lacked the killer instinct that is required but produced a magnificent display running Stoke ragged with his movement. The addition of Bamford could add the clinical final touch. Some have claimed that the Whites must sign another centre forward to be in with a chance of promotion this season, but early signs suggest it may not be the case.
Is Gary Rowett correct in his honest appraisal of Stoke’s pre-season?
The 44-year-old took over the reigns at Stoke earlier this summer.
Stoke City manager Gary Rowett admitted that he was ‘disappointed’ with the performance of his players following a two-goal defeat in the club’s final pre-season friendly against FC St. Pauli on Saturday afternoon.
The 44-year-old also told the Stoke Sentinel that the result would give the team a “little bit of a kick up the backside” and that “we’ve got lots to do”.
The contest against St. Pauli was characteristic of how The Potters have performed over the summer and will undoubtedly leave Rowett with concerns on the eve of the new season.
Stoke were one-paced, struggled to create clear cut chances and conceded two goals against a team that are likely to finish mid-table in the German second division.
In fact, it is almost as if the players have picked up where they left off at the end of the previous campaign and many of the issues that underpinned the club’s relegation from the Premier League are still prevalent now.
The Potters have won just one friendly during pre-season, a three-goal rout of Walsall in early July, and have failed to secure victory in any of the subsequent five fixtures, scoring only one goal.
Performances have not been great by any stretch of the imagination and a lack of prolificacy at both ends of the pitch will rightly be course for concern.
Of course, this is only pre-season and Rowett himself has emphasised that the summer is all about preparation.
However, his negative appraisal of the players following the St. Pauli game suggests that he is far from satisfied.
In many ways the summer has been a reality check for Stoke.
There was a renewed sense of optimism following relegation in May as the club moved quickly to appoint Rowett, made positive moves in the transfer market and were able to retain the services of a number of high profile players.
Most media and betting outlets have the Potters down as favourites to win the Championship this year and supporters have excitedly been talking about a promotion challenge.
However, the second tier of English football is a bruising, unpredictable arena where nothing should be taken for granted.
The league is full of prestigious clubs and there is no hierarchy in place as teams battle through a campaign of playing twice a week – anyone is capable of generating a promotion push.
Stoke should be well aware that they can take nothing for granted at this level. The last time the club dropped out of the top-flight it took them over two decades of scrapping in the football wilderness until they returned.
Rowett is right to be frustrated at his team’s pre-season performances.
Yes, results may not particularly matter but performances certainly do. The 44-year-old will have been looking for positive indicators from individuals and the collective group over the summer as he prepares for the club’s opening game against Leeds United – he will not have seen many.
The overriding concern will be that Stoke will carry their poor pre-season form into the start of the campaign.
Under Mark Hughes’ reign at the club, the Potters were renowned for making a poor start to the new season after a summer of disappointing pre-season performances.
Stoke can ill afford to start the campaign slowly and the team must hit the ground running when the Championship kicks off in less than a week if they harbour genuine ambitions to challenge for promotion.
Rowett is right – there certainly is still plenty of work to do and he will be hoping that his players will produce a much improved standard of performance when the competitive fixtures kick in.
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