STOKE CITY FACE Manchester United on Saturday in their inaugural match of the Under 21s Premier League ... and coach Dave Kevan is optimistic that the new format will give his players the springboard they need for a successful career.
After a radical overhaul by the authorities that saw the Reserve League disbanded, City will be part of a framework aimed at bridging the gap between youth and senior foobtall.
Following the Club's success in gaining Category One status for the Academy in July, they were drawn in Group 2 of the Under 21s Premier League - and will face weekly fixtures with seven other teams before hopefully advancing to a knockout stage later in the season.
"The format certainly gives the players time, and that can only be a good thing" said Kevan.
"It also gives us time to continue working with them. You hope that over the next six to 12 months the players will begin to recognise that they're now getting closer to that professional environment.
"That in itself will be a good experience for them, and hopefully some of them will grasp the opportunity."
The squad will be made up primarily of Academy prospects, but Premier League rules allow three over-23 players to be included, plus a senior goalkeeper.
Kevan admits that if some of the youngsters shine, then a loan move to a league club could beckon.
"That would be the ideal scenario," he added.
"It will depend on their performances, and what level we can get them at to give them that further experience, but we're trying to build a team that's going to be competitive in our league first.
"If we lose one or two along the way because they're doing well, though, then that's an added bonus from our point of view."
The team will play the majority of their home matches at Nantwich Town's Weaver Stadium, but two games, against Newcastle United and Sunderland, have been scheduled for the Britannia Stadium - a chance Kevan says his players will relish.
"It's lovely for them to get to play on the main ground," he said. "Again, that will be fantastic experience for the boys and one they'll cherish."
As with the first-team, pre-season has been busy for the squad with a week-long training camp in Northamptonshire in July, and most recently difficult friendlies against strong opposition in Nantwich and Newcastle Town.
Kevan insists the youngsters will reap the fruits of their labour when Manchester United visit this weekend.
"They've worked hard and performed well in the majority of their pre-season games," he added.
"We're very happy with the fitness levels, and hopefully they'll be ready come the start of the season. United will be a difficult test for us."
City's Under 18s, this year managed by John Perkins, also face the Red Devils in their curtain-raiser, and will travel to Manchester on Saturday for an 11am kick-off.
For profiles of the Under 21 players, click HERE
For a full fixture list for the Under 21s, click HERE
For profiles of the Under 18 players, click HERE
For a full fixture list for the Under 18s, click HERE