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Great expectations

Landing a top defender aside (and it may well happen before the month is out), it has been a summer Mark Hughes would have wished for.

He now has a squad as strong as seen at the club, more importantly his squad, in his mould and with two quality players for every position providing options in terms of positions and formations. The bench is going to have an unusually strong look about it this season.

The additions that have been made this summer undoubtedly strengthen the side, and in some cases weaken those sides around us (both those we are challenging and those we are aspiring towards).

Such riches bring with it pressure though. Hughes knows the footballing world is ready to stick the knife into him at the slightest stumble.

Whilst not a true barometer of what lies ahead, results in pre-season have been patchy though. The strikers have yet to fire, whilst familiar woes in defence appear to remain.

Consistency has not been a trait of ours throughout our history, but for any sort of success we need to start displaying it. Home form was impressive last season and that must be maintained. What cannot be repeated though is the shocking return from our travels during 2008/09. Hughes knows this. Looking through his signings made in January and the summer, he has added a more steely approach, capable of gutsing out wins as well as turning on the style at Eastlands.

Talk of the top four has resonated throughout this summer, despite the official line from the club tempering this. Realism suggests that the top four is still out of our reach. The squad looks strong but only Arsenal appear catchable at this stage and it will need them to have underachieve as much as we play beyond our capability.

Aston Villa, Everton and Tottenham look to be our nearest rivals then this season, and I would back our squad against any of theirs. The difficulty we may face is in gelling a set of players together - which is why Hughes was so keen to conclude transfer activity as early as possible.

A good start and who knows? A stuttering start and the pressure will build. Media focus and attention will be as high as it has been on us. This applies to both the playing and coaching staff. They will be tested in ways they have not been before.

Our squad is experienced in many ways - Premier League, European football and international levell. But what we don't have is that experience of achieving a top four finish, or in general winning a trophy.

As good a season as we may have, we do still lack the overall quality I feel to maintain a top four challenge over the course of the season.

It should be a fascinating season nonetheless.


League - 5th
FA Cup - 5th round
Carling Cup - semi-finals
Player of the season - Carlos Tevez
Top goalscorer - Robinho