BLACKBURN, August 14 – Mark Hughes can hardly wait for the Premier League season to start as Manchester City prepare for their eagerly anticipated opening game at Blackburn on Saturday.
Hughes has spent almost 100 million pounds on a galaxy of star names during the close season and the City manager knows his revamped team will be under intense scrutiny when they travel to his former club.
Of the major new signings, Kolo Toure, Gareth Barry and Carlos Tevez could all make their debuts at Ewood Park.
And while Paraguayan Roque Santa Cruz is ruled out until the end of the month with a knee problem, Emmanuel Adebayor will also be in line for a first appearance if he overcomes a groin problem sustained on international duty with Togo.
City, who are still chasing Everton defender Joleon Lescott, are the talk of the Premier League and have been hotly-tipped to launch a sustained challenge for the top four, although Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson maintains City are not yet a title threat.
Hughes knows he can do nothing about the increasing expectation at Eastlands but feels his squad will improve significantly on last season’s 10th position.
Key to that will be bettering away form that brought City just two wins on their travels in the Premier League last season. But after all the talk, Hughes is just desperate for the season to start.
"All the pre-season games and preparation have been geared towards just one thing and that is the opening contest at Ewood Park," he said.
"We are chomping at the bit to get going. There is a tangible feeling of anticipation both within in the club and amongst the fans.
"We want to put on a great show for our fans. We needed to address our away form from last season and we have the opportunity on Saturday to start on the front foot. We can make a statement.
"Last season in terms of the total number of Premier League games played by our players we had an inexperienced side. We have addressed that now."
City’s England U21 defender Nedum Onuoha has echoed those sentiments and admits he will be just as fascinated to see how Hughes’ new-look team actually get on.
He said: "We just want to get started. I’m really excited, all the squad are because there has not been a time recently where there has been so much attention on Manchester City."
Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce is hoping that captain Ryan Nelsen will overcome a knee problem to feature in the opening match.
The New Zealander picked up the injury in last Saturday’s 2-0 friendly defeat to Dundee United.
But at least Allardyce can call on Australian midfielder Vince Grella and defender Chris Samba.
New signing Nikola Kalinic is still waiting for a work permit and so South African striker Benni McCarthy looks set to start in attack.
Nelsen feels that Rovers will benefit from last season’s brush with relegation.
He said: "While it was an extremely difficult year it was also a very rewarding one.
"We have gone through a lot of adversity, have been in deep, deep trouble but we have got out of it.
"We know we can look at our team mates and know if there is ever a battle in the future you have guys who are going to fight.
"If you look at the games under Sam Allardyce and the results we had and the injuries we had, then we still produced close to European form.
"Now, if we keep certain bodies fit, and if we can keep a good strong squad then hopefully it will be a pretty exciting year."