What Can We Really Expect From Manchester City?
This has been a summer of shock as much as speculation.
And Man City has provided us with its share of both. The shock of stealing Gareth Barry from the hands of Liverpool, Carlos Tevez from United, and snapping up Adebayor and Toure from Arsenal is as much of a statement to the footballing world as it was to the transfer business.
Indeed, on BleacherReport itself, there have been a lot of articles published in shock at Manchester City's success in becoming a top Premiership club...And even more arguments.
But what do we actually know about this squad? There have been as many people tipping them for success as there have predicting their failure.
Jose Mourinho has been one of the most vocal supporters of City in the media, even going so far as picking them as his title favourites. A grumpy Alex Ferguson however, maintains that they are a small club with only a small club mentality and will struggle to establish themselves with the Premiership elite.
Whichever opinion you most agree with, it's important for any fan in the EPL to actually sit down and think about this: With City's curtain-opener only eleven days away, what can we expect from the current squad?
City has plenty of depth in this area. And with another star centre back on his way, probably in the form of Joleon Lescott, they will have gathered one of the best defenses in the Premiership (at least on paper).
Full Back Options: Wayne Bridge, Javier Garrido, Micah Richards, Chinedum Onuoha, Pablo Zabaleta, Tal Ben-Haim.
Centre Back Options: Kolo Touré, Richard Dunne, Micah Richards, Tal Ben-Haim, Chinedum Onuoha, Vincent Kompany.
At present, City's first choice back four will probably be Richards, Toure, Dunne, and Bridge, in those respective positions.
There is a definite aerial ability and physical presence, chiefly in the form of Richards and Dunne, which is complemented with the pace of Touré, Bridge and Richards again.
Currently, the major concern will probably be the pairing of error-prone centre backs Touré and Dunne, which is why Hughes is so determined for the signature of a third-star centre back.
This is a massive improvement on City's defense last season.
However, if compared to other top four centre back partnerships, it starts to look weak. Even a star third CB would find it hard to elevate the defense against the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, and possibly even Liverpool.
Arsenal now seems the most lacking. However, I cannot see Wenger selling Toure to Manchester City, which would only put his own club in jeopardy. But, it is still up to him to prove it.
In conclusion, although they are not on the same level as United or Chelsea yet, it seems that when it comes to having a defense worthy of the top four, City are there or thereabouts.
The midfield is an area which probably lacks the most depth, but in City's huge squad, that's really not saying much.
Side Midfield/Wing Options: Shaun Wright-Phillips, Martin Petrov, Robinho, Kelvin Etuhu.
Central Midfield Options: Gareth Barry, Stephen Ireland, Nigel de Jong, Vincent Kompany, Michael Johnson, Vladimír Weiss.
It is clear to see what tactic Hughes is going to try and employ here.
He has gone for a combination of muscle and magic in the centre, with tough tackler's like De Jong and Kompany paired up with play makers like Barry, Ireland and to a lesser extent, Johnson.
Meanwhile, on the wings is pace, with Petrov and Wright-Philips already settled here. However, the quality of their crossings is something that has always been subject to opinion and can be improved.
The question also remains whether SWP can realise the rampant goal-scoring ability he lost after his first tenure at City. If I were to choose the weakest link in City's new look squad, it would probably the quality of the side midfielders.
Let's compare the City stars to the rest of the top four now.
Chelsea and Manchester United once again lead the way in terms of physical and creative midfields, and they can also boast depth.
Arsenal may lack bite, but they make up for it in terms of creation and pace, especially with the likes of Fabregas, Rosicky, Arshavin and Walcott.
Lastly, Liverpool may have lost Alonso, an integral team member, but they still have Mascherano, the best defensive midfielder in the premiership and Gerrard, the best all-round midfielder in the world (probably).
In terms of midfield, a fair assessment would be that once again City has improved, but most lacking here.
Mark Hughes has probably received the most amount of criticism on the amount of time and money he spent on the acquisition of new strikers in the first half of the transfer window. However, it appears he is happy with what he has, giving us a definitive list of strikers at City's disposal.
Centre Forward/Support Striker Options: Robinho, Carlos Tévez, Roque Santa Cruz, Benjani, Craig Bellamy.
Mark Hughes has clearly invested in a mix of strikers. The variety will give him a great advantage tactically. He can change his tactics at will in the final third, and this will be invaluable when it comes to breaking open opposing defenses.
In his squad, we have the technical ability and flair of Robinho, the pace of Bellamy, the stamina of Tevez, and the aerial ability and physical challenge of Adebayor, Santa Cruz, and Benjani.
In terms of options, this puts Hughes far above any of his top four counterparts.
Manchester United is still reeling from the loss of top goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo, Arsenal is still too one-dimensional in the attack, and Liverpool remains reliant on Torres and Gerrard.
Chelsea is probably the only team in a better position with Anelka and Drogba up front, closely supported by its midfield players.
So when it comes to the attack, City fans can rejoice because it has an attack worthy of a top four finish.
A lot of what has been said relies on the management, and it would be stupid not to mention it.
Mark Hughes had been sniffing around after Ronaldinho, Kaka, Messi and Eto'o but ultimately failed. Whether this was his own decision or forced upon him by the club's billionaire owner is unclear.
The point is, when Hughes changed to a more sensible transfer policy, he realised that City did not have an established continental reputation on the same level as AC Milan or Barca. Therefore, he has gone about collecting some of the most talented players from the Premiership and building that reputation himself.
Perhaps the most important result of this policy is the most obvious, yet the most overlooked. Hughes has amassed a squad completely comfortable playing in the Premiership. They will have no qualms with the physical nature, nor the pace of the EPL. There is no time required for "adjusting" and a significantly reduced risk that these players will flop in this regard.
What Hughes does have to concentrate on, however, is making the team gel. City's season chiefly depends on this seemly innocuous, but oh-so-difficult task.
A great lesson of breaking into the top four can be taken from Martin O'Neill last season at Aston Villa, who almost pipped Arsenal to fourth. However, the challenge of European football ultimately took its toll on his relatively small squad, and he had to watch his side collapse to sixth.
Mark Hughes however, does not face this problem. If there has been one thing we have learned from scrutinising City, it is that there is definitely a good depth to this team, allowing it to contest all season long.
A big question does lie with Mark Hughes himself. Out of everyone on his team, it is he who is most unproven in the very top echelons of the game. Will he be able to cope with it? This is a question, as of yet, without an answer. Instead it will be revealed over the course of the next season.
Manchester City has clearly improved on last season's squad, and on the whole, Mark Hughes' purchases and policies do seem to make sense.
We have seen that City is well stocked in every position and can play in a variety of ways. It has brought a great deal of talented players to Eastlands, and is there or thereabout when it comes to claiming a coveted Champions League place. At least, on paper anyway.
The critical issue now is whether Mark Hughes can gel the team into a team of individuals that can translate their skills into reality, as well as handle the pressure, the mind games, and the winning ways that are necessary to being a top four manager.
This is something that he will have to prove himself.
However, to look on the distance still left to go, City clearly has an advantage and is lacking in some areas to Liverpool and Arsenal. There is a considerable gap, at least on paper, when compared to Manchester United and Chelsea.
So to summarise, City is a team that now has the ability to finish within the top four, but it is up to City to actually achieve that. However, will the team go on like Mourinho says and win the title? Maybe you'll have to wait a couple of seasons more, City fans.