On the face of it City appear in decent shape as they head off for their week-long training camp in Burgenland.
I say on the face of it because to make judgements based on two friendlies and a few pressers is pointless but equally for those for whom the glass is half empty there is currently not a great deal for them to get their teeth into.
From an aesthetic angle things are certainly on the up: two kits that have been met with virtually universal approval and a long awaited big screen that’s pointed directly at my River End seat. What’s not to like.
So let’s pretend for a moment that the big KO is today and that Robbie Brady has put pen to paper at Leicester.
Certainly across the back four we’d look in very decent fettle, at least by Championship standards (which is all that matters right now).
A combo of Martin Olsson at left-back, Ivo Pinto at right-back and Timm Klose at centre-back alongside anyone with a modicum of knowledge of playing that position looks pretty solid to me.
And with Russell Martin, Steven Whittaker, Michael Turner et al champing at the bit to get a look in there are options available to the manager; all of whom are proficient Championship performers.
In midfield Alex Neil has to date effectively swapped one youngster with loads of potential for another, except the new one is also known as a ‘worker’.
Whether Sergi Canós has the pizzazz of a fully switched on, in full-flight Nathan Redmond will only be revealed in the coming months but in the playing field of the Championship I expect it to be a reasonable trade.
Then throw into that midfield mix two fired-up Murphys and the exciting potential of James Maddison alongside the midfield experience and nous that saw us through to promotion last time round, then Alex has the tools at his disposal to return to his preferred attacking, possession-based style of football.
[News of a lengthy lay-off for Matt Jarvis was undoubtedly a blow but may serve to advance the progress of one of the Murphy twins.]
So far so good: a solid looking defence with two attacking full-backs and a midfield that blends experience with youthful dynamism and pace.
But then it gets tricky.
Cameron Jerome was brilliant in our last Championship season and for all his failings in the rarefied air of the Premier League there is little doubt he will score goals in the second tier. For one of two chances per game in the Prem read four or five in the Champ. It makes a difference.
But in 2014/15 he was joined on double figures by Lewis Grabban and Gary Hooper along with a 15-goal Bradley Johnson. Between them they supplied 39 goals in support of Jerome’s 21.
Yes we still have Ricky (and I’ll tread very carefully on that subject this week 😉 ) and technically Kyle Lafferty is still on board but with the best will in the world it’s hard to envisage how Alex’s current striking options will offer the same support to Jerome that he enjoyed last time in the Championship.
And, back in the real world, that has to be (and I’m sure is) where the off-field focus lies.
It’s not unreasonable to assume that Steven Naismith, Jonny Howson and Wes will contribute; Master Maddison too if indeed he is to be part of the first-team squad and Canós’ seven goals for Brentford suggests him capable of chipping in, but it still needs a calculator of Hogwarts proportions to get us near the 88 goals we scored in 2014/15.
Whether part of the solution is Britt Assombalonga from Nottingham Forest remains to be seen – although for now that one has gone very quiet – but someone. somewhere with a knack for scoring goals needs to be sought in order to elevate the class of 2016/17 to a level that will get us in or around the top two.
Newcastle, whose spending power is clearly on a completely different level to anything the Championship has ever seen before, should stroll it and that certainly appears to be where the smart money is going with the Toon already odds-on for a top two place in 24-horse race.
But I’m not so sure. If Rafa is expecting his highly-prized and precious possessions to be given the freedom of the Championship he’s in for a rude awakening.
Fragility, be it mental or physical, has no place at Oakwell or the New York Stadium in the same way that Big Time Charlies are notoriously poorly received at the Cardiff City Stadium. And don’t even think about giving it the big ‘I am’ at the John Smith’s Stadium or the Pirelli.
It’s a battle, a grind, which more often than not is ugliness personified, and will be unlike anything Rafa and his boys have experienced before. If they are able to rise above it and make their quality shine then good luck to them; they’ll win it at a canter.
If not it could be interesting viewing.
But, as Alex always reminds us, what happens elsewhere is of little consequence. We have what it takes to the be there or thereabouts, particularly if said goalscoring issues can be addressed prior to the big KO, and will be at the very least well prepared for the challenges of mind and body that await.
Noises emanating from Carrow Road suggest that the sale of Brady is neither imminent nor a certainty but if selling him would release much needed cash for striking reinforcements then, in my view, it’s probably a sacrifice worth making.
But what do I know.
“On the Ball City…”