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By ESPN Staff

Hughes looks to January sales

Mark Hughes has challenged his Manchester City team to keep in contact with the Premier League's high-flyers until the January transfer window opens.

After a fortnight of big dreams and big talk around Eastlands, the Blues were brought crashing down to earth by Chelsea yesterday, Luiz Felipe Scolari's men recording a deserved 3-1 win despite having skipper John Terry sent off 13 minutes from time.

It was a sobering experience for the home supporters and a reminder of just how long the journey to the Premier League summit is going to be.

Not that Hughes needs telling. He already knew January would be a big month if lofty expectations are to have a hope of being realised this season.

"There has been a lot of hype surrounding the club, so perhaps some of the comments are understandable," said the former Wales coach.

"But it is early days for us. When you think about it, we have had the benefit of one day in the transfer window to address the weaknesses that were in the team.

"We will have another opportunity in January, when we will try to bring more good players to the club.

"If we are still in touch, which we expect to be, we can sustain a challenge right to the end."

Hughes' assessment is spot on, although it remains to be seen whether City can remain in touch, with the title race, Champions League spots or even the top six given the sheer number of games they must try to cram in.

The differences between City and Chelsea are fairly obvious at the moment.

While the hosts have good players, they do not have a Deco or a Frank Lampard to pull strings in midfield.

Ricardo Carvalho and Petr Cech are among the very best defenders and goalkeepers in the world, the same cannot be said of Richard Dunne and Joe Hart.

Scolari was able to bring on Didier Drogba, Hughes turned to Daniel Sturridge.

Now Sturridge may be a player of promise. But the higher reaches of the Premier League is no place for experiments, just ask Fraizer Campbell, loaned out to Tottenham as Sir Alex Ferguson moved for Dimitar Berbatov rather than take a gamble on home-grown produce.

City fans are rightly proud of their academy but they may have to get used to seeing a bit less of their work in Hughes' first-team once squad shortfalls have been addressed.

At least the home hordes, who turned up in Arab headscarfs and Brazil shirts in honour of their Abu Dhabi-based owners and new record signing, had Robinho's whirlwind start to cheer.

The £32.5million man was only 13 minutes into his debut when Carvalho sent Jo crashing. Robinho steadied himself, took aim and fired straight into the corner, to his obvious glee.

"Robinho is an exceptionally talented player," said Hughes.

"In glimpses he showed what he can do and it was pleasing he produced that kind of performance after just one light training session."

Given he did not even meet his new team-mates until Friday, Hughes must have been sorely tempted to leave Robinho on the bench.

But after due consideration, the City boss decided to throw caution to the wind. And though yesterday's result did not go the way he wanted Hughes is sure there will be long-term rewards.

"It was difficult because he had just come off a flight from Brazil," he said.

"But I felt it was important he was exposed to what the Premier League is about. He will be better for it, as will the team.

"A lot of people don't realise what an excellent work ethic he has got. He is prepared to chase things down and track back and do his stint for the team.

"And once our pattern of play is ingrained within the team we will release him in key areas more often."

Hughes must now decide whether to make changes for Thursday's UEFA Cup tie with Omonia Nicosia.

The four-hour return trip from Cyprus is followed immediately by a home encounter with Portsmouth, then the start of a Carling Cup in which City are already a round behind, before a trip to Wigan, more European combat and a crunch clash with Liverpool.

It is the kind of punishing schedule the top four grind their way through as a matter of course but City may find tough to deal with as they get used to their new lofty status.


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