Manchester City's remarkable assault on the Barclays Premier Leaguetitle will be bolstered by at least three signings in the Januarytransfer window as manager Mark Hughes looks to build on his team'simpressive start to the season.
Hughes has taken his expensively assembled City team to the topfour of the Barclays Premier League on the back of someattention-grabbing football that has announced their arrival as agenuine top-flight force.
It is understood that Hughes, who spent more than £120million thissummer, has been given the go-ahead by the club's owners to take thenext step in the New Year after he made it clear that his squad stillneed a right back, a left back and another creative midfielder.
With Hughes' team likely to be in or around the Champions Leagueplaces in January, chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak has indicated to themanager that he will be given whatever it takes to ensure qualificationfor next season's competition.
The lure of Champions League football will also make it easier toattract star names to Eastlands, something that handicapped the clubwhen they tried to sign John Terry from Chelsea and Kaka from AC Milanlast January.
This tangible shift in status spells bad news for the rest of the Premier League and also for the current City full backs - Micah Richards, Pablo Zabaleta and Wayne Bridge.
As Sportsmail revealed last season, Hughes has harboured doubts about former England defender Richards since becoming boss and he has now lost patience with the 21-year-old's average training efforts and failure to understand the tactical and positional side of the defending art.
Argentina defender Zabaleta has played at right back since Richards struggled so much in the Manchester derby defeat but he remains very much a stand-in and Hughes will do what he can to solve the problem when the transfer window opens after Christmas.
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Bridge has time on his side to prove that he should command the left back position regularly after Hughes bought him for £14m from Chelsea 10 months ago.
Nevertheless, the England squad player has not been as influential as Hughes had hoped, and his failure to impress in the game at Old Trafford has been noted. The onus is on him to have a good couple of months as the richest club in the country prepare to flex their muscles again. Having won five and drawn one of their seven League games so far, City have more than lived up to their pre-season billing.
However, Hughes and his coaching staff remain concerned at some of their team's defending.
This was particularly the case in the 4-3 defeat by Manchester United, their previous win over Arsenal and during Monday's 1-1 draw at Aston Villa.
Vulnerability at set-pieces, for example, was something that troubled City last season and the problem has returned. Bridge has been particularly culpable, although it must be said that midfielder Gareth Barry has begun to suffer from the malaise, too.
Hughes is known to be an admirer of Barcelona pair Carlos Puyol and Eric Abidal. The duo are 31 and 30-years-old respectively, something that would place
immediate question marks over their ability to settle quickly to the pace and fury of the Premier League, but with the Catalan club so keen to sign Robinho in January the potential for a playerplus- cash deal is obvious.
City are not looking to push Robinho out of the door but the Brazilian may struggle to win a regular place when he recovers from a stress fracture of a leg in a couple of weeks. He is not likely to tolerate too much time on the fringes, especially in a World Cup year. Certainly, City would listen to offers.
In midfield, Hughes has been on the look-out for another playmaker. A huge fan of Xabi Alonso, who eventually left Liverpool for Real Madrid, the City boss would like a player in a similar mould.
Such players will not come cheap and prices automatically go up a notch when City are doing the bidding. But, having found £120m-plus for Hughes to spend in the summer, there is no sign yet of the club's Arab owners tightening their belts.
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