For most clubs the season's prime targets have already been missed, while others are reduced to inventing new, more modest ones. At Manchester City, Champions' League dreams lasted no time at all and retaining the Premier League title proved equally over-ambitious. But they should be in the top two for only the ninth time in their history and they can still claim the FA Cup.
"If we can win the Cup then probably the season would be on level par," says Gareth Barry, which is a reflection of the club's new status. So much is expected of them now that such a double feat might just keep the manager in a job.
It all adds up to the sort of pressure that Barry expected – indeed craved – when he moved to Manchester as one of the first of a new wave of major signings four summers ago. The first trophy took two years but was regarded as critical in boosting confidence for the second, achieved in such dramatic fashion on the final day of last season. Failure to improve further means that, whatever happens against Wigan Athletic at Wembley in three weeks' time, there will be a sense of failure about the campaign's two greater priorities.
"The feeling in the dressing room at Old Trafford last week was that we were delighted to have won there again, but the performance showed that the gap in points [behind Manchester United] wasn't realistic," Barry said. "The frustration was certainly there about what could have been. You have to hold your hands up to the relentless way United have been this season, the way they've clocked up the points and shown their experience.
"I think the Champions' League is probably the most disappointing thing, failing to get out of the group. If you look at the strength of that group, especially with the two teams coming out of it and getting to the semi-finals [Dortmund and Real Madrid], it shows how strong it was, but this club has players who are good enough for challenging to the quarter- and semi-finals and getting to the final. We don't want that feeling at the end of next season, so there's lessons to be learnt." Barry's form during the campaign has left him "pretty happy", and for the longer term he is "pretty relaxed" about a contract that has only one more year to run from June. "I am happy here and very settled. I spent 12 years at one club [Aston Villa] and I've spent four years at City and I'm not really one for moving around. I'd like to stay as long as possible."
Settled he may be, as a first choice for one of the two defensive midfield berths for his club, but his country have stopped calling, just as they did for four long years under Sven Goran Eriksson. Barry was actually wearing the captain's armband when he last appeared, limping off in a friendly against Norway last May with an injury that would discount him from contention for Euro 2012. Since then, Roy Hodgson recalled Michael Carrick and Scott Parker and decided that with Steven Gerrard to fit in as well, he must leave some room for the younger generation, as represented by Jack Wilshere and Tom Cleverley.
"Gareth's not been with us for a while but he's still doing well for Man City," was Hodgson's last recorded opinion of Barry, while the player insists: "I've certainly not given up on England. I've been disappointed not to make the squads in the previous games. Next [World Cup] year will be a big year for a lot of players, so touch wood I can stay fit and play regularly to force my way back in."
Today's game at Tottenham would be a good one in which to catch the eye, whether or not Barry finds himself up against the player he voted for in the recent PFA ballot, Gareth Bale. "Playing a Spurs team without Gareth Bale does enhance your chances of winning because he is such a great player. It's a huge game for Spurs because they are going for that third or fourth position. They have got six cup finals to get as many points as possible. We know going there is going to be a real test."
As for the one genuine Cup final, a lucky 1-0 win over Wigan in midweek has convinced him not to be complacent. "If we don't take the FA Cup home it will be a slightly disappointing season. The players won't be happy with that and that's why the game against Wigan is massive.
"It's something I said to some of the lads after the game on Wednesday night, that it was a pretty big wake-up call for the club, the fans and the players and showed what a tough game the final will be."Reuse content