NIGEL Clough often said Derby County's midfield was the envy of most Championship clubs.
That was certainly the case last season.
Whichever three of John Eustace, George Thorne, Craig Bryson, Will Hughes and Jeff Hendrick was selected, the balance was right and the performance usually followed.
Eustace or Thorne played the role of anchorman and allowed Bryson, Hughes and Hendrick to play their natural games.
Bryson's boundless energy takes him to all areas of the pitch. His running from midfield makes him an elusive character for would-be markers and his 16 goals was an eye-catching return.
Hughes' composure on the ball, his vision and awareness in a more advanced midfield role gives opponents problems, while Hendrick is at his best when allowed to make those powerful surges.
Hendrick, like Bryson, is capable of scoring in double figures each season.
And Hughes is capable of scoring more.
To add to the competition, Paul Coutts is hoping to make an impact after missing the majority of last season due to injury.
It is a department full of good players.
Eustace has signed for another year – and deservedly so – and the arrival of Thorne from West Bromwich Albion in a permanent move gives Derby a collection of midfielders as good as any club in this division ahead of the new campaign.
Head coach Steve McClaren and chief executive Sam Rush believe the signing of Thorne is a big statement, one which highlights the ambition of the club.
"I think it says a lot about where we are at as a club that we have been able to bring someone like George in permanently," said McClaren.
"There was a great desire to sign George, right from when we met the club's owners in Chicago at the end of last season. They wanted to do it."
Rush added: "I think the signing demonstrates that Derby County are a very competitive football club and I would like to particularly thank our ownership group, who provided substantial support to the club to enable the deal to be concluded."
McClaren smiled when it was suggested he had given himself a real headache by going back to West Brom for Thorne.
Picking three from five for a midfield trio this season will be a tough call.
More so if McClaren sticks with a 4-3-3 system that served him and the team so well last season.
There has been no sign in pre-season of him veering from the system – and why should he?
Derby started with Hendrick, Thorne and Bryson against Zenit St Petersburg on Tuesday.
Eustace replaced the injured Thorne after 34 minutes and Hughes came on for Bryson after 71 minutes.
It might be that Derby need another formation or two up their sleeve in order to keep teams guessing. After all, the Rams are among the favourites for promotion this season and therefore one of the teams to stop.
They produced many impressive performances in finishing third and one of the best displays came in the league victory at Brighton in August.
Derby used a diamond shape in midfield on that afternoon behind two strikers, Chris Martin and Johnny Russell, although this can leave full-backs vulnerable.
Whatever the system, whoever the personnel within the system, what is clear is that in a 46-match Championship, all the squad will be needed at one time or another.