The 2020/21 Sky Bet Championship season gets underway this weekend and captain Wayne Rooney knows the importance of getting off to a good start when Derby County face Reading at Pride Park Stadium on Saturday afternoon (3pm kick-off).
It will be only 53 days since the 2019/20 campaign concluded, with the Rams winning 3-1 at Birmingham City, when the new campaign gets started.
Since then, the Rams' players enjoyed a two-and-a-half week break before getting back to work on the training pitches to prepare for the upcoming season.
There has been plenty of hard work taking place at the club’s Moor Farm Training Ground as the players have been put through their paces by Phillip Cocu and his backroom staff.
But with a month of training under their belts, as well as match sharpness built up in pre-season, the Rams are raring to go for the new campaign.
Whilst the summer break has been shorter than usual this time around, owing to the COVID-19 outbreak, Rooney says Derby only have eyes on a victory heading into the opening day of the season.
“We didn’t have too long off,” he told The Derby County Show. “We had a short break, came back and training has been good and it’s been intense. We’re ready to start the season.
“We know it’s going to be important to get off to a good start, so we will be ready for the first game.
“I think the first day is important. It can shape up how your first few games go, so it’s nice that it’s at home.
“There are still no fans at games so that advantage isn’t as big as it normally is, but nevertheless, it’s nice that the first game is at home and it gives us a chance to get off to a good start.”
Rooney is approaching his first full season in the Sky Bet Championship after joining Derby from American outfit DC United in January.
The 34-year-old made a telling impact at the back end of last season, contributing six goals in 24 appearances as Cocu's side produced an impressive turnaround in form as Derby challenged for the play-off positions.
So what has Rooney made of the division since his arrival?
“It’s a good league,” he said. “It’s a tough one too.
“Everyone knows it’s a tough league and there are some very good teams in the league all with the same ambition of trying to get out of it and trying to get promoted.
“I don’t think that changes for any teams, especially not ourselves. We know it’s going to be a tough season ahead and we need to be ready and right for then.”
Rooney is more than accustomed to the rigors of pre-season training and is embarking on his 19th campaign as a professional footballer.
He’s been put through his paces from the fitness teams at Manchester United, Everton and DC United, and this season, he’s working with the Rams’ fitness staff to get set for another campaign.
“I think with different fitness coaches and different clubs, the pre-season can be a little bit different to what you normally do,” he commented.
“It’s been a bit different to what I’m used to - the break is shorter than what we've been used to - so I think the preparation has been good in terms of the running that we’re doing and getting ourselves right and ready to play.
“The sessions have been hard and intense and it’s what you expect from pre-season.
"As players, the hard work is going to be in pre-season in terms of getting your fitness ready and up to speed then once the games come, you get your fitness through the games then you tick over in between. Once they start, that is the most important thing.”