With the new season less than a month away, Adelaide United coach Carl Veart says the club is seeking a return to the A-League top six.
Whyalla-born Veart has been promoted to the top job on a permanent basis, after leading the club through the final five matches of the COVID-hit 2019-20 season following the departure of Gertjan Verbeek.
The new boss has been putting the squad through its paces ahead of the season opener away to Western United on December 28.
After an inconsistent campaign resulted in a seventh-placed finish last term, Veart is setting his sights on finals action.
"Finals are always the minimum for Adelaide United," he said.
"As a club we pride ourselves on the fact we fight above our weight and there is always an expectation from the fans and players to fight for the finals."
The Reds' pre-season was also hit by a COVID-enforced rest last month when South Australia went into lockdown.
Veart's team played only three friendlies against South Australian opposition, although has matches lined up with A-League clubs this week as part of a camp in Sydney. After defeating Western Sydney on Monday, the Reds will also face Macarthur FC.
Veart said that would give a true indication of where his team is at.
"Preparations for the season are going as well as they can at this stage, with COVID," he said.
"We have only played three games in nine-and-a-half weeks and that is not ideal, but I am happy with how the team has progressed.
"We've had a few disruptions, but we have adjusted and got along with our job."
After time spent in charge of the Adelaide United Youth team and with Football South Australia's National Training Centre, Veart said he had "enjoyed" his first pre-season as a coach at the top level.
"I am happy with the way the players have adapted to my style and we are slowly getting closer to our first game, which is only three weeks away," he said.
"I'm starting to see the intensity go up, the players also recognise it is only three weeks away, and that there are starting positions available."
There is a different look about the Adelaide United side heading into the new season.
Gone are regular contributors from last season including goalkeeper Paul Izzo, midfielder Riley McGree and attacking players Nikola Mileusnic, Kristian Opseth and George Blackwood.
There is a mix of youth and experience in the new faces. James Delianov comes in to replace Izzo, Tomi Juric and George Timotheou return to Australia from spells in Europe, while Domenic Costanzo starred for Croydon in the 2020 National Premier League South Australia season.
The most intriguing of all is the signing of Javi Lopez. The Spaniard enjoyed a long career in La Liga, most recently with Espanyol.
The 34-year-old made more than 200 league appearances in 11 seasons, before leaving the club after its relegation in July and making the move to Adelaide.
"I'm very happy with the balance in the squad," Veart said.
"We have youngsters who will get game time, but also brought in quality and experience to help the team along.
"Lopez had a long and successful career in Spain at the highest level. He was a captain as well, so he will bring a lot of leadership and quality to the group."
Veart's five-game spell at the end of last season yielded two wins and three draws and he said it was a "good introduction" for both he and the players ahead of the new campaign.
Veart knows what it takes to get to the top of the mountain.
As a player, he was part of two National Soccer League successes with Adelaide City in 1991-92 and 1993-94.
He enjoyed a successful career in Australia, both with the Zebras and later Adelaide United, either side of a stint in England.
The 50-year-old said he would take what he learnt as a player under the likes of Zoran Matic into his coaching career.
"As a coach you take bits and pieces from all the different coaches you played under," he said.
"Zoran had a huge influence on me as a player and his coaching is embedded into what I do."
The opener against Western United will be followed by two out of the next three matches also away from home, before a big clash with old rivals Melbourne Victory.
Veart said the pre-season period had given the squad more time to understand his coaching philosophy and despite the interrupted start is targeting a good opening to 2020-21.
"This pre-season has given the players more time to understand my philosophy, which is to have a sound defensive structure and play what I believe will be a quick, attacking brand of football," he said.
"There is a good chance of going into the start of the season a bit underdone because of a lack of opportunities to play matches - that is where you work on your craft as players, and as a team.
"However, we are looking to get off to a successful start, hopefully get wins on the board which will breed confidence to progress through the season."