Nigel Clough expects some of the world's biggest clubs to rekindle their interest in Derby midfielder Will Hughes.

Hughes, who turned 18 in April, certainly caught the eye last season as he broke into the Rams' first team.

Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and even Barcelona sent scouts to Pride Park to watch the teenager.

Clough, while not wanting to burden such young shoulders with expectation, sees Hughes as having a key part to play in Derby's development as he looks to maintain the progress being made at the club by mounting a play-off challenge this season.

And the Rams boss is backing the playmaker to reproduce the form that saw him spring to prominence and earn a call-up to the England Under-21 squad.

"I expect Will to pick up where he left off last season, and if he does that then there will inevitably be more interest in him from the top, top clubs," said Clough ahead of his side's opening game of the Sky Bet Championship campaign at home to Blackburn on Sunday.

"And in a way, we hope there is that interest because it would mean he is playing well for us.

"We are excited about seeing quite a few of the players this season but him more than anybody, really, after what he did for 30-odd games last season before his injury.

"He looks in good shape now and he has looked good in pre-season. He has got his A-Levels out of the way now, which is good news because now he can just concentrate on his football, and he looks strong.

"There is not many 17-year-old's playing in the Championship. What he is doing is absolutely remarkable, but he is getting on a bit now at 18.

"The England Under-21s should hopefully come around for him again this season if he plays well enough. But he is bright enough to know that if he keeps on doing it week in, week out for Derby then it will all follow on from there.

"We just expect him to carry on that form from last season and to improve as well.

"I think this season will be easier for him in some ways because he knows what it is about, but it will also be a bit more difficult because the other clubs know what he is about as well. But knowing what he is about and stopping him is two different things."

Derby have yet to receive a formal bid for Hughes but Clough believes the teenager will benefit from at least another season at Pride Park.

"We think he is better off staying here and playing regular first-team football rather than joining a big club and possibly getting lost in their reserves or Under-21s," he added.

"He is as intelligent and level-headed as you will get for that age and he shares that view too at the moment, which is good.

"I presume at some point a team will come a long and take a good look at him and make an offer but as things stand that has not happened yet so we are delighted to hang on to him while we can and if he can help us to achieve that top-six finish we are aiming for this season then that is the aim, to keep him around to do that.

"But we won't want to put pressure on him to say that he has to be the one to make that happen because the other midfielders, the other players in the team, have to take their share."

Derby's fixture against Blackburn was one of six specially selected by the Football League to mark its 125th anniversary.

The Rams and Rovers were among the 12 founder members of the competition, the idea for which started to take shape on March 2, 1888.