Man City's friendly vs. Man United in China a unique challenge for Guardiola
Fresh off their inaugural defeat to Bayern Munich, Manchester City have already moved the bandwagon on to China for their next match, when they face arch rivals Manchester United in the International Champions Cup in Beijing's famous National Stadium -- also known as the Bird's Nest -- on Monday.
This will be the very first Manchester derby played outside England. The furthest the fixture has moved in the past is Bramall Lane, Sheffield and the new Wembley Stadium for the semifinal of the FA Cup in 2011. Playing in what will likely be a very wet Beijing, due to heavy rains earlier in the week, will at least remind them all of home.
There will be little time for cultural experiences, as both sides begin to step up their preseason fitness levels and prepare for their respective opening fixtures on the weekend of Aug. 13. Unlike pioneers West Bromwich Albion, who were the first British side to tour Asia way back in 1978 and found the cultural mix tough to cope with -- midfielder John Trewick even absentmindedly responded to a question as to whether he had enjoyed viewing the Great Wall of China with the timeless comment "When you've seen one wall, you've seen them all" -- the two Manchester clubs are here for football business only.
The only walls the players will see on this trip are defensive ones, as manager Pep Guardiola steps up the training drills for a swift and successful start to the 2016-17 season. Already many of the players have offered positive soundbites to the early training sessions led by the Spaniard. Gael Clichy's insistence that the training feels "fresh and he (Guardiola) has new ideas" is heartening to hear from a player who already has experience playing under Arsene Wenger, Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini.
Despite it being the first opportunity to see Guardiola's City in action, the initial match in Bavaria on Wednesday offered few tips few tips as to how they'll play, other than rubber-stamping the coach's well known penchant for developing young talent.
City followers will have been heartened by the team's performance in the second half against Bayern Munich, where a largely experimental side fared much better than in a low-key and somewhat lopsided first period. These are still very early days, however, and the danger of jumping to conclusions before the paint has dried must be avoided.
It will inevitably take Guardiola more than a string of preseason friendlies to get his feet properly under the table at the Etihad, but, at last, a start has been made after months of waiting. With a side filled with young talent, City showed a refreshing willingness to press high for the ball and take the game to their illustrious but equally understaffed hosts.
Although a defeat in these games is neither here nor there, the next match presents the Spaniard with a totally different proposition. Losing to Manchester United in any sort of game does not usually go down particularly well. Whether it has anything to do with Premier League points or advancement in a cup competition, or even a far-flung preseason friendly, it does not matter: A side containing more familiar faces will be expected to give their all against the red foe.
If City have had the upper hand in recent seasons as the balance of power has tipped their way in Manchester, last season saw United come back into things, winning at the Etihad and taking a point at Old Trafford. City are now looking for their first win in four games against United after racking up three consecutive wins previous to that. With the reins at Old Trafford now in the hands of Jose Mourinho, there is a feeling that a real challenge is due from the red half of Manchester this term.
And if the rumoured push for Paul Pogba's signature becomes concrete, many pundits will begin to look at United as title favourites. After all, their new manager needs no settling in period in the Premier League.
Guardiola, meanwhile, will view the challenge with an eager eye, too. With impending news of City's bids for Leroy Sane of Schalke, Gabriel Jesus of Palmeiras and John Stones of Everton expected at any moment, the Spaniard's team-building is gathering pace. Although few of those on the pitch in the Allianz Arena on Wednesday are likely to be in the starting lineup on Aug. 13 against Sunderland, a clear message has also been sent out to the younger players at City: play well, and you can play a significant role.
There may be fewer fresh faces on show on Monday as two proud clubs try to find the precarious balance between pleasing their hosts with star names and working on preseason shape and form. Whatever the outcome, it will be another significant step in the new managers' nest-building as the season approaches.
Simon is one of ESPN FC's Manchester City bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @bifana_bifana.