Pep Guardiola and Manchester City must get a move on this summer
You could be forgiven for thinking Manchester City's preseason programme is beginning to look a little sparse -- they seem so far to have travelled to more countries than games they've played.
Although the nature of the close season has changed radically in recent years -- lifting merchandising and sponsor-related duties are at unprecedented levels of importance -- the new man at the helm will be thinking about one thing: how to get his squad ready for the big kickoff on Aug. 13.
In this respect, it is doubtful that boss Pep Guardiola is 100 percent content, given his renowned levels of rigour and exactitude. City have so far played only two games, one with half the squad absent for a 1-0 defeat against Bayern Munich and one with a slightly bolstered XI against Borussia Dortmund in Shenzhen, China, where Guardiola's men won on penalties. The fact the weather got the better of the high profile friendly in Beijing with Manchester United has left City with a gap of almost two weeks to fill until the next game, against Arsenal in Gothenburg, Sweden, on Aug. 7.
A hastily arranged behind-closed-doors match with St Johnstone on Wednesday appears to show the desperation for simple match practice. As any footballer will tell you, getting fit and getting match fit are two entirely different things. The match against the Scottish side, led by ex-City goalkeeper Tommy Wright, is a throwback to the days when the top clubs in England often broke their first sweat of the summer against sides from Scotland and Ireland. At this stage, however, it is more a question of who's available than returning to roots.
If City are behind schedule, they are also struggling manfully to get what the manager wants from the transfer market. Schalke flier Leroy Sane -- widely reported to be in Manchester on Monday to take a long-awaited medical -- is one of a clutch of young stars who have been linked to the club for weeks. With haggling over John Stones also delaying that transfer from Everton, this has been another reason for City to feel slightly exasperated with how their summer has gone up to now.
A new coach of this profile will have some big names on his shopping list, and City have so far netted only Ilkay Gundogan, who is injured for the start to the season, and Nolito, both excellent acquisitions but neither of whom will have rocked the football world's foundations. Sane, Gabriel Jesus and the long-awaited Colombian wonderkid Marlos Moreno will make similarly medium-sized waves among City's competitors for the coming season's prizes.
With the stiffest challenges likely to come from Manchester United and Chelsea, Guardiola will have noted with interest the names of the players those two clubs are chasing. The likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku are statement purchases for the top clubs. While City have definitely pulled off the managerial coup of the close season, the additions to the playing staff are more a nod to the future.
It could be that Guardiola has decided the squad is good enough not to need a major addition. This brings us to another difficulty endured by the club this summer. With Euro 2016 and the Copa America, many of City's stars have only found their way back to their teammates in the past week. Guardiola must now take stock of the likes of Joe Hart, Raheem Sterling, Eliaquim Mangala, Sergio Aguero, Pablo Zabaleta and Nicolas Otamendi to see where he needs to act.
In a slowly diminishing circle, he needs matches to be able to judge where he stands with the current staff. He cannot be expected to make telling judgements on Aleksandar Kolarov, Yaya Toure and Wilfried Bony without actually seeing them play.
City's summer-long pursuit of quality central defensive backup tells its own story. First Aymeric Laporte, then Leonardo Bonucci and now Stones have come under the Spaniard's radar. While central defenders are less attractive than the attacking talent others may be stocking up on, it is exactly the area where Guardiola may make his star signing.
Unwilling to be pushed towards a record fee for a defender in purchasing Stones from Everton, City know they will have to dig very deep if they want to secure their first choice targets. Laporte decided to stay in Spain, while Juventus have attempted as best they can to bolt the door on Bonucci, so Stones it would appear to be.
With the addition of a top-quality, ball-playing centre-half, things begin to change; City's close season would begin to look more productive than it does right now. Sane, Jesus, Moreno and Stones could be the last pieces in the jigsaw for Guardiola's first assault on English and continental honours.
Time is short, however, and much is still to be done.
Simon is one of ESPN FC's Manchester City bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @bifana_bifana.