Pep Guardiola stood between his two central defenders on a baking hot evening in Hong Kong last week, barking instructions as he directed the traffic in front of him.
His players were practising moving upfield. Guardiola was in amongst it as they built attacks, enthused by what he witnessed. The arms were waving, training was regularly stopped. The squad were probably happy for the breathers in the 35-degree heat.
There has been no great reinvention of Manchester City this summer but subtle tweaks are arriving as they strive to palm off the chasing pack again. They were becoming clearer against Yokohama F. Marinos in front of 65,000 fans yesterday.
The £62.8million capture of Rodri from Atletico Madrid appears pivotal, with the midfield three asked to rotate more often during the 3-1 win over their City Football Group sister club. Kevin De Bruyne was everywhere; David Silva almost an auxiliary striker alongside Raheem Sterling for much of the friendly.
Mikel Arteta pays particular attention to Rodri during training, telling him to leave his anchor, to go and attack spaces. It is not something he is used to and that will take some adapting. A work in progress that will be given time, with Fernandinho returning from the Copa America.
The idea behind this tweak must be to best utilise De Bruyne, who has been a man possessed for the last fortnight. He started popping up in unnatural positions here, bringing about his goal when drifting in from the right and thundering home after to Claudio Bravo’s pinpoint pass.
De Bruyne’s freer role — he was also seen alongside or behind Rodri — is probably one Guardiola wanted to cultivate last season, plagued by the Belgian’s injuries.
So in that sense there are fresh concepts at play and this starting XI — an indication of who’ll get the nod against Liverpool in the Community Shield next Sunday — are beginning to take to them. ‘It was an incredible test to prepare for Liverpool and the beginning of the season,’ Guardiola said. ‘It was perfect. Rodri was incredible the way he played. I can assure we’ve got an incredible holding midfielder for the next decade.’
Despite a treacherous tour of Asia, and without their South Americans plus Riyad Mahrez, City look ready for Wembley. They will be glad to see Manchester today, although the manager has been stirred by the intensity of training. Players have left training drenched and Guardiola describes his squad as being as determined as he’s ever seen.
Man City (4-3-3): Bravo; Walker, Stones, Laporte, Zinchenko; De Bruyne, Rodri, D Silva; B Silva, Sterling, SaneDaily Mail