Man City start to get serious
While the world wonders at 109,000 people turning up for a friendly match between Manchester United and Real Madrid on Saturday, Manchester City's players are making their way quietly back to the European side of the big pond in preparation for the start of the domestic season. In a few months' time it may well come to pass that the attention devoted to Louis van Gaal's grand entrance at rivals United will be seen as the ideal cloak that allowed City to go about their business quietly and successfully.
It is certainly, you get the distinct impression, the way Manuel Pellegrini would prefer to operate.
City's tour of the U.S. culminated in two lively draws (with Liverpool and Olympiakos) and two lost penalty shootouts. This in itself was not so much of a problem. People will get worked up about preseason as if the results actually matter in the greater scheme of things, but just as people used to say about the latter stages of the FA Cup, nobody remembers the name of the beaten semifinalists. Taken to its logical conclusion, this means that most of us will struggle to remember the opponents in these games let alone the scores in a couple of years' time.
What preseason does for us all, of course, is whet the appetite. What it does for the club is bring the message to a wider audience. Most importantly, what it does for Pellegrini and his hard-working staff is focus attention on how the team will look and how it will shape up in the opening bouts of sparring when the curtain goes up on 2014-15.
Having started with teams full of youth players and distant reserves, City finished against Olympiakos with many more of the players expected to occupy the positions on the pitch come the big kickoff against Newcastle United in less than two weeks' time. The return of the likes of Yaya Toure, David Silva and Joe Hart means City are approaching full strength, and Pellegrini can begin to make his considered final decisions on who is ready to start and who is not.
We all have a pretty clear idea of what City's strongest side is, but there may still be room for one or two surprise inclusions before the glorified friendly with Arsenal next weekend. Given the title of the Community Shield, this is where it becomes semi-serious. Although there might still be a little room left for daft penalties and strange haircuts, we are approaching the border lands between gentle practice and the real thing. This is where Scott Sinclair is thanked for his efforts and put gently back into the cotton wool bed he appeared from and where Micah Richards' whirring left leg is finally wound down and asked to once again perform simple standing duties.
In addition, we will also finally find out for sure whether Eliaquim Mangala was just an impressive image projected on to a Portuguese cliff face or does in fact exist as a viable centre-back partner for Vincent Kompany.
City's preseason has been successfully completed. No major injury worries, no fallouts, plenty of exposure and plenty of good football. The pleasure of seeing a rejuvenated Edin Dzeko and a fully firing Stevan Jovetic has only been slightly tempered by the hiatus over Mangala's arrival and the sudden circus around Frank Lampard's apparently imminent addition to an already well-endowed squad.
Things are about to get serious with a London test against Arsenal. Pellegrini's lineup for Wembley will tell us more about what to expect from the early days of the approaching season (who starts alongside Kompany? Fernando or Fernandinho alongside Yaya? Jovetic in up front?) and given last year's sloppy start, we can expect to see a Manchester City side set up to concentrate hard and deliver the goods right from the off.