There are 32 days until Manchester City’s opening game of the season against newly promoted Brighton, and Pep Guardiola’s preparations have already begun.
His first team squad, minus Confederation Cup players Claudio Bravo and new signing Bernardo Silva, have returned to the Etihad Campus to stake their claim for the Premier League opener.
City jet out to the United States next week for preseason games against Manchester United, Real Madrid and Tottenham before a final friendly with West Ham United in Iceland in August.
It will be a key time for Guardiola to assess his squad’s strengths and evaluate key issues as he aims to launch a Premier League and Champions League challenge after an underwhelming first season.
Who is the first choice striker?
The potential rivalry between Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus was an intriguing subplot that did not reach the dramatic conclusion it threatened. Aguero, the undisputed first choice since arriving at the Etihad six years ago, was usurped by Gabriel following his brilliant start after arriving from Palmeiras in January. But their battle for the striker role was put on hold after the Brazilian broke a bone in his foot ruling him out for two months. On his return, Guardiola opted to play both forwards in season-ending games against lower table sides.
But both probably won’t start when City face the likes of Everton, Liverpool and Chelsea and potentially important European clashes in the opening months of the season. Guardiola will need to decide whether to go with the explosive and unpredictable rawness of Gabriel or experience and proven quality of Aguero.
How to handle the goalkeepers?
Bravo’s erratic form last season left Guardiola with no option but to bring in a new keeper this summer. His performances reached such a low point at the turn of the year that he was beaten by two thirds of shots on target and he lost his place to reserve Willy Caballero.
It prompted City to make Ederson Moraes the second most expensive keeper in history with a £ 35 million move from Benfica. But the 23-year-old Brazilian is still relatively inexperienced, particularly compared to Bravo, who was back to his best for Chile at the Confederations Cup in the summer.
Bravo is determined to fight for his place at City and it’s not necessarily the easy decision many expect. Guardiola could even go for a situation similar to the one Bravo experienced at Barca with one keeper playing in Europe and the other in league games.
Can Guardiola trust youth?
There’s plenty of excitement about the youngsters coming through the Etihad Academy, but so far none have established themselves in the first team. Striker Kelechi Iheanacho looks like he is on his way out, highly-rated keeper Angus Gunn has joined Norwich on loan and Aleix Garcia, Tosin Adarabioyo and Pablo Maffeo only featured in nine games between them last season.
Guardiola is set to take a number of promising youth team players on tour and has vowed to give them the opportunity to impress. Skilful forward Brahim Diaz has already made his debut for the first team while the City boss has spoken glowingly of the potential of young England players Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho.
City have spoken about wanting a steady flow of players coming through the youth ranks and Guardiola is the right man to implement it after similar success at the Nou Camp. But it’s up to the players to show they can force their way into his plans.
Do City need another centre-back?
City were expected to sign a new central defender, but it became less of a priority following the brilliant form of captain Vincent Kompany at the end of the season. Questions will remain about his reliability because of his injury history, and only time and a good run in the side can put those concerns behind him. But there is no doubting his quality and the way he slotted into the defence alongside Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones gave City the solid base Guardiola has been searching for.
Adarabioyo also signed a new contract and now needs to establish himself with the first team. A strong preseason by his defenders could persuade Guardiola to shelve any plans to bring in central reinforcements.
Should anyone be given a second chance?
A number of senior players have returned to the club after season-long loans and could try to convince Guardiola that they have a future at City.
Joe Hart, Samir Nasri, Wilfried Bony and Eliaquim Mangala are all expected to be sold but if they were to show the desire and commitment to make it at City, there is the potential for Guardiola to make a spectacular U-turn on their futures.
It’s unlikely any will stay, but if they can make the plane to the United States next week, their Etihad careers could yet be salvaged.