Time for Man City to make moves for full-backs with young legs, alert minds

The time for talking has stopped, and the time for action is upon us. Manchester City, already a step ahead of many of their rivals thanks to the early purchases of Monaco's Bernardo Silva and Benfica's Ederson Moraes, must now come good with the rest of their well-documented plans.

City's uneasy relationship with their full-backs is a story long documented in the world's media during the past two years. As Manuel Pellegrini's reign subsided gently into oblivion from a dynamic and successful start, it became increasingly obvious wide defenders were no longer what the doctor ordered.

When Pep Guardiola swept in to take over at the start of 2016-17, heavy was the air with speculation about who might survive the new coach's cull. The full-back positions came under particularly strong scrutiny, as the Catalan's modus operandi involved the need for great athleticism and adaptation to ever-changing game patterns.

Looking at the four full-backs he inherited, it was difficult to see any -- from Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna, the right-side incumbents, or Aleksandar Kolarov and Gael Clichy on the other flank -- fitting the bill. Considerable was the shock when, on the opening weekend of the new season, Kolarov lined up on the left-hand side of central defence against Sunderland and proceeded to deliver a performance that reminded older onlookers of Franz Beckenbauer in his mid-'70s pomp.

While the Serb strutted his stuff, the full-backs were heading into central midfield. The sight of Zabaleta cutting into the middle of the park and causing Sunderland's own wide defenders moments of considerable disorientation was, as it happens, nothing new. The Argentinean stalwart had played many of his early games for City after joining from Español in 2008 in defensive midfield. That he became a City player the day before Sheikh Mansour's multimillion-pound takeover swept the city off its feet and now leaves as City mount a new challenge under Guardiola feels somehow apt.

Having dropped back in to the right-back slot to make his name, Zabaleta performed to the peak of his talent for another eight years before age and tiring muscles defeated him.

Guardiola's blueprint for the future requires young legs and alert minds. City, for weeks on the verge of filling the three berths that stand vacant -- only Kolarov remains, and even he looks vulnerable -- must take action.

The names are by now familiar to all. Whether the right-back berth goes to Tottenham's Kyle Walker or Juventus' departing hero Dani Alves, both will fit beautifully into Guardiola's setup. Walker outran all other full-backs in the Premier League last season, making more forays up the wing than any other, while the Brazilian has long been admired the world over for his energetic presence in the attacking half of play.

On the left side, Monaco's Benjamin Mendy seems set to join, too, with L'Equipe reporting more conclusively by the day on the likelihood of a switch from the Cote d'Azur to the banks of the River Irwell for the young French defender. That his club has signed a would-be replacement for him in Terence Kongolo from Feyenoord only serves to make the rumours look even more beguiling.

Whether he is joined by Southampton's Ryan Bertrand remains to be seen. As with every other position in the team, Guardiola will be attempting to recruit enough new players to have two equally talented bodies for each position.

While this can already be said to be true for the midfield positions, where there are a plethora of healthy options to choose from, the same cannot presently be said about the defence. With Vincent Kompany, Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones competing for the two centre-back positions, the coach may still be tempted to recruit one other. The same can be said of the attack, where Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are a formidable pair of strikers, but the shadow squad leaves something to be admired. Wilfried Bony never settled, owing perhaps to a spate of minor but disruptive injuries, while there is a feeling that Kelechi Iheanacho will not quite make the grade at the Etihad.

If this means the arrival of a top-class stopper (Leonardo Bonucci, for example) and a striking option who would dovetail perfectly with what City already have (say, Alexis Sanchez), City would really be in a position to hope for great things come August.

As it stands, the time for speculation is coming to an end. With the Confederations Cup over and squads beginning to reassemble for early summer medical tests and fitness training, those clubs with ambition need to be getting on with their business.

For City, a fruitful early foray into the hectic summer transfer market has set the rest of the summer up beautifully. If Guardiola can get his remaining targets without further fuss, City's competitors will be casting jealous glances at a squad packed with the talent and experience necessary to build a proper and lasting challenge in 2017-18.