It is seen by most as a bit of off-season fun, and all for a good cause. Yet for the Premier League clubs and their fans, the FA Community Shield gives the first clue before we go into the new season as to where the power lies at football’s highest level.
In Manchester United’s all-conquering years at the latter part of the last decade, the team twice kicked off their season winning ways with Community Shield wins. The same applied to Chelsea in 2005. Pep Guardiola is determined that Manchester City’s period of dominance is only just beginning – and on 05 August, we will get the most important indicator yet of just how right he is.
About the Community Shield
Formerly known as the Charity Shield, this is one of the most historic traditions in world football, with a history dating back to the 1800s when the match was played between amateurs and professional. The format and combatants changed over the years, and it adopted its current format of the league winner playing the FA Cup winner in 1930. This has remained the format, with a few exceptions, to this day.
Manchester City has won the match four times, and one such win was under unusual circumstances. In 1972, both league champions Derby County and FA Cup winners Leeds United declined to take part. Fourth place team Manchester City took on Division 3 winners Aston Villa and won 1-0. City returned the following year to defend the trophy, but lost to second division winners Burnley.
City also won the Shield match in 1937, 1968 and, of course, 2012, when the match was moved to Villa Park due to Wembley’s involvement in the 2012 Olympics. They beat Chelsea 3-2.
This year’s match
Six years on, and it is the same combatants again. With the dust still settling on the World Cup, everyone is still very much in “football mode” and is impatient for the domestic action to get underway. For the past two years, the season opener has played out in front of a near-capacity 85,000 spectators. This year, it will be as popular as ever – Community Shield tickets are still available online at the moment, but are selling fast.
City will go into the match as even money favourites, and for Guardiola, this is an important opportunity to lay down a marker against a top team. Anything less than a win will be seen as potential weakness before the season has even begun.
Chelsea have a point to prove
As far as Chelsea are concerned, last year was one of under achievement. Winning the FA Cup was a nice consolation prize, but nothing more. It is the Premier League that really matters, and finishing fifth, 30 points adrift, is what ultimately cost Antonio Conte his job at Stamford Bridge. New boy Maurizio Sarri will be desperate to get off on the right foot and show that he can bring the same brand of attacking football to Chelsea that earned him so much respect at Napoli.
Sarri and his men have the advantage of going into this match without the weight of expectation on their shoulders. Bookmakers have them as 3/1 outsiders, with the draw at 5/2, so clearly Manchester City are not just fancied but expected to win this.
Guardiola is taking it seriously
While the champagne was still flowing to celebrate last year’s Premier League win, Pep Guardiola was already knuckling down and working on the strategy that would take his team to even greater success. He has made it clear that he wants this Manchester City team to be remembered as the most successful in Premier League history, and that means reaching heights that surpass even Sir Alex Ferguson.
Part of his recipe for success is to manage every slight detail, and there is no doubt that starting the season with success in the Community Shield is a big part of that. Guardiola caused a little controversy last week when discussing those World Cup players who are still resting. He opened by saying that if players were not ready, they would not be hurried back into training. However, his additional comments that if they “don’t want to fight for the community shield” they should “stay on holiday” left little doubts as to his own thoughts on the topic.
Guardiola knows that this is far more than a pre-season friendly. The eyes of the footballing world will be on Wembley on 04 August, and what happens in those 90 minutes will set the tone for the months of football action to come. Perhaps it’s time for Sterling, Silva and the rest to leave the hotel pool, check in for their flights and get back to the English summer. There’s work to be done.