Venue: Wembley Stadium
Date: 5 August 2018
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Kick off: 15:00
It feels like decades since Gabriel Jesus deliciously pulled a Kevin De Bruyne special out of the sky before magically lobbing it into the Southampton goal. Of course, the moment that resulted in City’s centurion season was in fact only a few months ago, but when you’re deprived of club football, it can feel like much, much longer. There have been a few pre-season friendlies along the way. However, the real stuff (sort of) starts on Sunday, with City up against Chelsea in the season’s curtain-raiser. There are plenty of talking points to consider before the game though, so let’s dive in.
Does the Community Shield Really Matter?
When it comes to the Community Shield, there are two types of outlook. Either you see the game as an extension of pre-season; another chance for the manager to fiddle with the system, try out some lesser-known quantities and perhaps lend some fitness to those in dire need of it. Or you see the game as the beginning of the real stuff; the first game of the new campaign, where silverware is at stake and a victory sets you perfectly on your way for the league program. In all honesty, I’d suspect that the majority of City fans swing toward the pre-season side of the argument, though I’m sure it’s a game that everybody wants to see the side win. Ultimately though, City have contested most of their pre-season so far without almost any of the big names, and that is a factor to consider when formulating your opinion on the game at Wembley on Sunday.
For Pep, I’d imagine he sees the game as a chance to give some of the World Cup returnees some vital minutes ahead of a hugely tricky trip to the Emirates Stadium for the opening game of our Premier League season. I don’t think the boss will be treating the game as a must-win by any stretch, nor do I imagine anyone at the club is too concerned about the prospect of bringing home the shield itself. It is true though, that the side can send out a message to our nearest rivals on Sunday, by reminding everyone of what City can do when things click. Guardiola will want to see his style of play implemented by whichever XI is chosen to contest the game. So, who will start?
Selection Dilemmas Aplenty?
I’m not an expert when it comes to fitness and conditioning of Premier League footballers, so I find the prospect of predicting Sunday’s team sheet a very daunting prospect indeed. Will Pep line up with more or less the same kind of team that played in our final pre-season game in America, against Bayern Munich? Or will he see it as the last – and also first – opportunity to give those involved in Russia a chance to stretch their legs and regain some match sharpness? Most of City’s returning players joined up with the squad on Monday, giving them close to a full week of training and conditioning before Sunday’s game. Will that be enough though? Do those players need more than a full week to be ready physically to play at a level higher than that of pre-season?
The other side to that argument though, is that if Pep doesn’t give the likes of Aguero and Silva (amongst many others) the chance to get up to speed against Chelsea, is throwing them into a difficult game at the Emirates the wisest decision? It’s a difficult dilemma; one that I’m sure the manager is on top of, but starting your title defence after a World Cup in which you had more players involved than any other side in history is less than ideal. Pep’s press conference on Friday afternoon didn’t give us too many clues when it comes to Sunday’s starting XI, though he did say that Riyad Mahrez was fit after a knock sustained in the game against Bayern Munich; he also stated that the Algerian could well start the Community Shield.
Will We See a New System Implemented?
At times last season – primarily in the first couple of months – we saw Guardiola implement a slightly different formation than the one that eventually became the staple of a successful season. Rather than playing with four defenders, three central-midfielders, two wingers and a sole striker, we saw the side line up with three central-defenders, wing-backs, three central-midfielders and two strikers. You could argue that Benjamin Mendy’s injury was the eventual reason that we all but abandoned the more unfamiliar system, and with the Frenchman’s return from injury this season, we could see a lot more of the 3-5-2 this time round. In January, I questioned City’s pursuit of Riyad Mahrez because in all honesty, I didn’t really understand why we needed him. When City reengaged in their pursuit of the 27 year-old Algerian this summer though, I was much more open to the idea. Largely because this season, I think we’ll see a couple of players playing in slightly, or even radically, different positions to the ones they played in in our title-winning campaign.
The main switch that I’m predicting is that of Raheem Sterling, who I expect will play as a secondary striker this year, rather than on the right-wing. There were signs of this transition towards the back-end of last season, most notably at Wembley, when City played Tottenham Hotspur. With City under some pretty intense pressure, Guardiola substituted Leroy Sané and brought on Nicolas Otamendi, Sterling ended up positioned in a more central area of the pitch, alongside Gabriel Jesus. The signs were pretty promising too, and but for a few misplaced passes, the system seemed to work effectively in that it quelled Spurs’ resurgence, and allowed City the opportunity to create a host of chances. With Mahrez’ arrival, I think it’s a sign that Sterling will see less time employed on the right, and more time alongside a recognised centre-forward. The 3-5-2 system was trialed at times in pre-season, but whether or not Pep will choose to give it a go on Sunday, in a game that means something is yet to be seen. Don’t be surprised to see it come into play at some point in the first few games though, if not from the get-go.
For Chelsea, it’s a complete shake-up this year. Antonio Conte has parted ways with the London club and it is the turn of Maurizio Sarri to try and please Roman Abramovich. Our opponents on Sunday are in a similar situation to us, in that they had a fair few players involved in the World Cup over the summer. Whether or not Sarri and Guardiola will have differing attitudes to those players and if they’re ready to start on Sunday is yet to be seen though. All in all, I think both sides will be treating it as a game in which their stars can regain some match sharpness. I’m not expecting either side to take things too seriously.
It’s a really difficult one to call, without knowing the starting XIs, but I really fancy City to give a good account of themselves at Wembley on Sunday. Provided at least some of the main men feature, I fancy some goals. I’m going for 3-1 City, with a big game in store for Bernardo Silva. The Portuguese playmaker scored two excellent goals in City’s final game in America, and I – alongside many others – are expecting big things of Bubblegum this season.