There is always a certain romanticism about the Community Shield. The competition encapsulates all your pent up excitement about the new season, officially informing the viewer that English football is back for the new campaign.
Over the last four years, Manchester United have been perennial Community Shield participants – beating Chelsea in 2007, Portsmouth in 2008 and Chelsea again in 2010. When United win, victory is seen as a sign of things to come, and based on the last four years, it is. Since 2007, the winner of the Community Shield has gone on to win the Premiership (United victorious three times, and Chelsea once). However, when things don’t go as well, the match is written off as an exhibition, a silly little game with more than three subs available and nothing really to play for.
Win or lose, this time it matters for United. The opponents are no longer a Chelsea team that doesn’t give a toss, but a hungry, fired up group, looking to make a point. There have been so many high profile meetings between United and Chelsea over the years that players can’t really get up for a Community Shield match, but Sunday’s contest will represent only the second ever meeting between City and United at Wembley. Since Manchester City were bought by Sheik Mansour in 2008, derby matches have taken on a new significance, and unlike others past, this one really could turn out to define a season. For the first realistic time, City are entering a Premier League with title ambitions – ones supported by their aggressive activity in this summer’s transfer market, and experience garnered from last year’s FA Cup success.
Yes, there is no doubt about it, this time it matters. United must feel they need to apply a needle to City’s Sergio Aguero balloon, while Mancini’s charges know the kind of message tosend out early on if they are to grapple the Premiership trophy away from Fergie’s men. With Chicharito injured, and Sergio Aguero only allowed a bench place, the teams put out on Sunday will not necessarily resemble those set to compete over the course of a thirty-eight game season, however, it is the identity of the clubs which matters most. At this point in time, any match between the two Mancunian teams attracts huge amounts of media attention – City the usurpers need to scrap for every victory they can get.
We already know what the loser will say. Whether the victors are in blue or in red, the side up the Wembley steps first will no doubt be prepared with the lexicon of football get outs. The words “exhibition” and “pre season” will be uttered, rather than “precedent” or “signal of intent.” However, no matter what comes out of the mouth of either Ferguson or Mancini, the footballing public will be only too aware of the message conveyed by the season’s opener. For City, a win would confirm the reality of title ambitions, while one for United, a defiant refusal to be budged.
Ferguson has claimed over the years that he never counts Communtiy Shield victories when totting up his total of trophies, yet this suggestion of indifference should be taken with a grain of salt. The huge, refereeing inquisition started after Frank Lampard’s controversial goal in the 2009 edition proved that Fergie’s hunger for silverware remains, no matter how small the prize. This time though, even the wily Scot will be unable to talk around questions of the match’s value. It was Rooney’s penalty at Ewood Park which sealed number nineteen, but men like Ferguson always remember more – for instance, that United had originally wished to play that fixture the week after, preferring a jaunt down to Wembley, one stolen by Saturday’s opponents, to an early chance at sealing the record breaking title.
Revenge is never admitted as as a driving force by managers, but there is no doubt that Yaya Toure’s goal and Scholes’ sending off still rankle with the man forever in pursuit of perfection. On Sunday, available will be a player who’s absence last time around partly accounted for United’s demise; Wayne Rooney has already been quoted in the press about his desire to win the shield. “You couldn’t get better motivation to start the season with a bang,” he said in an interview with FourFourTwo. Well, whoever emerges victorious, a bit of a bang is virtually guaranteed…