We’re happy to introduce a new soccer-related column to coincide with the new Premier League season. Expect columns, interviews from our beloved Roger Bennett, and more.
The first column is from Joe’s son Joey and soccer analyst Steven Pearson.
Game of All Charity Games
Sunday’s 2011 Community Shield may well be the most competitive, volatile and important exhibition match in the history of the English Football Association.
This weekend, London’s finest will pour into Wembley en masse in a possibly hopeless attempt to stop anarchy from breaking out in the U.K.’s most important preseason soccer match. The police will be monitoring Sunday’s Super Cup in hopes of preventing a century of Manchester intercity tension from souring the Premier League’s most significant annual philanthropic display.
Manchester City and Manchester United may be separated by a mere four miles on the map but their fortunes could not be further apart when measured in terms of championship trophies.
Factor in the cultural divisions that divide the United and City fan base and it becomes easier to explain the visceral hatred these fans show for each other when forced to share a stadium.
It’s impossible to predict what hooligan-fueled shenanigans will transpire within the stands at Wembley Stadium. But what we do know is what happens between Manchester United and Manchester City over the course of the Charity Cup’s 90 minutes will be a significant indicator of what we can expect from this campaign’s title race.
Despite reigning English Champions Manchester United coming within arms reach of another historic treble, pundits and fans alike view these sides as clubs headed in opposite directions.
Manchester City is a force to be reckoned with, and the boys of Old Trafford know it.
Sir Alex has been firing off a prolific array of thinly veiled mind games, even by his own standards, directed at the Eastlands.
‘Obviously the Community Shield is not a normal one for Manchester United,’ said Ferguson. ‘It’s about addressing our noisy neighbors again. It’s going to be an interesting match.”
City’s capture of last season’s FA Cup ended a 35 year trophyless drought. Two English titles preceded that dry spell, but City’s accomplishments have since been limited to promotions and marquee signings (not named Robinho or Santa Cruz). During City’s struggle to stay in the same league as the Red Devils, their westerly neighbors have been collecting top flight trophies like busy bees collecting nectar, dominating not only England, but Europe as well.
But despite’s last year’s top three finish affording the opportunity to leave their mark abroad during their first champions league season in a lifetime, the City camp has left no ambiguity about their focus for this season.
“We expect to win the league” City midfielder Yaya Toure proclaimed during City’s preseason tour. “We are coming with more confidence, the players know each other better. I think this year will be fantastic for us.’
Toure was a regular selection at holding midfielder for a Barcelona squad that was considered to be among the best teams ever.
However, City Manager Roberto Mancini has deployed Toure in an attacking role which has seen great success, including a crucial strike in May’s ugly FA Cup Semi-final victory over United.
With the hottest coaching seat in soccer finally cooling a bit, expect the brilliant Mancini to make more bold adjustments. An overflow of elite players from across the globe have arrived at the Eastlands over the last 24 months, and If City also completes the capture of Eto’o and Maicon, Mancini would have an embarrassment of riches across the pitch.
Given the Community Shield’s exhibition-based rules, don’t be surprised if Mancini makes shameless use the unlimited substitutions over the course of the shield’s 90 minutes to showcase his unbelievable depth.
Conventional wisdom still suggests a side boasting the world’s best central defender, Nemanja Vidic, England’s most productive strike force and the greatest Manager in the History of Sport still has a considerable edge over it’s ‘noisy neighbors’.
However, the retirement of midfield Maestro Paul Scholes (recently hailed by Xavi as ‘the greatest of his generation’) leaves a gaping hole in a Man United central midfield occupied only by the brutish and unimaginative Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher.
Additionally, Ryan Giggs, the man most responsible for United’s stability during its decade plus of staggering success is past the twilight of his career (and coping with severe off the pitch drama).
But the true fate of this match, and Man United’s season at large, rests in the gloves of 20-year old David de Gea. Ferguson hopes to have brought in his own wunderkind to rival City’s Joe Hart, who will be between the posts for England indefinitely. But the Spanish goalkeeping prodigy will be replacing Edwin van Der Sar, who has been a stabilizing force at Old Trafford on and off the pitch, winning four English titles and making it to three Champions League finals during his six year tenure. If De Gea stumbles out of the gate a la Ben Foster two years ago, United may not be able to recover.
If United falters, City has the swagger of a club ready to make the leap.
United hopes to deliver a serious blow to a side beaming with confidence. But a City victory would be a significant step in the climb to significance and would severely turn up the heat on the Red Devils.
Regardless of the final outcome, expect the tension at the 103rd Community Shield to be at a fever pitch.