Usually, the champions of England are favourites rather than the FA Cup winners or league runners up, but the Community Shield is once again so evenly matched, an MIT physicist would struggle to calculate which way this is going to swing.
Casting aside the usual money and backroom related moralities, it is very difficult to criticise England’s top two, who seem more than ever to be cemented in that eternal struggle, especially if Manchester City should continue to underachieve with the players they have at hand. In the interest of impartiality, both sides of tomorrow’s equation are accounted for:
IN THE RED CORNER:
There is very little doubt about it – Sir Alex Ferguson is up to his clever old tricks again. While the ageing babes of the 90s Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville continue to be great servants to the club (and will be so for another couple of years), Manchester United’s activity in this summer’s transfer market has been shrewd on paper. The capture of 22 year old Mexican striker Javier Hernández Balcázar and Chris Smalling’s pre-arranged transfer from Fulham indicates that the “babes” of the 10s are being prepared for action once the old guard begin to drop out.
It is precisely this forward planning that has seen United match Liverpool’s record of eighteen league titles – with no less than eleven won in the 18 year old Premier League. In addition, the home-grown talents of Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick cement their place in a side where overseas influences could easily dominate; Darren Fletcher is also fulfilling his true potential, and has blossomed into a domineering and skillful midfielder at both club and international level, although he could score more goals.
Ultimately, Manchester United should fear no-one, and if the players knuckle down on the pitch, do their business quietly, and shun these occasional avoidable defeats (for example: Burnley, Fulham and at home to Chelsea), then United will once again be champions – if not this year, then certainly some time soon. Unlike United, Chelsea have had a relatively poor pre-season with some discouraging performances in defence (such as the defeats against Ajax and Eintracht Frankfurt). If Rooney and strike partner Michael Owen can embrace a United attacking mentality, then tomorrow could be a breeze.
IN THE BLUE CORNER:
Chelsea look like they have what it takes to dominate for several years to come. Although Frank Lampard and John Terry look like strangers in an England shirt, in the blue of Chelsea they are as one, creating many chances at the right end and keeping the ball out at the wrong end. Ashley Cole shows a similar erraticism between club and country, although he has something of a marriage to Left winger Florent Malouda, the newly single left back often (with much trickery) creates chances for himself to great effect.
The move for Brazilian midfielder Ramires for 18m looks set to go ahead after speculation of it stalling, and although the rather minted Chelsea have been otherwise modest in their purchases, this is not a cause for concern. Although Ramries has shown flashes of why the champions of a major European league should be interested in his talents, it is often a case of “better the devil you know”, since too many signings can unsettle a team (evident in Norwich’s disjointed performance in a 2-3 home defeat last night, having played with six new signings).
A slow and steady approach is the key, and although the average age of Chelsea’s stoic squad increases with each passing year, the legs aren’t going just yet despite talks of Didier Drogba going to Italy or Spain. At any rate, there can be no accounting for the price of experience and wisdom on the football pitch, with flair and a healthy degree of flamboyance. These elements do not always go hand in hand, but the twain are well bonded with Chelsea’s squad. They are so nearly there…
Ultimately, there are opportunities for players to shine, although neither side is willing to play chicken and will be forced to respect the traditional season starter by fielding their strongest teams. For Chelsea and Manchester United, appearances by (respectively) promising youngster Sam Hutchinson and central defender Chris Smalling will be limited to Carling Cup games, as well as potential ties against any FA Cup minnows in the new year. Chelsea have the style, United have the substance – but which one wins through is left in the lap of those dark humoured football gods.
Prediction: Chelsea to nick it 1-0
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