The Community Shield is upon us again on Sunday. The traditional curtain raiser to the English Premiership season will this time feature Double winners Chelsea playing Manchester United, who will be appearing by virtue of finishing second in the Premiership. Neither of the two teams has strengthened considerably although if pressed consensus would say that it is Manchester United who have, as of this weekend, improved a little more.
Chelsea, this season, will usually start with the majority of players who won them the double last season. Joe Cole and Michael Ballack will no longer feature, Deco probably too. Yossi Benayoun will usually start from the substitutes bench unless injuries and form dictate otherwise. It is only Ramires who is expected to be a new first team starter. Michael Essien, injured for so much of the last campaign, with obviously also feature too. For the large part, though, Chelsea are as they were, only a little older.
Manchester United have hardly been proficient in the transfer market themselves. Beyond Javier Hernandez and Chris Smalling they have not extended themselves. Courtesy of Javier Hernandez’s delightful performances for country, old club and new club in the last two months, however, Manchester United do appear stronger. Hernandez is likely to offer a consistent goal scoring threat, something which Manchester United lacked when Wayne Rooney was unavailable. Michael Owen, unavailable for the important half of last season, has returned but is, like Benayoun at Chelsea, expected to feature, usually, from the substitutes bench. Chris Smalling will have to bide his time and for the time being will probably start the campaign as fifth choice centre back and fourth choice right back. Playing minutes will be scarce. Still, Chelsea and Manchester United will begin the campaign as the favourites in the eyes of the bookmakers and pretty much everybody else. The Community Shield will mean little in the greater context of things but it will provide a brief insight into how Sir Alex Ferguson wants his charges to play this season. Will there be another chance for Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney to form a convincing attacking partnership? Will Javier Hernandez immediately usurp Dimitar Berbatov as Manchester United’s second striker? Are Manchester United going to continue playing a variation of a 4-5-1 formation against the better teams in the league?
Chelsea fans, meanwhile, will be wondering if John Terry will ever regain the type of form which made him so popular. It will also be interesting to see how Carlo Ancelotti decides to deploy Florent Malouda and Frank Lampard in midfield now that Michael Essien has returned and Ramires is an option. Will it be a diamond shape midfield? Will Frank Lampard have to operate a wide position? Who, out of Nicolas Anelka and Jon Obi Mikel will lose their place in the starting line up?
Whatever answers we find on Sunday, we will know one thing for close to certain. Not only will the season begin with Manchester United and Chelsea but it will end up being decided by one of them too.