Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The Community Shield

On Sunday I was at Wembley for the Community Shield match between Chelsea and Manchester United. Perennially described as the Premier League’s curtain-raiser, not least by me last week, it’s a regularly-entertaining match that serves to whet the appetite for the new season and might occasionally offer clues as to the strength of the teams (except for Portsmouth last season) who will likely be challenging for the major domestic honours next time around.

Indeed, the fact that Manchester United have featured in 10 of the last 13 Community/Charity Shield games and that, until Pompey’s unlikely appearance in 2008, the last time a non-Big Four club was at Wembley in August was in 1996 when United faced Newcastle, is as good an indicator as any of the balance of power in the league this century.

Through happy circumstance I found myself with a complimentary ticket to sit in the ‘Club Wembley’ seats – the largely corporate-occupied middle tier of the spectacular new stadium whose tickets specify ‘No Club Shirts’ and seemingly may as well include ‘No Cheering’, ‘No Clapping’, ‘No Watching the Game’ and ‘Talk Loudly About Your Brilliant Job in Advertising, Claim Even More Loudly to Have Shagged A Minor Celebrity and Then Piss Off to The Bar for the Entire Second Half’, based on my experience in the front row of block 228 this weekend.

Anyway, minor complaints aside, Sunday’s match was a great spectacle. There was plenty for the neutral and the fan alike: four goals, one hotly contested (though as far as I’m concerned playing on when a player is down is fair game – as if United wouldn’t have done the same), a bit of ensuing argy-bargy between the always-amusingly-provocative Michael Ballack and Patrice Evra which brought the crowd to life and had the thousands of red and blue fans squaring off against each other for the majority of the last 20 minutes – and the drama of a penalty shootout. A chance for Chelsea to take revenge for that night in Moscow last year? OK, so this was hardly the Champions League Final, but Chelsea’s performance from the spot was pretty emphatic.

The real question is what the match can tell us about how the season will pan out between these two teams – probably the best contenders for the title at this point. On this evidence, Manchester United will certainly miss Ronaldo – though Nani provided much promise on the right wing and scored a decent early goal before being carried off with a troubling shoulder injury. Even when he’s back fit, though, Nani clearly won’t be a 40-goals-a-season player – and this is the key stat that proved the only real difference between Chelsea and United at the end of Ronaldo’s golden 2007-08 season.

Less worrying for United is that Rooney seems well up for this season – he knows he’ll have to play a greater goal-scoring role in the team, and paired up with Michael Owen (who I’m certain will score goals with the kind of service he’ll get from the players he’s now amongst) he’s looking really strong and is going to be a genuine danger to defences everywhere.

As for Chelsea, Ancelotti’s reign can begin with a great deal of optimism. I say this cautiously, as I remember saying the exact same thing after Scolari’s first game last season. However, this is now a team galvanised by a few important things: the great run-in they had under the brief but brilliant regime of Guus Hiddink, a promising pre-season tour of America where they beat two impressive Italian sides (and a typically unimpressive American one), and the fact that John Terry and Didier Drogba are definitely sticking around.

The reception Terry in particular got at Wembley on Sunday was deafeningly supportive – and he put in a top performance as thanks. After a wobbly first half where they were dominated by United, Chelsea really started passing the ball around like a team in the second period and looked commanding all over the pitch. Whether this can translate to the league is still a complete unknown, (especially as for the most part on Sunday they were playing an experimental United side), but I’d say things look decidedly better for the Stamford Bridge outfit now than they did twelve months ago.


  1. another great blog matt, although i think it wasn't so much the fact that chelsea played on (who wouldn't!?) but more the fact that it was a foul on evra. agree? disagree?

  2. I was very suprised to see Ballack and Evra's firey love life spill onto the pitch, those boys should keep it in the bedroom.
    To be honest it was a very even game, just what you would expect. But I imagaine that would have been the case if Liverpool or Arsenal were in that final, this is the season you just can't put the finger on who will dominate.
    Also, are you just disregarding the 08-09 season so your point about Ronaldo works? Or are you suggesting there were other factors that meant Chelsea were 7 points adrift of Utd by the end of the season, for example Chelsea aren't as good when not playing under anyone but Mourinho? Will Ancelotti be able to rid Stamford Bridge of the ghost of Jose, and to a lesser extent good old Guus? In that case Chelsae would have more to worry about.

  3. @tom: Yes that's an argument but if the ref says play on, then that's what professionals do. If there's no whistle, there's no foul - whether the referee should have seen it or not.

    @andy: I'm only disregarding the 08-09 season because, yes, the changes in management and general turmoil at Chelsea was the reason they didn't challenge United for the league, as well as Liverpool being so strong. Had things been different last year (i.e. Scolari had been a success or Hiddink had been there all season) then a star, high-scoring presence like Ronaldo, which Chelsea lack anyway (Anelka top-scoring in the league with a mere 19 shows how different it was), would probably have evened out to be the main difference between the two. This is why I'm so excited about this season - I don't think the playing field has ever been so level.

  4. that's what i'm saying. the united players, as far as I can tell, were complaining about the foul, not the fact that chelsea played on.

  5. it'll be a two horse race. you're the other horse.