The National Football League preseason got underway this past Thursday with an underwhelming game between two mediocre teams. Think of this is something of an English soccer equivalent. It’s essentially the final exhibition game of the year–the Football Authority considers it as a ‘preseason friendly’–but instead of two mediocre teams being involved we’ve got two of the best teams not only in the English Premier League but on the planet.
Despite the quality of the teams involved in the 111th Community Shield there’s not much motivation for anything more than a spirited scrimmage between Manchester City and Liverpool. Manchester City is the defending champions but they’ve got a long way to go before they can claim more Community Shields than any other team in soccer. That would be crosstown rivals Manchester United who have won a total of 21 titles. The Community Shield has all of the trapping of a prestigeous club competition without any of the intensity–the game is played at Wembley Stadium and the winning team gets a silver shield (cleverly called the ‘Community Shield’). The trophy itself dates back to 1908 but was lovingly restored and rebuilt in 2016 by the FA’s official silversmith Thomas Lyte.
The Community Shield is contested annually between the defending Premier League champion and the defending FA Cup Champion. In this case, however, Manchester City holds both titles and needing an opponent the rules call for the Premiership runner up to provide the opposition. Were this game of any significance, this would be a great matchup but even though Liverpool is playing in the contest for the first time in 13 years it’s little more than a final tune up for both coaches before the start of the league season next weekend.
The tabloid media is trying desperately to create some plausible storyline of animosity for this game but not having much success. The current angle is that Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has ‘disrespected’ Liverpool’s Champions League win. Here’s what Pep had to say:
“Of course we have to win in Europe because it’s an important tournament and difficult to win. But I am not going to go to the casino and gamble everything I have in my pocket on just seven games. I want to be happy for 11 months and winning the Premier League makes me happy. Why am I going to wait until February for seven games and put everything on black? From my point of view, that’s too risky. To maintain the health and focus of the team, it always has to be the Premier League. The Premier League is always the most important thing, the stand-out competition, because it is every weekend. ‘I think we will be closer to achieving in Europe when we have more Premier League titles. That is the right process at Manchester City.”
That’s what we call in the biz ‘an extended metaphor’. It’s not particularly an elegant one but it’s obvious that Guardiola is simply saying that for his club the Premier League takes precedence over European competition.
The UK media has taken the casino metaphor and run with it, suggesting that Guardiola means that Liverpool’s Champions League title was ‘lucky’ and that City are the better team. Another said that he compared Liverpool’s victory to a ‘lucky spin on a roulette wheel’. Despite a history of rancor between top level Premiership managers, Guardiola and Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp have a very cordial yet competitive relationship. They’re not above sniping at each other in the media but generally respect one another and tolerate each other’s existence.
Another less sensationalist media angle goes like this: Liverpool needs this win to be competitive in the Premiership this season. Since they finished second last year (albeit by one point) that were Manchester City to win the Community Shield with any degree of ease that it would crush their delicate psyches. This all comes as news to Liverpool’s Klopp who said of the contest: “We cannot risk any players. We have to see who will be able to line-up and who will train and who will play.”
A number of starters for both sides have been ruled out due to extended international engagement this Summer while others are available but likely won’t see anywhere near their usual minutes. Given a decided lack of defensive intensity–along with some key absences in the backline of both teams–we’ll look for a lot of scoring and not worry about which team does it.