IT IS a coming together of the giants again, when Manchester City and Liverpool face off in the Community Shield at Wembley Stadium tomorrow.
Given the intensity with which the Premiership was fought for down to the last day of last season, there is every prospect of this encounter being as equally competitive, if not more.
City won the Premiership by a single point in May, wrapping up a repeat league title triumph, the first back-to-back success in a decade. More importantly though, both clubs were applauded for their parts in what was the most captivating battle for the league in a long time.
While not a league match, tomorrow’s game will hold similar approaches for City and Liverpool as they endeavour to get an early psychological edge over the other ahead of the Premier League that starts next weekend.
For quite a while, there was not much importance attached to the Community Shield, apart from the fact that the proceeds go to needy organisations, and what better way to begin the new campaign than with a goodwill gesture.
These days, however, it’s a different call. The shield is proudly displayed in one’s trophy cabinet and there is always the mention of whom you beat in August.
Thus, the high tempo that these sides so often exhibit in their league clashes, or Champions League ties for that matter, will be expected tomorrow.
There might be a case of a few players being blooded in, given a taste of what is to come, but nothing more than that. It should be a parading of their star quality that will be given the licence to attack the opposition with purpose, but also within the formations and styles of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, respectively.
To pick a winner here would probably be best done by tossing a coin. Having said that though, I think City will start with a marginal edge.
They might be a dollar short or so in the Champions League, but in the “bread and butter” world of the league – a line coined by Anfield legend Bill Shankly – City are tops. And it’s for this reason that they get the backing of leaving London with the piece of silverware they picked up last August with a two-nil victory over Chelsea.
Guardiola, like his counterpart Klopp, will use the occasion to fine-tune a few kinks before the real hard work starts, but it is unlikely that he will surrender this trophy without a fight – and a big one at that.
To understand things a little better, City touted their triumphant 2018/19 season as a victorious campaign by the “Fourmidables”. This is a reference to the unprecedented clean sweep of all the silverware on offer in English football – the Premier League title, the FA Cup, the League Cup and the Community Shield.
Of those who take to the field for the Citizens tomorrow, it is Kevin De Bruyne who perhaps carries the greatest threat to Liverpool’s ambitions of a first Community Shield since 2006.
The Belgian endured an injury-ravaged season last term, but has since fully recovered and after he put in a handful of classy performances in their pre-season matches, the Etihad fans will be bellowing for another masterclass – at the expense of the Reds.
In their last fixture, against Yokohama F. Marinos in Japan last weekend, De Bruyne was simply sublime, exhibiting the sort of form that sets him apart from the rest of the league. A similar display at Wembley, and Liverpool could find themselves on the wrong end of a thumping.
For many, a first appearance for City in England by Rodri, short for Rodrigo Hernandez Cascante, the 23-year-old Spanish international signed from Atletico Madrid at the beginning of last month, is something to look forward to.
The lad who has been brought in as a long-term replacement for 34-year-old Brazilian defensive midfielder and workhorse Fernandinho, has been highly spoken of and he also impressed when he did play in the Asia Cup in China and on the Citizens’ visit to Japan.
Lukas Nmecha, who made two appearances for City in the Premiership a couple of seasons ago and spent the last term on loan at Preston North End, also figured prominently in the pre-season games and will be one to watch if he is given a chance.
The 20-year-old striker can effectively use both feet and shift to the wings when he has to. His first touch and finishing are worth watching.
The other key players from last season, barring Vincent Kompany who has moved on, are all expected to feature, among them are David Silva, Raheem Sterling, Bernando Silva, Riyad Mahrez, Kyle Walker, Aymeric Laporte, Benjamin Mendy, and strikers Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero, who could see some action tomorrow.
But regardless of who Guardiola calls up, it should be a finely contested outing at Wembley.