The grass is freshly cut, the kids are off school and running riot, and it’s belting it down with rain. It can only be August, and the beginning of a new season. With a plethora of pre-season tournaments in the past few weeks – Peace Cup anyone? Amsterdam Tournament? Audi Cup? Classy – along with the various international youth tournaments, the Confederations Cup and so on and so on, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where last season stopped and this season began. But of course, our last trophy win – no, not the prestigious World Football Challenge – brings us back to Wembley this Sunday. The FA Cup victory over Everton hands us a tie with Manchester United in the Community Shield at our second home. Ladies and Gentleman, we introduce to you, your new season.
What is there to say about Manchester United? Well, plenty obviously, but not all of it is suitable for a family friendly audience. It is easier to think of Manchester United and not immediately think of a certain four-letter word since they sold talisman Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid, but as our nearest rivals for the Premier League title and perhaps the Champions League trophy, feelings towards the two sides are not exactly cosy. While their rivals Manchester City have been snaffling up ‘talent’ from their vast scouting network across, er, the other Premier League teams, United have quietly gone about their business buying in talent from far and wide, like, er, other English teams.
Luis Antonio Valencia has been brought in from Wigan Athletic to help fill the void left by the Portuguese one, while Michael Owen’s pamphlet advertising his services following the expiration of his contract at Newcastle United obviously caught the eye of Sir Alex Ferguson who signed up the delicate frontman in a shock summer move. Gabriel Obertan has also arrived from Bordeaux despite not being able to break into their side last season. Valencia, Owen and Obertan to replace Ronaldo? That’s like turning up to extinguish a forest fire with just a drinking straw and your own saliva. Do they not remember how good he was?
United are slightly blighted by injuries ahead of the Community Shield match. Edwin Van der Sar is out for around two months after breaking a finger in pre-season, while Obertan, Rafael, Wes Brown, Owen Hargreaves, Nemanja Vidic and Gary Neville could also miss out.
Meanwhile, we have kept the core of the squad which finished last season so strongly, albeit with a new man in charge, while bringing in players from across the world like Ross Turnbull from Middlesbrough and Daniel Sturridge from Manchester City. Hang on, there seems to be a pattern emerging here. Has there been a global scouting crisis or something? We have managed to cast our net towards Russia though, snatching up Yuri Zhirkov to keep an international flavour to our increasingly English squad. Franco di Santo recently left for Blackburn Rovers on loan, but the squad is more or less the same as last season while all around us have seemingly been weakened, with the exception of Man City of course.
Paulo Ferreira and Joe Cole are definitely sidelined, while we should see the first public airing of Carlo Ancelotti’s diamond midfield in a competitive fixture. Michael Ballack should return from an injury picked up during pre-season.
Although we have not beaten Manchester United in the last three games we have played them, we have plenty of excuses to gloss over those matches. The last game, a crushing 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford, was during the last days of Luis Felipe Scolari when we forgot how to play football, and the 1-1 draw earlier in the season was marred by some strange refereeing decisions by the incompetent Mike Riley. And then of course, there’s Moscow and penalties.
The last time we faced United in a Community Shield game also ended in penalty heartbreak for Chelsea. Ryan Giggs opened the scoring in the first-half before Florent Malouda – then a new signing full of promise and potential – equalised on the stroke of half-time. The second-half was a washout and 45 minutes went by without any further goals. United won 3-0 as Claudio Pizarro, Frank Lampard and Shaun Wright-Phillips missed, with the pint-sized winger’s effort possibly the very worst of a bad bunch.
Chris Foy will referee the game, and as an Everton fan he may still be smarting from our last Wembley appearance. Any dodgy decisions and we may have our first batch of conspiracy theories this season. Foy also refereed the Carling Cup Final last season, where a certain Manchester United won the trophy on penalties. Foy also had a card-happy season last time around, showing 117 cards in 36 games according to the good people at Soccerbase, with three red cards for good measure dished out including one to Stoke City’s Andy Wilkinson against Manchester United.
With Liverpool and Arsenal’s inconsistency and determination to sell some of their key players over the summer, and Manchester City an expensively assembled unknown quantity, I firmly expect us and United to battle it out for the title. Although the Community Shield is essentially just a glorified friendly, it could set a marker for the rest of the season.
We all like to win trophies, we all like to win trophies against Manchester United, so let battle commence. We’ll win this and go on to take the title too. The season starts here!
Extrabet.com bring you the latest odds ahead of the Community Shield. Carlo Ancelotti will lead Chelsea out Sunday in the traditional curtain raiser to the new season. Awaiting him and the Blues is a familiar Wembley foe as they will once again lock horns with Man Utd, just as they did in the Community Shield’s of 2007, 2000 and 1997.
The tale of the tape in the Community Shield stands at two victories to the Red Devils and one to the Blues. Both of United’s wins (in 1997 and 2007) were on penalties after the scores were level at 1-1. Chelsea own the only victory in 90 minutes when they turned in a magnificent performance in 2000, with goals from Hasselbaink and Melchiot seeing them run out 2-0 victors.
So how do they odds stack up?
The last two Community Shields have seen United win on penalties after 0-0 and 1-1 draws. The previous two saw Chelsea beat Arsenal in 2005, but lose out to a late Peter Crouch goal against Liverpool in 2006. Therefore its no surprise that there’s little between them, with a Chelsea victory inside 90 minutes at 13/8 and Man Utd also at 13/8 to win in normal time. The draw after 90 minutes is 21/10.
The First Goalscorer could be an interesting market. Nemanja Vidic opened the scoring in the last encounter between the teams, but he’ll be missing on Sunday through injury. The previous league match at the Bridge saw Ji-Sung Park net first and he is a 14/1 shot to do so again. In the 2007/08 season the likes of Ronaldo and Tevez were first goal scorers, but with Ronaldo now plying his trade in Madrid and Tevez at Man City, new recruits like Owen (6/1) and Valencia (16/1) will be looking to be quick off the mark. Rooney (6/1) and Berbatov (7/1) will also fancy their chances.
Chelsea haven’t opened the scoring since the 2007/08 league encounter at The Bridge when Michael Ballack fired the Blues in to the lead and he is a 12/1 shot to do so again on Sunday. Prior to that, Didier Drogba was first to score in the first FA Cup Final at the new Wembley Stadium and he is 6/1 to repeat the feat on Sunday. Frank Lampard hasn’t scored against United since the 2004/05 season in the League Cup, his goal did open the scoring in that match though and he is 7/1 to do so again. Last season’s Golden Boot winner Nicolas Anelka is available at 7/1 and new boys Yuri Zhirkov (16/1) and Daniel Sturridge (8/1) may fancy their chances to announce their arrival at the club.
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