Erling Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne, Mohammad Salah and Virgil van Dijk; two world class goalkeepers Ederson and Alisson; and arguably the game’s two main coaches in Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp. With so much top talent and a winning pedigree between Manchester City and Liverpool, Saturday’s Community Shield clash (stream live on ESPN+ in the US at 12 ET) is more than a curtain raiser for the new season, it is a showcase of excellence that has become the defining game of English football.
Of course, Manchester United v Liverpool is still the game that garners the most global interest than any other Premier League game, but at the moment it’s far from a level contest. Liverpool beat United 9-0 on aggregate over two games last season, leading to this rivalry becoming somewhat irrelevant in deciding the outcome of title races and silverware battles.
The same goes for United against Arsenal. Both clubs dominated the Premier League for almost a decade in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with either winning the title in nine consecutive seasons between 1995 and 1996 and 2003 and 2004. but a generation of fans have since grown up never seeing them fight for the title. The rivalry, if it still exists, has been reduced to deciding Europa League qualification rather than top honours.
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Liverpool v Man City is now the Premier League title and the Community Shield meeting this weekend looks more like a taste of the main event for the next nine months than a stress-free warm-up for the campaign ahead. .
Eighteen other clubs will contest the 2022-23 Premier League season, but it is virtually impossible to make the case for anyone other than City or Liverpool who will become champions next May. The Community Shield will give us a glimpse of how far ahead of the pack they are.
Tottenham invested well this summer, giving manager Antonio Conte the reinforcements he craved to be able to turn the team into title contenders, but while the six newcomers — Richarlison, Ivan Perisic, Yves Bissouma, Djed Spence, Fraser Forster and Clement Lenglet – have arguably made Spurs the best of the rest, they are still far from the top two. Meanwhile Chelsea, under new ownership following the departure of Roman Abramovich, appear to be on the brink of crisis with manager Thomas Tuchel complaining about the lack of new signings and the pre-season performances of their existing players.
United are an unknown quantity under new manager Erik ten Hag after the club’s worst Premier League season. They brought Lisandro Martinez, Christian Erikson and Tyrell Malaciabut have yet to convince the main target in midfield Frankie de Jong leave Barcelona, while Cristiano Ronaldo continues to be a distraction due to his desire to leave Old Trafford.
And although Arsenal have strengthened under Mikel Arteta, including the signings of Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko de City, the Gunners are still far from winning the title for the first time since Arsène Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ in 2003-04.
City and Liverpool were already miles ahead – second-placed Liverpool finished 18 points ahead of third-placed Chelsea last season – and they also went from strength to strength over the summer, so their hegemony is only expected to expand in the months to come. The Community Shield will simply offer an ominous glimpse for the rest of the distance they are.
Both have reshaped their teams this summer, losing players who have contributed to the successes of recent seasons – Jesus, Zinchenko and Rahim Sterling left town; with Sadio Mane, Divock Original and Takumi Minamino leaving Anfield – but such is the stability and consistency at each club that replacements have been signed with an eye to the long term.
Haland and Kalvin Phillips arrived at the Etihad – Haaland as a long-awaited replacement for Sergio Aguero; Phillips filling the void left by the deceased Fernandinho – for less than £100m combined. Both have proven themselves at the highest level, with Haaland, 22, already justifying his generational talent billing with Borussia Dortmund and FC Salzburg.
With Haaland looming, City may have to change the way they play and become more direct to ensure they get the serve they need, but with such a dangerous focal point in their squad, any change will only make them better. In tight games – both league games against Liverpool ended in a 2-2 draw last season – Haaland could be the decisive difference, especially in the Champions League.
Liverpool’s big challenge is to ensure a smooth transition from Mane to Darwin Nunez, the £90million summer signing from Benfica. Mane has scored 120 goals in 269 appearances for the club, also registering 38 assists, so his £27m move to Bayern Munich will be a loss for Klopp’s side, but Luis Diaz has already proven to be a quality addition since joining for £37.5m from Porto in January and the signing of Nunez continues Liverpool’s attacking evolution.
Meanwhile, Salah’s decision to sign a new contract this summer, ending uncertainty over his future at the club, has been a huge boost that ensures Liverpool retain a player who could beat Haaland and win a another Golden Boot this season.
Shaka Hislop thinks Manchester City have no reason to be concerned about the pressure put on Erling Haaland in his first season in the Premier League.
It’s hard to find weaknesses in either team. Liverpool came close to achieving an unprecedented quadruple last season, while City once again showed incredible quality and determination to meet Liverpool’s challenge to win the Premier League title again.
Each other’s presence as competitors no doubt keeps them going – the same happened with United and Arsenal during the peak years of their rivalry – the key to success this season will come down to no one doubt who does better in the game against each other. If there is a winner when they meet at Anfield on October 15 or the Etihad on April 1, it will be a momentous result for the winner. And while the Community Shield isn’t classified as a major trophy, winning it will count this weekend.
Every possible advantage that can be gained on either side will be welcomed by either Klopp or Guardiola. The rivalry between the two teams has been reduced to the thinnest of margins, so the psychological boost of Saturday’s victory cannot be overstated, nor the blow of defeat.
Neither team will look over their shoulder at the chasing pack. Instead, they stare at each other, waiting for the first blink or sign of weakness. This is why the Community Shield is important. Managers and player groups might suggest otherwise by downplaying the game, but every game now counts when Liverpool take on Manchester City and this one is no different.