London Rivals Have Sense of Community

How seriously should we take the Community Shield?

Well, according to Jose Mourinho very seriously.

Dan Roebuck breaks down who his money’s on in this year’s Community Shield.

Rewind to last term’s Europa League final when, in the post-game celebrations, the Manchester United manager was holding up three fingers to indicate the number of trophies he’d won in his first year in charge at Old Trafford – much to the bafflement of the assembled press.

Does he really believe the traditional curtain raiser to the English football season (the phrase we’re all contractually obliged to use for this fixture) can be counted as a major trophy? It even brought a few lolz from United supporters who labelled it a ‘Scouse Treble’, in reference to Liverpool’s five cup wins in the 2001 calendar year (which included both the Community Shield and the European Super Cup, another trophy fans generally don’t care about).

The rise in recent years of the coverage of pre-season friendlies has been astonishing, though, from satellite television stations you’ve never heard of (Quest TV anyone?) covering summer tournaments to national newspaper websites offering minute by minute coverage of fixtures in the middle of the night, there really is no break from the saturated exposure of the national game (although, ahem, it does keep some of us in work).

Still, the league champions versus the cup holders retains a little something for those involved, and while Chelsea and Arsenal have already played this summer (with the Blues easily overcoming the Gunners 3-0 in Beijing), this looks set to be a more competitive affair – and, if it’s half as good as the FA Cup Final between the two from last May, we will be in for something special.

Never A Game With Nothing To Lose

Is this fixture a barometer for the season ahead? The numbers, as per usual, can bend to any narrative. Last year’s winners, Manchester United, won two trophies over the next ten months but finished only sixth in the league. Arsenal won the previous two renewals but failed to mount a sustained title challenge thereafter.

Delve further back into the archive and from 2005 to 2010 five of the six winners of this August Wembley showpiece did go on to lift the Premier League trophy – Liverpool were the anomaly in 2006. The last team to win both the Community Shield and league championship in the same season was Manchester United in 2010/11 campaign.

You know, though, that whichever team loses on Sunday, they will undoubtedly say that the result doesn’t really matter in the bigger scheme of things.

Both Chelsea and Arsenal have been on gruelling tours across the globe over the past month and you suspect that neither Antonio Conte nor Arsene Wenger really want another pre-season fixture, but the irony is both have a stellar record in games of this type. The Frenchman has seen his side win the Community Shield on six occasions, while the Italian, widely ridiculed for his cup statistics as boss of Juventus in Italy, can boast a two-wins-from-two record in the Supercoppa Italiana – the game which pits the Serie A champions against the Coppa Italia winners.

And, if you probe deeper into the current state of both clubs, maybe this is a game that is more significant than at first glance.

Momentum To Build After Muddled Summer

Conte, mindful of his team’s poor start to the domestic term 12 months ago, and the fact the Champions League will take so much more out of his charges this term, will perhaps weight this match a little heavier than Wenger.

But the Gunners boss has overseen some awful starts to the league season in recent years (just one opening day league success in the last seven years) and knows any early slip-ups will put his side on the back foot from the get go. Momentum gained from a win on Sunday could be crucial.

Off the pitch, both clubs look unsettled. Contract issues for Arsenal (Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain) and injury worries plus transfer problems for Chelsea (Eden Hazard and Tiemoué Bakayoko; Diego Costa’s future and the failure to sign Romelu Lukaku) have meant neither manager has had a smooth pre-season. The ante, therefore, has been considerably upped for the Community Shield.

On the pitch, Wenger’s decision to play square pegs in round holes in July friendlies has raised eyebrows (Oxlade Chamberlain left wing back? Mohamed Elneny centre half?), while Chelsea’s poor displays in Singapore against both Bayern Munich and Inter Milan were hardly what Conte was looking for in the run up to the big kick off.

Spot Kick Shootout To Decide Silverware

It all makes for a fascinating encounter, and one that is difficult to predict. Chelsea are the favourites, at 23/20, with the bookmakers to win in 90 minutes (remember it’s straight to penalties if we’re all square at the end of regulation play), with Arsenal 49/20, while the draw trades at 5/2. It would not surprise me if the game went to spot-kicks – the last one to do so was in 2009, so we’re overdue.

However, given both sides propensity to leak goals at the back at the moment – only one clean sheet in four pre-season games for the Blues, while the Gunners have conceded eight goals in their last quartet of summer warm-up matches – the best bets might be to back over 2.5 and 3.5 goals, priced at 8/11 and 19/10 respectively.

Correct scores of 2-2 (11/1) and 3-3 (40/1) are not out of the question either, in a game that both sets of managers, players and supporters would be loath to admit but just might be as serious as Mourinho suggested.