The titanic battles between Liverpool and Manchester City in the race for last season’s league title is set to resume this afternoon when they lock horns at Wembley Stadium in the season opening FA Community Shield with pride and bragging rights at stake, writes Tunde Sulaiman
or lovers of the ‘beautiful game’ as espoused by the English Premier League, this afternoon’s clash between Manchester City and Liverpool in the FA Community Shield cannot come soon enough as it is a clear indication of the return of their weekly doses of football tonic.
The traditional season opener is usually between the winner of the Premier League and the FA Cup, but as City won both competitions last season, their opponents will be the 2018–19 Premier League runners-up, Liverpool in the 97th edition of the fixture.
Often seen as the unofficial English football’s ‘Super Cup’, this afternoon’s fixture sees a continuation of the epic battle between the two stand out teams of the last Premier League campaign, which served fans some of the most enthralling twists and turns ever seen in the world’s most watched domestic game.
Although ultimately won by City, courtesy of a solitary point over Liverpool 98 to 97, in seasons past the points’ tally of the Anfield outfit would have been more than enough to have won them the title and finally be able to lay to rest the club’s 29-year wait to once again return to the pinnacle of the game in England.
Incidentally perhaps what was even more stunning about the campaign last season, was that the fact that the team that eventually won the title lost three times; while the team that they edged out only lost once!
But the curtains fell on the 2018/19 season same 76days, and now the attention has shifted to the new season and today’s FA Community Shield, which outcome can often set the tone for the new campaign for the teams taking part.
Handled by two of the most outstanding managers of their generation, in Spaniard Pep Guardiola of City and Jurgen Klopp, a German, in charge of Liverpool, the clash between the two sides will be the 170th face-off between the two giants of the North West dating back to April 28, 1894.
And just like their epic Premier League tussle of last season, the results between the two is also razor thin with the Citizens holding a slight advantage over the Reds 85 wins to 84.
Guardiola’s passing and pressing style has been a hallmark of his sides at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now Manchester City.
He likes his teams to be fast moving, to dominate possession, and to be relentless in going forward. Without the ball, he expects them to use just as much energy in chasing down their opponents in order to win it back.
He is also a master psychologist which was manifested in the way he was able to get his team not to panic even when as at January 3 they were seven points behind then leaders, Liverpool, which appeared to be cruising towards their first ever Premier League title.
But in a stunning change in fortunes the Citizens then put together an amazing 13-game unbeaten run which took them once again to the summit of English league football.
Incidentally one of their ‘victims’ during this run was Liverpool and it was the only defeat the Anfield side suffered the whole campaign.
Pep’s opposite number, Klopp also employs a number of the same principles, and through the ‘Gegenpress’ has been one of the few managers who have been able to consistently trouble Guardiola’s teams.
Although in the last campaign, Klopp failed to get the better of the Spaniard in their two direct head-to-head clashes in the league, with City grinding out a draw at Anfield and winning the reverse fixture at the Etihad, overall the German has an impressive record against the man born in Santpedor.
Klopp has won half of his meetings with Guardiola’s sides over the years – eight of 16 games. No other manager who has faced Guardiola more than 10 times can even claim to have won one quarter of their matches.
Klopp’s style, so similar in many ways to Guardiola’s, clearly works as his kryptonite, and it accounted for City’s Champions League hopes last season as they lost home and away to Liverpool in the quarter-finals.
City had a golden chance to win the first Premier League meeting between the two sides this season at Anfield but Riyad Mahrez skied a late penalty and it finished goalless.
Klopp somewhat mitigated the pain of losing the league title on the final day of the season by going on to win the UEFA Champions League beating fellow Premier League side, Tottenham Hotspur in the final played at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano, on June 1.
Both sides recorded mixed results in their pre-season tune up games in the build up to today’s Wembley clash, with City enjoying a much better run of results compared to Liverpool’s.
While City only lost one of the four games they played – a penalty shootout loss to Wolves in the final of the Premier League Asia Trophy, Klopp’s side only managing one win in five.
The European champions lost to Borussia Dortmund, Sevilla, Sporting Lisbon and Napoli, which ended in an embarrassing 3-0 reversal at the hands of Italian side, Napoli last week.
However, they did salvage some pride with an emphatic 3-1 victory over Lyon in Geneva on Wednesday.
But the 52-year-old native of Stuttgart has been quick to wave aside the poor results evening claiming that it would be “completely mad to deduce how the season will unfold from Wembley’s result.”
Speaking in Edinburgh on Monday after Sunday’s 3-0 defeat by Napoli at Murrayfield, and before flying to a training camp in France, Klopp emphasised the absence of leading players over the past few weeks and how pleased he will be to see Alisson, Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino for the first time this season when they meet in Évian.
Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri are back in training after injury too but Klopp will not have Sadio Mane around until tomorrow. Mane played in the Africa Cup of Nations final for Senegal just over two weeks ago.
Only then, four days before the Premier League opener against Norwich at Anfield on Friday, will Klopp have his full squad together. It is a situation which adds fuel to his player burnout argument.
“I don’t want to find excuses before we play City,” Klopp said, “but we had a completely different pre-season. We played without six players and to say this must be the statement for us would be completely mad.”
Disconcerted to discover the general view of the Community Shield is as a “curtain-raiser” to the season, Klopp added: “It’s a good test of the things that are there [in place]. We have to defend in a good way, because if you don’t defend well against City, we can get a proper knock.”
Wednesday’s win over Lyon clearly vindicated Klopp, as the return of some his key players led to an upturn in fortunes of the Reds. The Geneva friendly marked the first pre-season game for Alisson, Brazil team-mate Firmino and Egypt’s Mohamed Salah, who all returned to training on Monday after the Copa America and Africa Cup of Nations respectively.
Liverpool conceded only 22 goals last season, one fewer than City, so he should not be anticipating frailty.
Klopp won the Super Cup in Germany twice, in 2013 and 2014 – each time against Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich – but he was caustic about the importance of those games too: “In Germany I won it twice but nobody mentions it. The Super Cup – you win it, nobody cares; you lose it and some care.”
Unfortunately as the German is all too aware of, in football winning is the name of the game and coaches are ultimately always judged by the outcome of their last match.
With a lot of pride and bragging rights at stake, fans should be in for an enthralling afternoon of football, especially as taking part in their first Community Shield since 2006 (when they beat then champions, Chelsea 2-1) would love nothing more than to lift the shield at the expense of the side that broke their hearts last May.
BIG MATCH FACTS
*Name: FA Community Shield
*Teams: Liverpool v Manchester City
*Venue: Wembley Stadium, London
*Referee: Martin Atkinson
*Most successful club(s): Manchester United (21 titles)
*Current champion: Manchester City F.C. (5th title)
Organised by the FA, proceeds from the game are distributed to community initiatives and charities around the country. Revenue from the gate receipts and match programme sales is distributed to the 124 clubs who competed in The FA Cup from the First Round onwards, for onward distribution to charities and projects of their choice, while the remainder is distributed to the FA’s national charity partners.
The fixture was first played in the 1908–09 season, replacing the Sheriff of London Charity Shield.
The current holders are Manchester City, who defeated Chelsea 2–0 in the 2018 match.