LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 16: Mario Balotelli of Manchester City and Anderson of Manchester United fight for the ball during the FA Cup sponsored by E.ON semi final match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium on April 16, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
The Manchester derby is once again headed to Wembley Stadium - this time in the FA Community Shield, which is played between the English Premier League champion and the FA Cup winners. In their two league matches last season, Manchester United got the best of their "noisy neighbors" as they earned a draw at the Eastlands in a 0-0 stalemate while Wayne Rooney's famous overhead kick proved to be the winner in a 2-1 victory at Old Trafford. However, Manchester City got some vengeance in a FA Cup semi-final tie at Wembley with a 1-0 victory - this propelled them to their first trophy in 35 years after City defeated Stoke City in the final. While United have participated in 14 of the last 19 Community Shield matches, they have only met City once in this competition - a 1956 tie that United won 1-0. This fixture is typically a glorified pre-season match but both sides may potentially see this particular encounter as something more - especially when each considers who their opponent is and the context of City's ambition.
In preparation for the upcoming season, United embarked to the United States for a pre-season tour. While across the pond, the Reds played four matches against Major League Soccer (MLS) competition and outscored their counterparts 18-2. The grand finale of the tour was an exhibition versus FC Barcelona in Washington D.C. where United earned a small measure of revenge against the Catalan side with a 2-1 victory, whom they had just lost to in the UEFA Champions League final in May.
While United certainly looked the part as favorites to repeat as Premier League champions during their tour through the U.S., perhaps the most important part of their adventure was the acclimation of newcomers David de Gea, Ashley Young, and Phil Jones. de Gea, the presumed new No 1 after a £18.9 million transfer fee during the summer, joined the tour in Seattle after helping Spain's U-21 side win the European Championship in July. Young, the former Aston Villa attacker and current rising England international, looked electric at times during his stints on the left flank. Jones, the 19-year-old defender, showed his versatility and promise while featuring both at center-back and right-back.
In addition, United have mostly gone through the pre-season unscathed. The one major exception to this is the concussion that Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez suffered while training in New Jersey. It is being speculated that the Mexican striker will miss the early portion of the Premier League season. In less serious news, it has been reported that both Michael Carrick and Rafael have both received minor knocks, however, the latter participated last night in Paul Scholes' testimonial match at Old Trafford. Darren Fletcher and Antonio Valencia both stayed back in Manchester during the tour to recover from illness and injury, respectively. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson has indicated each should be available at season's beginning.
While United's preparation for the season can generally be described as having gone smoothly thus far, the same probably cannot be said for their neighbors. Quite simply, this has to do with their talisman and Manchester-hating captain Carlos Tevez showing himself to be selfish - the reports that he had to be threatened with fines in order to show up for their FA Cup winning parade during the Spring is incredibly telling of his situation at City. While he has been linked with a move to Corinthians or for a loan spell to Inter, the Argentine striker is still a City squad member. The mercurial, but immensely talented striker will miss the Community Shield match as he is still on leave after his Copa American duty for Argentina.
There certainly is a positive side though for City in regards to their summer - mainly in the £38 million acquisition of Sergio 'Kun' Aguero. The Argentine attacker is arguably world-class and he may prove to the be signing of the summer transfer window. If Tevez does depart City, Aguero could show himself to be more than suitable as a replacement. If the Tevez saga continues at Eastlands, Aguero theoretically could play in the hole right behind Tevez in attack. In addition, City have brought in Gael Clichy from Arsenal FC and the promising Stefan Savic from Partizan Belgrade over the summer.
Despite the high-profile nature of this match, it is still a friendly. Therefore, attempting to project lineups may prove to be a futile exercise. However, I will have a go at it because the discussion of it can still provide a useful preview of the tie.
A few weeks back, while still on tour in the U.S. Fergie indicated that de Gea would be his man in between the posts at Wembley. In recent days, and despite playing in last night's testimonial for Scholes, the manager ruled out Rafael while citing a knock. Thus, this likely means his twin brother Fabio starting at right-back with the possibility of either Jones or Chris Smalling deputising as well. At the left-back, it is likely that the durable Patrice Evra gets the nod but Fabio or Jonny Evans could feature as well. At center-back, captain Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand are clear first-choice but the youngster Smalling is a strong possibility to deputise for Ferdinand. If United play with a two-man central midfield, Anderson and Tom Cleverley may get the nod in the center of the park with Carrick ruled out and also with possible limitation of minutes for the 37-year-old Ryan Giggs. On the flanks, Park Ji-sung is possible on the left after not featuring versus FC Barcelona and also in last night's testimonial. Nani appears most likely on the right flank but Fergie may seek to get Valencia some playing time as well prior to the season's start. Rooney is almost certainly to start - either in the attack line if Fergie uses a three-man central midfield or playing withdrawn and between the lines in attack if United play 4-4-1-1. Michael Owen or Dimitar Berbatov is the likely choice at striker. If United do play with three in the center, an interesting possibility is Jones at the base of the midfield - a role he played 18 times last season for Blackburn Rovers.
For City, their No 1 Joe Hart will be in goal. His center-back pairing is likely to be Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott. Newly acquired Clichy is probable at left-back while Micah Richards could lineup on the opposite side. Nigel De Jong will probably shield his defense with Gareth Barry as the possession midfielder alongside him. Further up the pitch, Yaya Toure likely starts and he could be flanked by David Silva and James Milner - Adam Johnson is a possibility as well. Up top, expect to see either Mario Balotelli or Edin Dzeko. Aguero is reported to have a stomach bug but he is expected to make the trip to London and he could be featured as a substitute.
What to look for:
While this is still a pre-season match and unlikely to have the pace and intensity of a league match, it is still likely to be much more competitive than a typical friendly. Thus, I will attempt to provide both a few tactical keys along with simple things to keep an eye out for in this match:
* Nani vs Clichy: It is possible that the Portuguese winger does not even start but this match-up is worth pointing out because of their history. While at Arsenal, Clichy regularly struggled with Nani and even on some occasions, he got destroyed. In addition, during the match at Old Trafford in February, Nani terrorized City down the flank with his threat of crossing the ball with his right boot from the touchline or his dangerous ability to cut in and shoot with his left.
* De Jong vs Rooney: This matchup is dependent on if Fergie elects to play 4-4-1-1. If so, Rooney's preference to operate between the lines will match him up with the formidable De Jong. During last season's run-in, when Rooney thrived in this role, he generally did well with his intelligent movement and superb technique to foil holding-midfielders. However, De Jong is arguably the class of the Premier League in this role. Even if Rooney does not play in this role, De Jong could influence the match by providing inside cover when the likes of Nani, Park, or Young cut inside from the flanks.
* Newcomers: de Gea, Young, Jones, Aguero, Clichy - this will the most competitive scenario each side's supporters will get a chance to see their new acquisitions prior to next weekend when Premier League action begins. Is de Gea up to the task as the successor to the great Edwin van der Sar? Is Young capable of displacing the superb Park or Nani as first-choice on the left flank? Is Aguero capable of being of being City's talisman if Tevez departs? Quite obviously, none of this can be answered on Sunday but subtle hints can be provided.
Odds: Manchester United 13/10, Draw 9/4, Manchester City 2/1
Prediction: United 1-1 City (United win on penalties after 90 minutes)
SBN's City blog: Bitter and Blue