The traditional curtain raiser for the English Premier League (or EPL as the Americans would have it branded) took place on Sunday 7 August 2011 between the rival teams from Manchester – United, as domestic champions and City as FA Cup winners. Pundits and fans alike tend to dismiss the Community Shield as another meaningless pre-season friendly game, but those who saw Alex Ferguson’s reactions to Nani’s injury time winner might want to reconsider that view. Moving along though, although it was a pre-season friendly what can we garner from the game?
United are still hungry
Given that Alex Ferguson is entering his 26th season as manager of the club, the one key ingredient that he has developed and sustained in the team is an insatiable appetite to keep winning trophies. Ferguson manages to keep this hunger and transmits it to each incarnation of the Red Devils and this should sound warning bells to any potential domestic challengers.
New batch of United kids
Another strength of Ferguson is his ability to blend experience and youth into a winning formula. Arguably his finest batch of youngsters from the academy was the class of ’95 with Giggs, Scholes, Beckham, Butt and the brothers Neville who went onto to establish themselves as Treble winners in the ’99 season, amongst many other trophies. Ferguson’s squad depth with the likes of Wellbeck, Hernandez, Cleverly, De Gea, Smalling and Jones shows that he is placing a lot of faith in the youth, especially with the departures of Scholes, Brown, O’Shea and Van der Sar.
City looked toothless
With no Carlos Tevez or Sergio Aguero playing upfront, City appeared to lack someone to build their attack around. Dzeko appeared to be quite clumsy and lacked sharpness (which could partially be blamed on pre-season lack of form) and Balotelli’s only seemed to want to go toe-to-toe with Vidic, which at least would have provided some measure of entertainment.
Central midfield concerns for City
City have the dogged and tenacious Nigel de Jong in the centre of the park, but he seemed to be fighting a lone battle during the game. James Milner attempted to “Beckhamise” himself by switching from the flanks to a central midfield berth, but was found wanting. Gareth Barry, to my mind, has always been a poor man’s Lampard in that he is a tough defensive midfielder but offers little in the way of creativity or goals.
Berbatov the squad player
Berbatov was perched on the bench as Wellbeck was preferred ahead of him, and Javier Hernandez would probably have started ahead of him in any event. Berbatov failed to make the squad for the Champion’s League final, with Michael “Sicknote” Owen chosen ahead of him, and it remains to be seen whether or not he will remain happy with his position. Perhaps Ferguson has managed to charm Berbatov who is happy with a role which was occupied by the Baby-Faced Assassin in the 1990’s.
City are just “noisy neighbours” for now
There is still some work to do before City can be regarded as serious rivals to Manchester United. The team certainly talks the talk and they do have an abundance of talent and (more) money available to them. However, as Roberto Mancini discovered last season the safe and conservative approach may not be sufficient to please some very expectant supporters and owners especially in light of qualifying for the Champions League and the FA Cup victory last season. Mancini needs to blend the undoubted skill of his fantasy football team and gel it into a team that can play for each other and win silverware.
Much ado about De Gea
It is still too early to pass judgement on De Gea and label him as the new Massimo Taibi. The 20-year-old is still new to the country and getting to grips with playing for a new team. The main thing to look out for is how he reacts to his inauspicious start, and whether he has the strength of character to rise above this.
In conclusion, the 2011/12 season promises to be an entertaining one and the two Manchester clubs will undoubtedly be in the headlines throughout it.