Premier League champions Manchester City eased to victory over FA Cup holders Chelsea in the blistering heat at Wembley Stadium on Sunday in English football’s traditional curtain raiser, The Community Shield.
The match, which despite being just another preseason friendly, does have something more to it. Firstly it has history, a lot of history. This is the 96th time the match between the league and cup winners has taken place, with the very first 110 years ago when Manchester United defeated Queens Park Rangers at, coincidently, Stamford Bridge. Add to that the exclusive invitation of requiring to have conquered all in either of England’s main 2 competitions and it should be regarded as a proud day for a club, and it’s supporters, to be a part of. After all, most other countries and even UEFA call their equivalent match a “Super Cup”.
This time around saw last season’s record breaking EPL winners take on a side that had slipped from being the previous season’s title winners to also rans in the league. It was only due to Chelsea’s determination and resilience that saw them lift the cup back in May.
Pep Guardiola has been moulding his expensively put together Manchester City squad into a powerful and ruthless footballing force. They are also entertaining and a joy to watch when in full flow as he brings his Barcelona and Bayern Munich experiences and success to England. Despite missing a few players were rightly installed as quite strong favourites over The Blues.
Chelsea, however, are a club in transition. With the departure of title and cup winning Antonio Conte and the installation of Maurizio Sarri at the helm of the first team squad, a change in style and philosophy within the team is taking place.
After winning the league in Conte’s first season, Chelsea’s campaign last time out faltered throughout and highlighted a number of weaknesses within the playing side. Whilst unable to rectify these issues and becoming more and more distant from the club and the fans, Conte lost his job and Chelsea looked towards a new head coach.
Maurizio Sarri had created a reputation whilst at Napoli of getting his players to play creative, attacking football whilst developing youth and an entertaining style of football. And The Community Shield would be the first match the world would see what the Italian can do with The Blues.
His first key change has been to revert the side to a flat back 4, and a relatively narrow back 4 at that. This requires less of an adjustment for the likes of Antonio Rudiger and Cesar Azpilicueta, despite the latter moving to right back. However, David Luiz is more effective in a central back 3 and Marcos Alonso is more effective charging up the left flank. Both will need plenty of time to adjust their skill set to become more tuned to their new responsibilities.
One of the keys to Sarri’s style of play is, while in possession, the speed in which the ball is moved from teammate to teammate. The one touch football with almost 100% pass accuracy shown by new signing Jorginho throughout preseason so far is the perfect example of this. Sarri is known to yell expletives to any of his players who dare to take a third touch of the ball in possession! However, this takes time and endless practice to hone.
Add to all this the lack of wing backs to support attacks and you get to start to understand the extent of the task that Sarri is undertaking. Preseason matches against other sides who spent last season also not challenging for their league titles gave the Chelsea players more opportunities to work on and express their new way of playing.
However, a Community Shield match up against an almost full strength all conquering Manchester City is clearly beyond where Chelsea are capable of performing at the moment. Especially, a Chelsea side devoid of their best 2 players and 4 other first team regulars thanks to their World Cup exploits. Not that even with Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante in the side, The Blues would have reversed the result, but without them and still being in the first steps towards the system that the new manager expects from them, the gulf between the 2 sides surely would have been a lot closer.
The Citizens rarely got out of second gear and it was only in the last couple of minutes that they tried to make the score line look even more emphatic. Yes, Chelsea did have spells when they looked like they were building some momentum, but in truth they rarely threatened Bravo’s goal. Indeed it was young Callum Hudson-Odoi who came closest for The Blues.
The 17 year old youth academy product shone once again and with signs of Sarri’s philosophy being instilled into the squad and the impending return of Chelsea’s World Cup players, The Blues will surely progress over the coming weeks.
So as Chelsea registered their 9th runners up spot out of 13 appearances in the annual season opener, the result may not have been want their fans were hoping for, but there are some early signs of a brighter outlook for the coming season.
There is a huge amount of work to be done, but Chelsea appear to have a manager and the players who will do all they can to reduce the gap between the defending champions and themselves. Only time, and 38 league matches, will tell how well they are able to achieve this.