As sure as the kids going back to school heralds the onset of Autumn, the Community Shield, which only a disaffected Stretford can refer to as a meaningful trophy, denotes the start of yet another eagerly anticipated Premier League Season.
At Wembley today, Centurion Champions Manchester City took on Chelsea, conquerors in the same stadium of the said disaffected Stretfords in the FA Cup final last season.
With many members of both teams’ starters resting up after the exertions of the World Cup, Guardiola went with Bravo between the sticks, Walker, Stones, Laporte and Mendy across the back, Fernandinho, Foden and Bernardo in midfield, Mahrez, Aguero and Sane up top.
Mendy must have won more titles per minutes played last season than any other player in the history of the great game, but his pace and power became evident almost immediately today.
Chelsea not only paraded Caballero in goal but gave a start to Jorginho, a long time City target who demonstrated his lack of ambition in the close season by following his former boss to Stamford Bridge. Why?
The early exchanges belonged to City. It seems that no matter who wears the sky blue shirts, the method and application is still the same and City’s signature football started to gain momentum after an indifferent tour of the United States, but this time with the incredible Bernardo pulling the strings that so often over the last decade have belonged to his namesake David, the City engines began to catch fire.
Sergio Aguero, pegged by injury on 199 goals for City, looked hungry and at it and as he added to his tally of goals in a City shirt, this happens now every time he scores now, and it did not take him long to notch up goal number 200.
It started with Pedro getting caught offside for Chelsea. From the resultant free kick, City processed the ball from Laporte to Bernardo and then to youngster Foden who ran into the danger area. He confused Rudiger and collected a trio of defenders before slipping it to Aguero who had lost the same trio. The Argentino goal king then did what he does best. He drilled it past his national amigo, Caballero and into the net.
In the coming minutes, City’s confidence grew and Sane could have doubled the advantage but his first touch saw the ball run away from him before his second could add to the score.
Chelsea are still perhaps finding their feet in the arena of new tactics being introduced by a new manager, in this case Maurizio Sarri, whose Napoli side played a good brand of attacking football quite unlike the former Chelsea manager Conte. The tried to match City’s 4-3-3 formation, but in the early part of the match were not as good at it as City. Indeed in the first half hour the offered practically nothing on offence, but shortly thereafter Hudson-Odoi opened up the City defence but his shot wasn’t enough to beat Bravo. Warning bells were sounding though because Fernandinho gave him space and Stones and Laporte backed off. The Chelsea teenager looked fearless and useful.
Chelsea got a bit more into the game around the 35-minute mark but stray passes at crucial points in their attacks kept City’s goal intact, with Bravo pretty much untroubled.
As the match drew towards the break Bravo reminded us as to why it was necessary to purchase Ederson when he misjudged a long ball from Alonso which bounced over his head. He was forced to chase it back towards his goal and rescue the situation, looking the coolest man in the building.
Sane, who, astonishingly didn’t go to the World Cup, was withdrawn at the break as he collected a knock in the first half. Guardiola clearly didn’t wish to risk him.
In the first attack, Aguero robbed Jorginho and set off for goal. His shot was weak and didn’t trouble Caballero.
Chelsea showed a little more urgency but Pedro’s lack of effective control was followed by a dive and the danger was gone and City flew to the other end, set up a clear chance for Aguero who couldn’t miss. But an extra touch took him too wide and rather than tee-up Gundogan, replacing Sane, Sergio hit the back of the net but without the ball passing through the portals. Unbelievable, Jeff!
City were getting back into their rhythm, this time with Aguero setting up Foden who brought a reasonable save from Caballero. With Sane gone from the left, it was time to unleash Mendy, whose turbo-style engines leave everyone for dead. He did look to shine at times but not enough use was being made of him. Indeed, City could have compacted to three at the back and pushed Mendy up as Chelsea were not offering too much of a threat, with Morata firing on no cylinders.
With 57 minutes on the clock, Chelsea were on attack. Stones read the ball into Hudson-Odoi, stepped in and played towards Gundogan. He spotted the wide run from the irresistible Bernardo who squeezed it into Aguero. This time there was no messing as Sergigol drilled it into the bottom corner.
The withdrawal of Sane meant a cabinet reshuffle for City. Mahrez was moved to the left and Bernardo to the right. Left, right or centre, nobody could contain Bernardo who was sending out a scary message to the effect that if David isn’t around, then there’s someone equally as good waiting in the wings.
City were recovering possession far too easily each time Chelsea had the ball and were pressing forward impressively. On 65 minutes another fluid move saw the chance fall to Mahrez who couldn’t quite find the net. A minute later Aguero was unlucky to be flagged offside as he sprang forward in search of a hat-trick.
Mahrez was then replaced by de Jesus as Abrahams was introduced for Morata, who in all fairness had been useless. Willian had also been brought on for Fabregas, as Chelsea tried to offer more resistance.
Rudiger clattered de Jesus and from the resultant free-kick Chelsea were forced to clear the second ball over their own bar. From the corner, Bernardo found Laporte whose pinpoint cross found Aguero who was very close to adding to his goal tally.
With 15 minutes left and with Foden having been weighed in, this week’s birthday boy Brahim Diaz,19 a couple of days ago came onto the field. City were still ascendant and refusing to surrender the football and within a few minutes of entering the field quick-fire movement between Mendy and Aguero opened it up for Diaz who hit the side netting. Another scary fact is that when Foden or Diaz are in the side, it doesn’t look any weaker. They are both Pep-drilled and fit the system.
This signalled the end of the match for Aguero as Guardiola brought on his Club Captain, Vincent Kompany to see out the match and pushed Stones into midfield as part of the bargain.
Chances fell to both Diaz and de Jesus, who despite being tugged by Luiz, brought a save out of Caballero.
As play switched to other end a robust tackle by Kompany put paid to any Chelsea promise, but in the following incident Laporte went down holding his thigh and was promptly replaced by Otamendi.
By now the exits were bursting with royal blue as the West End’s finest headed for the tube. They missed another calamitous City moment when Barkley got free, played onside by Kompany. As the defenders reformed the former Evertonian tried to find Abraham and as the ball span around in the six-yard box with Bravo having a bit of a flap, City rescued the situation once again.
AS the game moved into added time, the stadium announcer gave Aguero the man-of-the-match award, obviously for his deciding goals but he must have been run close by Bernardo Silva who was simply excellent. With the game drawing to a close Caballero was once again forced to deny Diaz a Wembley goal.
There was still time for Diaz, de Jesus and Gundogan to provide discomfort in the Chelsea penalty area and once again Caballero was the hero for Chelsea. There was just about time to bring on new-boy Gomes, but in the same instance, the referee blew the final whistle.
The Premier League now knows there will be no let up by Guardiola’s men and with the youngsters also getting a look in now the future is bright. The future is sky blue.
And, dare I say, if, as the Stretfords suggest, this is a trophy…the quintuple is on!!