Stephen Tudor looks ahead to this weekend’s Community Shield clash.
“In Spain and Germany, it’s important. Why play if it doesn’t count? We could have longer holidays.”
That was Pep Guardiola speaking in the spring of 2019, defending the merits of the Community Shield and the Catalan has been true to his word in valuing the fixture, playing full strength sides in both games he’s been involved in since arriving in England and celebrating each as a legitimate ‘title’.
That was in normal times though. Before a global pandemic. Before England reached a Euro final meaning four of Manchester City’s biggest stars were still on international duty and playing the most important game of their lives less than a month before this season’s ‘curtain raiser’. Before Covid complications resulted in pre-season plans being scrapped and replaced by ad-hoc friendlies against Barnsley and Blackpool.
“We are going to play with the second team and we are going to try.”
That was Guardiola last week referring to City’s forthcoming trip to Wembley to face a Leicester side who beat them 5-2 last September and from this comment it was interpreted his line-up would heavily feature the club’s under 23s this Saturday, in effect a shadow team picked from necessity.
Surely this would hurt Guardiola? A foreign coach who estimates one of English football’s marquee footballing events far higher than most Premier League fans.
Thankfully, it hasn’t come to this, or at least rumours of City’s intentions to field a weakened side have been exaggerated. Back-up goalkeeper Zack Steffen will play, while there will likely be a starting spot rewarded to one of the kids who has impressed of late: take your pick from Cole Palmer, James McAtee or Samuel Edozie.
Elsewhere , it will be a familiar group, even if many were peripheral figures last season as City strolled to a Premier League title. Expect a backline of Cancelo, Dias, Ake and Mendy with Fernandinho offering tireless protection. In midfield Ilkay Gundogan – last term’s leading goalscorer for the champions with 17 across all competitions – will orchestrate proceedings, attempting rusty one-twos that may, or may not come off with Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez. Rodri and De Bruyne will no doubt be given valuable minutes as Tottenham and a new Premier League campaign loom.
Manchester City are evens to score under 1.5 goals
Yet if the calibre of opposition City can provide should not be questioned given their extensive squad, their fitness levels throw up a degree of doubt. Some will be sharp, having trained for a couple of weeks with the bonus of cameos in friendlies. Others will be physically compromised.
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— Oddschanger (@Oddschanger) August 2, 2021
Turning our attention to Leicester and the situation becomes much more straightforward, or at least as straightforward as anything can be right now. Missing for the Foxes are Papy Mendy, James Justin and Jonny Evans, the latter two particularly acute losses, although Timothy Castagne may be available despite having broken an eye socket at the Euros.
Boubakary Soumare is set to make his debut after his summer switch from Lille and there were moments against QPR in Leicester’s last friendly where we saw glimpses of the authoritative player he will become for Brendan Rodger’s side. Ahead of the French midfielder, James Maddison will scheme and scrutinize, inspired by becoming a dad at the weekend. Prior to the birth, Maddison looked sprightly in run-outs against Burton and Wycombe and is clearly unfazed by speculation linking him with Arsenal.
Up front we can anticipate Kelechi Iheanacho and Jamie Vardy to reprise their impactful partnership from last year but the real intrigue lies in Patson Daka’s contribution following his £27m move from the Bundesliga. All summer long we’ve focused so intently on Jack Grealish, Harry Kane and Jadon Sancho as if they’re the only meaningful transfers at present. Don’t rule out Daka being a formidable prospect in the Premier League and, in hindsight, the signing of this window.
“He has that pace,” Rodgers said of him last week. “You see his comfort one-on-one, and he finishes with calmness. He’ll be a really exciting signing.”
Yet this is Leicester City against Manchester City, so of course our thoughts settle on Jamie Vardy, the veteran striker who has seen and done it all before, proving himself a hundred times over. Twice Vardy has scored hat-tricks against City and with nine goals in 16 appearances against them, an argument could be made that no other player has more had their measure in the modern era. His pace frightens them. His intelligence of movement when playing off the last man so often reveals this excellent rearguard’s last remaining Achilles heel.
Five of Vardy’s goals have come early. Leicester City/Draw is 12/1 in the Half Time/Full Time market.
As for the fixture itself, it is noteworthy that goals have decreased in recent years. In the last eight Community Shields there have been 2.1 goals per game. In the eight before that the average was 3.2. It’s perhaps also pertinent that three of the last four have finished 1-1, as a contest that is increasingly viewed as a training exercise on a nice pitch ekes out to penalties.
With the fitness concerns for City, and the adaptations being implemented within the Leicester set-up, don’t be shocked if this one goes the same way.
Back the draw and under 2.5 goals at 17/4.
If you’re convinced of goals however, then the 6/1 for another 1-1 is better value.