The 97th FA Community Shield on Sunday should be a watered down preview of what we can expect in the season ahead from defending champions Manchester City and runners-up Liverpool.
History shows the game is usually a light-hearted affair, but with both teams tipped by the bookies as favourites for the Premier League title next season, it’s reasonable to expect a much more competitive contest.
City had a successful pre-season, winning three out of four of the games (one loss on penalties to Wolves) in comparison to Liverpool’s one win in five. Although pre-season rarely means much for the season proper, it did give some of Manchester City’s starlets and new signings the chance to shine.
The Blues’ tour of Asia showcased some of the upcoming talent that has been moulded by an award-winning academy. City fans got a glimpse of who could feature for the Blues not only next season but over the next decade with some solid home-grown talent on show.
With Kompany’s departure and transfer target Harry McGuire seemingly moving across to the red side of Manchester, 17-year-old, 6ft 2 central defender Taylor Harwood-Bellis from Stockport seized his opportunity to play at the back during pre-season.
Harwood-Bellis started City’s game against West Ham and was the only player to feature for the full 90 minutes until he was brought off in injury time with cramp. He partnered both Laporte and John Stones (first half and second half respectively) and impressed Pep with a solid performance.
Youngsters Foden and Doyle also caught the eye, with Foden ever more looking the player to eventually fill the magical boots of David Silva. Could this be his season?
With Kompany retiring and David Silva announcing his retirement at the end of the season, the only two players who formed part of Manchester City’s successful spine since the takeover of the club remaining are Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho.
Aguero has not yet hinted any departure is on the horizon, but with Fernandinho turning 34 in May and struggling with injuries for club and country, the club has broken its transfer record to sign what they see to be his long-term replacement – 23 year-old Rodri.
Nicknamed ‘the fire extinguisher’ and described as ‘young, intelligent, technical and physical’, the Spaniard is defensively minded. But if his time at Atletico and during pre-season is anything to go by, he is consistently looking to play the ball forward – something City’s wingers thrive on.
He has said that he prefers to steal the ball by reading the play rather than win the ball back with a De Jong style sliding tackle, and that at 6ft 2 it takes too long to recover.
In pre-season matches he used his height and awareness to break up the play and either intercept the ball or win it back on two feet before playing it forward to the front three.
Rodri is also very successful when it comes to areal duels and had a high success rate in La Liga. With the likes of Van Dijk likely to start against the Blues on Sunday, this part of his game will be very useful at set pieces.
Fernandinho looks likely not to be in the starting 11 since being injured in the Copa America with Brazil, whilst Jesus and Aguero are both having extended breaks so are unlikely to feature too.
This will be a great opportunity for Rodri. He will be looking to stamp his presence more than most on Sunday and show he’s worth every penny. He will be the one Blues fans will be keeping an eye on.
He will be looking forward to playing at Wembley and winning his first bit of silverware for the club on Sunday. He only needs to stop the attacking presence of Firminho, Mane and Salah. Easy.
If he impresses on Sunday and calms the nerves, it will be a good foundation for the season ahead. Although he has joked that Pep’s Manchester restaurant is too expensive for him, if he stops the attacking threat of Liverpool and fills the void left in Fernandinho’s absence, the patatas bravas will be on Pep.