As the Olympic Games draws to a close on Sunday night with the fanfare of the closing ceremony and an approving nation declaring its love for all things athletic, the top flight of English football quietly slips back into action with perhaps the most under-the-radar curtain opener in memory.
The Community Shield is never taken too seriously as a trophy (unless you are Gerard Houllier) but, this year more than most, the fact it is even happening seems to have escaped most people’s attention, save for those affiliated in some way to Manchester City or Chelsea.
Shunted from Wembley to Villa Park to accommodate London 2012 (how the FA must be furious as they think of the thousands of unsold hot dogs) the meeting of the Premier League champions and the FA Cup winners might not be high on people’s agenda but it does mark the start of the football season.
Aguero has been in great form and with three pre-season goals to his name I expect him to give City the edge and I will be all over that 6/5.
And no matter how much people have (quite rightly) got carried away with the Olympic spirit and (quite rightly) suggested that football could do worse than learn a few lessons from the athletes on show in the capital, come 1.30pm on Sunday it will be a case of normal service being resumed.
Nine months of excitement, drama, controversy, dodgy refereeing and brilliant football are sure to follow and even if it doesn’t seem like it now, give it a couple of weeks and football will be the only thing on most people’s minds.
Of course, City and Chelsea have been concentrating on the new season since the last kick of the previous one – last kicks that brought both clubs silverware in the most dramatic fashion. Sergio Aguero’s injury time winner against QPR on the last day gave the Citizens the Premier League trophy in the most incredible manner imaginable, while Didier Drogba’s final act as a Chelsea player was to score the penalty that won the Blues the Champions League against Bayern Munich.
That success, coupled with an FA Cup final victory over Liverpool, granted Roberto Di Matteo the chance to become Chelsea’s permanent manager and both he and his opposite number, his fellow Italian Roberto Mancini, have enjoyed contrasting summers since.
While Roman Abramovich has opened his chequebook, allowing Di Matteo to spend millions bringing in Eden Hazard, Oscar and Marko Marin, incredible as it may seem Mancini hasn’t spent a penny, making City, the richest club in the world, the only Premier League club not to sign a player.
Mancini’s frustrations are evident, but he needn’t worry too much. Yes, he would like to move on some high-earning reserves (Roque Santa Cruz, Emmanuel Adebayor) and add to his pool from a position of strength but he still has the best squad in England and I fancy them to show that by beating Chelsea on Sunday.
City are 6/5 to do just that, with the draw at 23/10 and the west Londoners at 11/5 and I can’t see beyond a Manchester victory.
Di Matteo may have spent a lot of money, but he needed to as the gap between his side and the league champions was huge last year, despite Chelsea’s Champions League victory. The Blues finished five places and 25 points behind City last term and that is a gap that is not going to be bridged this season, even with Abramovich’s splurge.
Chelsea have bought well in young, exciting attacking talent but their defence remains a concern, where doubts over Petr Cech are valid and those in front of him are either past their best (John Terry) or unreliable (David Luiz).
Di Matteo’s men have lost three pre-season games on the bounce and have conceded ten goals in five summer friendlies and the way in which they lost 3-1 at Brighton last weekend will have Chelsea fans worried.
By contrast, City may not have been busy in the transfer market but they have been imperious on the pitch, winning their last five official first team friendlies, scoring 13 goals and conceding just one in that sequence.
The fact Mancini was able to run a parallel pre-season for those coming back from Euro 2012 duty shows the depth of talent at his disposal, and even in the unlikely event they make no signings between now and 1st September City remain the team to beat.
With Carlos Tevez back in the fold and apparently happy (or as happy as he will ever be) Mancini still boasts incredible attacking players and I fancy them to make the most of Chelsea’s creaking defence. Aguero has been in great form and with three pre-season goals to his name I expect him to give City the edge and I will be all over that 6/5.
Recommended bet: Manchester City to beat Chelsea in normal time @ 6/5
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