After the rest of the football league kicked off yesterday, Wembley plays host today to the annual season curtain raiser for the Premier League. Champions Manchester United take on FA Cup winners Portsmouth in the Community Shield.
In a game that is little more than a friendly, both teams will want to win but neither camp will read anything much into what happens. Whilst it is a useful game in the build up to the big kick-off, it is most useful as a way of getting the players match fit.
Manchester United are the current holders of the Shield, after beating Chelsea on penalties in last seasonÃ¢â‚¬Ëœs game. Who would have thought then, in the first match of the season, that we would witness the exact same outcome that we were going to see in the last game of the season?
Portsmouth havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t won the Community Shield since they shared it with Wolves some fifty-nine years ago.
Both sides have high hopes heading into the new season. United will be looking to retain the Premier League and the Champions League whilst Portsmouth will be looking to build on their Cup win and obtain a European qualification place through their league position. They may even have a quiet hope of breaking into the top four.
The ambitions of neither club are likely to be extinguished or confirmed whatever the outcome of this game as history has tended to show that whoever wins the Community Shield tends to fall short in the race for the Premiership.
Remarkably, on only two occasions in the last ten years have the winners of the Community Shield gone on to win the Premier League. Manchester United did it last year but it certainly wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be the end of the world for them if Portsmouth win this game. Of course Sir Alex Ferguson will want to win and he would like to exact revenge on Portsmouth for the FA Cup quarter-final defeat that may have eventually stopped United from winning the treble.
Whilst Portsmouth have a decent record against Manchester United at Fratton Park, that FA Cup win was their only success against them away from home since 2003 when they returned to the Premier League.
The two sides played each other recently in Nigeria and United won that game 2-1. It was a close battle and the game at Wembley is likely to be similarly even balanced. It is unlikely to be played at any great tempo and will probably come down to being a tactical battle.
Manchester United will be without Owen Hargreaves and Cristiano Ronaldo who are both injured, Wayne Rooney who wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have recovered from a virus in time to play in the game and Anderson who is away at the Olympics. Nani can and probably will play although he is banned from the first couple of league games and Gary Neville will be back in contention after a lengthy injury absence. Michael Carrick should feature after making a quicker recovery from the same virus that is affecting Wayne Rooney.
For Portsmouth, Kanu is a doubt and David Nugent and Lauren are injured. Ben Sahar, on loan from Chelsea, could be included in the squad and Sol Campbell is expected to be fit to captain the side.
FA Cup goal-scoring hero Kanu faces a race against time to prove he is fit enough to face the champions. Whether he would be selected if he was fit is open to question as Harry Redknapp now has a number of strikers from which he can select.
It will be a chance for many of us to see the potential of the partnership between Jermaine Defoe and Peter Crouch. They should be a handful for any defence but United are notoriously good at the back and finished last season conceding fewer goals than anyone else.
It is very difficult to predict the outcome of a game such as this one as both sides will be experimenting and trying new things and in PortsmouthÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s case, trying to settle in new players. Some of the more influential players probably wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be risked for ninety minutes and there are likely to be a number of substitutions. If I have to put my neck on the line and make a prediction I would say that the victory would probably mean more to Portsmouth than it would to Manchester United and for that reason, and that reason alone, I will predict a narrow victory for Portsmouth.
I think my correct prediction rate last season was about five percent so I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t suppose IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be any better this season!
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