10 Questions That Might (But, In All Probability, Won’t) Be Answered By The FA Community Shield

August 4 2007

The Community Shield is, needless to say, nothing more than a glorified friendly. For all the no-such-thing-as-a-friendly guff about fierce rivalries and psychological advantages, it’s a game both sides could probably do without, and getting through it without picking up any new injuries will be a priority for both managers.

But it can tell us a few things. Which player has had the most ill-advised off-season haircut? What wacky new graphics have the men at Sky Sports been working on over the summer? And which player will earn the dubious honour of the first ironic ‘Wahey!’ of the season, after a touch that suggests he thinks he’s still on the beach in Marbella? Amongst other things…

1. Will Jose Mourinho behave himself this season?

He says he’s going to be more “mellow”. Time will tell. Expect a dubious winning goal for United in the sixth minute of injury time to test his resolve.

2. What is Alex Ferguson’s first-choice XI?

Injuries and lack of fitness mean Fergie does not have a full squad to pick from for the game, but it will be interesting nonetheless to see who he selects to start. Can Michael Carrick stake a claim for a starting role in the absence of Owen Hargreaves? How much have Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs got left in the tank? And how will Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Giggs, Anderson, Nani, Carlos Tevez and Louis Saha be filtered down into four attacking positions?

3. Is the Chelsea 4-3-3 back for good?

Mourinho has declared that he wants to start playing with width again, which should mean a first-choice front three of Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda and Joe Cole. A 4-4-2 formation tomorrow might suggest he’s not yet prepared to sacrifice the defensive instincts which characterised last season.

4. Is Wayne Rooney destined for the role of lone frontman?

Anyone who watched last season’s Champions League exit against AC Milan or the FA Cup Final defeat at the hands of Chelsea might be forgiven for thinking that Wayne Rooney isn’t at his best when played as a lone striker. Anyone, that is, but Sir Alex. With Saha and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer both injured, Rooney might just have to get used to going it alone.

5. Has Andriy Shevchenko put 2006-2007 behind him?

Shevchenko capped his domestic Chelsea debut in last season’s Community Shield with a well-taken goal against Liverpool, but it’s been down-hill rapidly since then. He’ll probably start on the bench, but if he comes on and plays well it might be a sign that he’s put his woes behind him.

6. Is the Wembley pitch any more conducive to good football?

The pitch was heavy and cut up badly in the first few games that were played there at the end of last season. The chances of an entertaining game will owe a lot to the condition of the playing surface.

7. Have United shored up their defence?

The men from Old Trafford enjoyed some pretty comfortable victories during their pre-season tour of the Far East, but in the 3-2 friendly defeat against Internazionale on Wednesday they looked sloppy and disorganised at the back. Ferguson admitted there was work to be done, and his back four will get a stern test from Didier Drogba and co.

8. How serious is Frank Lampard’s toe injury?

The medical staff at Chelsea have been quick to play down the injury, but it’s been plaguing Lampard for a while now. He’s by no means guaranteed to start tomorrow, and if he does play, could a knock to the toe set his recovery back?

9. Will we get a better game than the Cup Final?

It was a long game on a hot day played between two teams of tired players on a heavy, sapping pitch. Add to that the pressure of contesting the first Cup Final at the new Wembley, and it’s no surprise the game was such a complete wash-out. Tomorrow, by contrast, both teams will be fit and fresh and full of players fighting for a starting place. And neither side particularly likes each other. Could be quite a game. But don’t bank on it.

10. Are United still the best team in the country?

United are the reigning Premiership champions and have brought in some big names over the summer, but Chelsea pushed them all the way in the league last year – as well as winning both domestic cups – and have added depth to their squad as well. There are no points on offer at Wembley tomorrow, but the victors will start the season with an extra little spring in their step…

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