Manchester United win the first piece of silverware of the 2016/17 season after beating Leicester City to capture the Community Shield in front of a packed crowd at Wembley Stadium.
It’s the Community Shield, the dress rehearsal for the new Premier League season.
Manchester United has learned the script word for word. They have competed for this piece of silverware on a record 30 occasions, winning it 21 times. Only things are different this year. The boys in red have to learn a new script. So often cast in the role of Champions, they will begin as the FA Cup holders and Leicester City, who had never played at the modernised Wembley Stadium, would take the starring role.
The Earth still hasn’t stopped shaking as a result of Leicester City’s 5,000-1 Premier League title triumph. It’s broadly accepted worldwide as the greatest sporting upset since we emerged from the primordial soup.
But what now?
How does Leicester City perform as champions?
Are their expectations now too high?
Let’s put things into perspective.
Before kick-off, Manchester United announced that the Juventus midfielder, Paul Pogba, had arrived in Manchester to undergo a medical on the eve of a potential world record transfer somewhere in the ballpark of £90-£100m. Leicester, on the other hand, spent just over £50m on their entire championship-winning squad and sold arguably their best player, N’Golo Kante, to Chelsea in the summer.
They may be the champions, but a sense of reality is restored when you hear Claudio Ranieri telling the press that his goal for the season is to make it to 40-points so that they can secure Premier League football at the King Power for another season.
United’s goal is Champions League football, and if Pogba does sign for that record fee, the goal swiftly changes to the Premier League title.
How The Teams Lined Up
It was good to see that Ranieri hadn’t forgotten the tactics that won him the title – the most pivotal being consistency. Not much had changed for the champions with the only adjustment being a straight swap with Andy King replacing the influential Kante in midfield.
King is Leicester through and through, and while many may feel he deserves the opportunity to replace the fabulous Frenchman, they are colossal boots to fill. Leicester City performed heroics in keeping Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez at the club, but they will miss the hustle and bustle of Kante in the middle of the park.
There was nothing consistent about the former Premier League Titans and that’s been the theme since Sir Alex Ferguson left them in the incapable hands of David Moyes. Jose Mourinho replaces his former mentor Louis Van Gaal, and in came Zlatan Ibrahimovic to lead the United attack with the captain, Wayne Rooney, playing just behind him.
There was a new look centre-half pairing with Eric Bailly lining up with Daley Blind. Antonio Valencia, who was missing for large parts of last season, lined up at right back, and Luke Shaw was like a new signing on the left.
It was surprising to see Marcus Rashford starting on the bench, but the lad will have to ensure patience is a big part of his game. The biggest worry for United fans would have been the sight of Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick in midfield. Slow, lumbering, and cumbersome. The quicker Paul Pogba dons the red cape, the better.
Lingard Lights Up The First Half
The first 20-minutes were cagey. Both teams picking, prodding and poking each other. It was a feel thing. Experts say it takes a good 4-5 Premier League games to get the body acclimatised to the new season, and it told.
The first chance came Leicester City’s way in the 19th minute. Jamie Vardy picked up the ball just outside of the box, skipped past a few United challenges, threaded the ball through to Shinji Okazaki, who produced a save from David De Gea. The industrious Japanese star didn’t rest on his laurels. He leapt higher than anyone at the near post and his flicked header cannoned off the crossbar.
It was a move that brought about an interesting question.
With Vardy looking like a whippet, and Ibrahimovic looking like a three-legged Saint Bernard, who would you rather have leading your frontline?
We will remember Wayne Rooney’s Euro 2016 by the sheer number of times he gave the ball away. United fans will be worried to see that nothing had changed. It was another turgid performance by a man who still seems to be transitioning into his new role in the side after being the tip of the spear for so long.
And then, came a moment of magic, that made anything that happened beyond the 32nd minute irrelevant.
Rooney won the ball in the centre of the park and laid it into the path of Jesse Lingard. He avoided one tackle before setting off towards goal. He glided past Robert Huth as if he wasn’t there, nutmegged Wes Morgan, ghosted past Danny Simpson, and calmly placed the ball past Kasper Schmeichel to give United the lead.
It was a goal of sheer magnificence. It had Lionel Messi written all over it, and it made me wonder why he was left behind by Roy Hodgson when the England side was crying out for pace in France a few weeks ago.
The teams went in at half-time with United holding on to that deserved lead. Zlatan Ibrahimovic hadn’t touched the ball. He lacked presence, pace, and interest. But then, so did a certain Eric Cantona, when he first came to United and a legend was born.
The Sleeping Giant Awakens
Leicester looked the more energetic after the break. Danny Drinkwater had been pinging accurate long balls for fun all afternoon, and his latest pop in the 50th minute found Luke Shaw wanting, Mahrez brought the ball down beautifully in the United penalty area but failed to make the most of what was an excellent chance.
Leicester’s record signing Ahmed Musa came on at half time to replace Okazaki and had an immediate impact. The pacey Nigerian tore at the heart of the United midfield only for his pass to Vardy to be cut out by Fellaini before the big Belgian left his back-pass short, Vardy pounced, rounded De Gea and moved the ball into the back of the net.
The tie was all square.
The game fell apart at the seams after Vardy’s equaliser.
Both manager’s made changes, the most notable being Mourinho bringing on Juan Mata before replacing him again without the Spaniard spending 10-minutes on the pitch. He wasn’t injured. There was no tactical reason for the exchange. Watch this space.
As the game crept into the final 10-minutes, Valencia found some space on the right, jinked inside the full-back, cut a cross to the far post, and big Zlatan rose higher than Wes Morgan to nod the winner passed the despairing Schmeichel. It was his only contribution in a rather tepid performance from the big man.
United went on to win the game 2-1.
So how did Leicester City perform as champions?
The answer is quite admirably.
Manchester United had 59% of possession, but possession football didn’t win Leicester the title, breaking with pace did, and Leicester still possesses that lightning quick killer instinct.
Mahrez was a little quiet, but Vardy was electric. Leicester fans will be excited over the substitute appearances from Musa and Demarai Gray who both excelled when they came on the pitch.
Can Leicester retain their title?
The bookmakers don’t think so, and neither do I, but they will put up a stern defence, of that you can be sure. Bodog has them as +3000 outsiders with Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Spurs all fancied more highly than the Foxes.
And what about United?
Bodog has installed them as the +325 second favourites behind Manchester City. I think that’s more to do with the Mourinho effect more than anything that the bookmakers see on the pitch. Nothing had changed since Van Gaal’s reign. Carrick, Fellaini, and Rooney continued to bring the pace to that of a snail with a limp. If United are going to competing with the big boys, then they need players like Pogba surging forward from the middle of the park in the way that Roy Keane and Paul Scholes used to during the golden era.
Up front, Ibrahimovic looked lacklustre, and his winning goal will hide what was a dismal and dull performance from the big man. At 34-years old I don’t think he has the legs to be a success in the Premier League, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make way for the pace of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, and Jesse Lingard before the season ends.
Can they win the title?
It all depends on the results of a medical currently going on somewhere in Manchester.
BetStars Becomes The Official Betting Partner of Leicester City
The marketing team at the online sportsbook, BetStars, has pulled off a coup by joining forces with the Premier League Champions, Leicester City, and quickly pushing out a 5,000-1 promotion.
To take part, you need to open a BetStars account and bet £10 or more on any team to win the Premier League. The sportsbook will then select a team at random and place a £10 bet at odds of 5,000-1. You can be rest assured there won’t be many Man City’s knocking around in that random tombola but it’s a nice touch nonetheless.
Look out for the BetStars logo at the King Power Stadium when Leicester City’s home title defence begins with a tie against Arsenal on Sat, 20 August.