The best two teams in world football faced each other yesterday in the Community Shield at Wembley in an eye catching first glimpse of what is about to come for the season ahead. Manchester City, fresh from a dominant domestic season in winning all four trophies on offer but still bitterly disappointed in missing out on the main European prize to Liverpool who followed up their 2018 Champions League final appearance (where they lost to Real Madrid) by winning it for a sixth time in history against Tottenham Hotspur in the final in June.
The Anfield outfit perhaps less fresh than City due to a gruelling pre-season but still buoyant after coming ever-closer to winning their first league title in 29 years and ending the season with their first piece of silverware under Jurgen Klopp. For Liverpool, Manchester City have what they want, for Manchester City, Liverpool have what they want, but neither would swap the season they just had with both looking to build upon their successes and go even better in the campaign ahead.
So how do we see it going?
Manchester City under Pep Guardiola have dominated domestically and have now won back to back Premier League titles as well as back to back EFL Cups and back to back Community Shields, they are also the reigning FA Cup holders and are tipped to be at the forefront for all three major domestic competitions this season after tweaking their squad ever so slightly this summer to include a strong physical defensive midfielder in Rodri from Atletico Madrid and an athletic left back cover in Angelino (who they re-signed from PSV) with rumours of a swoop for Juventus full back Joao Cancelo.
Liverpool the European Champions came within a whisker in winning the league and in any other season would have done just that. The Reds will likely be challenging on all fronts going toe to toe with City as they did last season but having no real signings of note adds questions on the squad depth as to why they might not be any better this year than they were last season?
The two sides however are so dominant, that the difference (as it was last season) might be when it comes to playing against each other and there isn’t a lot between the two great teams on paper.
During the Community Shield Manchester City targeted Liverpool right back Trent Alexander-Arnold by aiming high balls towards him in noticing his defensive frailties that allowed Raheem Sterling to get at him, meanwhile Liverpool targeted City’s left back Oleksandr Zinchenko who’s by no means a natural in that position with Mo Salah often getting the better of his scared man-marker on the day.
Credit to Liverpool Coach Klopp who spotted his weakness in defence by substituting his right back for Joel Matip and moving Joe Gomez across, City getting away with Salah’s rustiness in front of goal in his first real pre-season game just ahead of the new campaign on Friday. It could be down to fine tactical margins or the luck of a ball bounce when the two sides do battle verses in the league.
For Liverpool it has already been a gruelling and short summer where the likes of Salah, Mane & Alisson have been absent due to international commitments, the joys of being European Champions which they won only 9 weeks ago meant they would travel from the Wirrall via Bradford to America for three matches (against Dortmund, Sevilla & Sporting) before facing Napoli in Edinburgh and Lyon in Geneva ahead of Sunday’s Wembley showpiece.
City had a relatively easy trip to China and Japan with four games, two against Premier League opposition and two against local sides having also finished their season two weeks before their closest rivals. With Ederson, Gabriel Jesus & Sergio Aguero in action in the Copa America they do have their own jet lagged superstars but you can’t help feel they have had things a little easier with a fresher approach ahead of their season. The fact City started with neither the above on Sunday suggests that they probably have enough in the early weeks to win without them, whether that goes for Liverpool lacking Sadio Mane who’s yet to return to training and is an essential ingredient to their dynamics is a question that will be answered over the next few weeks.
Another question over Liverpool’s season is that they travel to Qatar in December for the FIFA World Club Cup. Manager Klopp has hinted in taking a young squad but in reality he may be forced by event organisers to take his best assets which hand City an advantage during an otherwise tough winter period of fixtures. In reality it’s a competition Liverpool could do without.
If football was played on paper you would not find much between the two teams, in defence you might argue Liverpool, in midfield you will probably say City, in attack you could have good shouts for either, in squad depth you feel City have an advantage, in tactics you again feel City have an edge but in quality on their day there is just no better side in world football than Liverpool which was proven in that famous semi-final when they tore apart the great Barcelona, Messi and co in front of the Kop.
But the game is not played on paper, it is not just played on grass these days either but instead the choices of these friendly matches, the fact that Liverpool may do more air miles, the runs they both have in the Champions League and the opponents they face may all take its toll… One thing is for sure, I can’t see any other team in England topping these two, whilst whoever beats either in my opinion will also be European Champions this year, so the straight race between both will be down to conditioning and how fresh these two sides are come the business end of the campaign.
Whilst it will be tough for either to repeat their feats of 2018/19 both teams are the best equipped of all to be challenging for major honours domestically and in Europe. Whilst it will be down to the games that are won on the pitch that tells us who is best, you can’t help feeling what happens off it will play a significant part in the season ahead.
So whilst a number of permutations will decide who’s the best… City currently have the trophies to back themselves up for now, but if Liverpool do pip them this season it could well be roles reversal? All we can do is sit back, admire and enjoy the season ahead as both go at it for another 10 fabulous months of football.