Liverpool and Manchester City go head to head in the Community Shield on Sunday, but which side is in the best shape ahead of the traditional curtain-raiser? And who will strike the first blow of the new season?
City and Liverpool contested one of the tightest title races in Premier League history last season, finishing on 98 and 97 points respectively. Pep Guardiola’s side claimed a clean sweep of domestic trophies, with Jurgen Klopp’s men clinching Champions League glory over Tottenham in Madrid.
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Now, they are preparing to vie for supremacy once more. Will City manage to maintain the relentless pace of last season? Will Liverpool be able to keep up? Sunday’s game at Wembley could provide the first clues…
A rivalry renewed
Liverpool and Manchester City’s rivalry is not yet at Manchester United-Arsenal 1996-2005 levels, but it certainly adds an extra layer of intrigue to Sunday’s encounter.
The rivalry exploded into life during the 2017/18 season – when the two sides played out four thrilling encounters in the Premier League and Champions League – and intensified during last season’s title race. There is also fierce personal competition between the managers, who previously locked horns with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich in Germany.
For the most part, however, and unlike Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, Klopp and Guardiola have been complimentary of each other.
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Guardiola has repeatedly praised Klopp’s Liverpool, saying they pushed City to new heights last season, while Klopp revealed he shared an amicable phone conversation with Guardiola after Liverpool’s Champions League final win over Tottenham in June. “We promised each other that we will kick each other’s butts again next season,” he said.
But could there be conflict bubbling away beneath the surface?
Klopp’s recent comments on Manchester City’s spending certainly irked Guardiola. The German said Liverpool can’t afford to spend like their rivals because they do not live in a “fantasia land where you get whatever you want”, with Guardiola admitting he was “bothered” by the claim. “Of course I don’t like it because it’s not true,” he said.
A feisty encounter at Wembley could set the tone for the season ahead.
Which side is in the best shape?
Klopp has been eager to emphasise that City are ahead of Liverpool in terms of their pre-season preparations. That’s because by the time Liverpool faced Spurs in the Champions League final on June 1, City were already two weeks into their off-season.
Guardiola’s side should therefore be sharper on Sunday, but what of Liverpool? Klopp has played down the significance of their pre-season results, but there was certainly evidence of sluggishness in their defeats to Borussia Dortmund, Sevilla and Napoli.
Liverpool’s pre-season results
- 3-1 vs Lyon (W)
- 0-3 vs Napoli (L)
- 2-2 vs Sporting Lisbon (D)
- 1-2 vs Sevilla (L)
- 2-3 vs Borussia Dortmund (L)
- 3-1 vs Bradford (W)
- 6-0 vs Tranmere (W)
City have fared better in terms of results, a penalty shootout loss to Wolves being their only defeat in pre-season, but both sides’ plans have been heavily impacted by this summer’s international tournaments.
Manchester City’s pre-season results
- 3-1 vs Yokohama F Marinos (W)
- 6-1 vs Kitchee (W)
- 0-0* vs Wolves (L)
- 4-1 vs West Ham (W)
For Liverpool, Sadio Mane is still not available having only recently returned from the Africa Cup of Nations, where Senegal reached the final. Mohamed Salah was also involved in that tournament with Egypt, while Roberto Firmino and Alisson Becker travelled to Brazil for the Copa America.
Sadio Mane is Liverpool’s only confirmed absentee, but Klopp insists he will not risk players who are not yet fit enough to start. Claudio Bravo is expected to play in goal for Manchester City, with Ederson not yet ready to start. Guardiola is also without Benjamin Mendy, while the likes of Riyad Mahrez, Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero may only be involved from the bench.
For City, Riyad Mahrez was part of Algeria’s Africa Cup of Nations win, while Ederson, Sergio Aguero, Nicolas Otamendi and Gabriel Jesus were all involved in the Copa America, meaning they also returned to pre-season training late. In terms of injuries, Guardiola is still without Benjamin Mendy, who has only just resumed training following a long absence.
City have the edge in terms of transfer business, though, breaking their transfer record for the £63.5m Rodri and signing full-back Angelino from PSV Eindhoven. Liverpool, meanwhile, are yet to make a single senior signing this summer.
Does the Community Shield matter?
The Community Shield is regarded as little more than a glorified friendly in England, but many managers feel it deserves greater status. In April, when Guardiola’s City were chasing a quadruple having already won the Carabao Cup, he questioned why their Community Shield win over Chelsea the previous August was not counted.
“The Community Shield? Nobody counts it, that’s the question, I would like an answer,” he said. “In Spain and Germany, it’s important. We have won two titles this season and have three to play for, but everyone says one. Why play if it doesn’t count? We could have longer holidays.”
Jose Mourinho showed a similar attitude, insisting Manchester United’s 2016/17 ‘double’ should be deemed a treble due to their Community Shield win over Leicester, even holding up three fingers when posing for photographs after their Europa League final win over Ajax in Stockholm.
Earlier this week, Klopp expressed his surprise that the game is regarded as a pre-season friendly in England. He insisted Liverpool would treat the game as a final but did add that the result has “nothing to do” with the rest of the season.
Like Guardiola, Klopp also questioned the need to play the game at all if it is not taken seriously. “I don’t know exactly why people play this competition when it means nothing, to be honest. In Germany, I’ve won it five times. You win it, nobody cares; you lose it and some care.”
History certainly suggests it would be foolish to read too much into the outcome. Before City last season, no Community Shield-winning side had gone on to clinch the Premier League title since Manchester United in 2010/11. In the Premier League era as a whole, only eight Community Shield-winning sides out of 27 have gone on to claim the title.