Friday August 5th, 2016

Community Shields are strange games. Many years they pass almost unnoticed, just another preseason friendly, a day in the sun at Wembley, a symbolic counterpoint to the FA Cup final, marking the traditional opening of the season as the Cup final once marked its finale. But on other occasions they provide significant clues as to what is about to unfold.

Perhaps most famously, there was the scrap between Kevin Keegan and Billy Bremner as Liverpool beat Leeds United on penalties in 1974, an incident that led to lengthy bans for both players but also hinted at the turmoil behind the scenes at Leeds after Brian Clough had replaced Don Revie. More pertinent to Sunday’s meeting between the champion, Leicester City, and the FA Cup winner, Manchester United (11 a.m. ET, FS1), though, are the Shields of 1962 and last season.

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Ipswich Town, having been promoted in 1961, had won the championship in 1962, a stunning achievement that ranks alongside Nottingham Forest’s success in 1978 and Leicester’s last season as one of the three most surprising league titles in history. Its success had come largely because of its manager Alf Ramsey’s ploy of withdrawing the left winger to play almost as a midfielder something that, given the lack of television coverage at the time, caught most sides by surprise. By the time of the Community Shield (in the days known as the Charity Shield), though, a counter-tactic had been worked out. Tottenham won 5-1 and Ipswich went on to finish 17th, by which time Ramsey had been appointed manager of England.

A similar collapse for Leicester is unlikely, but this may offer some clues as to how Claudio Ranieri’s side may cope this season as sides adapt their game to counter the Foxes. Leicester has leaked four goals in friendlies against both Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona, which may be evidence that it is struggling to cope with the loss of N’Golo Kante–or it may signify nothing more than a side going through the preseason motions.

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Five new signings have come in, including Nigerian forward Ahmed Musa, who scoring twice after coming off the bench against Barcelona. Given one of Leicester’s strengths last season was consistency of selection and given that this season, with Champions League commitments, Ranieri will be forced to rotate, Sunday will offer the first real indication of how they may be integrated.

But the big story, of course, is the return of Jose Mourinho whose first game back in English football will be against the same opponent and the same manager as his last. For Ranieri, not that he was undiplomatic enough to say it, Leicester’s 2-1 win over Chelsea last December, beating the manager who had replaced him at Stamford Bridge in 2004, must have felt redemptive. For Mourinho, who rowed with Eden Hazard on the touchline, clearly not convinced the Belgian was as injured as he claimed to be, and then attacked his players for conceding goals that stemmed from moves he had specifically coached them to counter, it was final confirmation that he had lost the dressing room. The first real public signs of the rot, though, came at last season’s Community Shield.

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It wasn’t just that a Mourinho side lost to an Arsene Wenger side for the first time, or even the sluggish manner of Chelsea’s performance. It was Mourinho’s attitude. He turned up unshaven, wearing a baggy club tracksuit, looking more like a middle-aged man on a weekend trip to the local DIY store to buy some paint than the manager of the champion, somebody once noted for the sharpness of his dress. He was grouchy and sullen, his shot at Wenger for his supposedly defensive football labored. On the day it felt odd. Within a couple of months it was evident that something had been seriously wrong, that Mourinho was furious with a lack of investment and with the way preseason had been handled and that his relationship with certain players had fractured.

Beginning a new job, particularly one he has been targeting for so long, there’s unlikely to be anything similar on Sunday, but equally, preseason hasn’t gone entirely smoothly. Mourinho clearly wasn’t happy about the tour of China, protesting about the state of the pitch in Beijing before a proposed ICC game against Manchester City was called off. His complaints came in a press conference conducted by the side of the pitch because he deemed the indoor facilities too hot–although Pep Guardiola had held his conference there earlier in the day.

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Mourinho probably accepts such events as a necessary evil if they generate the revenue that means United can sign the players Mourinho wants–which could immediately pose a problem in the unlikely event that the long-delayed deal for Paul Pogba collapses. The hard line he has taken with Bastian Schweinsteiger, exiling him from first-team training, feels like another shot in that battle as Mourinho emphasizes his lack of midfield resources.

The likelihood for the Community Shield is that it's a day when everybody is on their best behavior and the result is forgotten within two weeks. The fascination will be if it is not.

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