- Whether or not the game really matters, Raheem Sterling and Kyle Walker led Manchester City past Liverpool in what could be a sign of another great late season clash.
Whether the Community Shield matters or not very much depends who you are. Manchester City beat Liverpool on penalties and the sense was that nobody went home especially disappointed. Liverpool put City under pressure in the second half, perhaps even did enough to win, and certainly did enough to suggest that it can make a proper fight of the title race again this season. But City, which also had enough chances to have won convincingly, ended up doing just enough that the margins fell its way again.
The decisive margin on this occasion was Georgino Wijnaldum’s penalty in the shoot-out, which was saved by Claudio Bravo. With every other penalty scored, it meant that Gabriel Jesus, having taken part in just two training sessions following his participation in the Copa America but forced into action after an early injury, won the Shield by converting the final kick. But almost as important was the extraordinary clearance off the line made by Kyle Walker to keep out Mohammed Salah’s header after Claudio Bravo had blocked his initial effort. Vital too were the two occasions when Liverpool hit the post, and the string of opportunities missed by Salah. City last season yielded an average of 6.3 chances per game, yet Salah here had eight opportunities, a surprising number dragged wide of the near post, the precise opposite of his classic finish when in form, opening his body and curling the ball in at the far post. Liverpool’s equalizer came from the surprising source of the substitute Joel Matip, headed in after a deft ball across goal from Virgil van Dijk.
That said, Raheem Sterling, although he scored the City goal—with a slight mishit, also had the chances to have won the game comfortably. He is a strange player, so incisive when he is playing instinctively, and yet oddly indecisive at other times. In that regard the wasted chance as he ran clear in the second half, considered playing a pass to Kyle Walker, hesitated and ended up running the ball straight into Alisson was a classic of its kind.
Jurgen Klopp had begun last week suggesting that the Community Shield is essentially pointless as nobody remembers if you win it—something to which David Moyes can attest. Although he gradually warmed to the contest as the game approached, the message remained fairly clear: don’t worry if Liverpool loses because it doesn’t really matter anyway. Guardiola, by contrast, had been insisting this is another trophy: his ambition, and that of City, perhaps, can only be sated if it is constantly fed with pots of silver.
“If you want to be prepared against Man City you have to play against Man City,” Klopp said after the game. “We struggled a little but positionally but that’s normal. We could have had a bit better positioning and we changed that, and then it’s all about will. I liked that a lot.” He certainly seemed content with the level of his team and with the workout. “I liked the game. I don’t like the result but to have that many chances is very encouraging.”
Guardiola, although he paid at least lip-service to the idea that the league will not be a two-horse race this season, insisting there would be “many, many contenders”, was keen to stress that this was a game against the European champion and had a significance in that regard.
Rodri, the summer signing from Atletico, was perhaps the most significant figure in that regard, slotting into midfield in the place for Fernandinho, for whom he is seen as a long-term replacement. As Guardiola pointed out, this was as stiff a test as the 23 year old could have faced for his competitive (at least notionally) debut and, after being outmuscled twice in the opening quarter hour, he performed well. One of the reason City’s resources and their source prompt such concern is that they have consistently spent so well. It’s very early days, of course, and there is a doubt about whether Rodri will be as effective in tight areas as Fernandinho, but this was a promising enough debut to suggest City might again have strengthened very wisely
Klopp’s fear a week ago, when he was at his most negative about the purpose of the Community Shield, seemed to be that his undercooked side might suffer a defeat of such magnitude that it could derail the league season almost before it had begun. Not only did Liverpool avoid that, but it did enough in the second half to suggest it has the force and pace of play still to trouble City.
Does the Community Shield matter? Perhaps not. But this hopefully was a glimpse of a continuation of last season’s titanic struggle.