The vast majority of football fans don’t take much notice of the Community Shield. Sure, as a spectacle, it is entertaining enough. But as a barometer for the season ahead, it is useless.
Take the first four games of this season. Community Shield victors Manchester United have yet to find their stride, while the vanquished Londoners Chelsea have smashed their way through every opponent.
Perhaps that is not fair on United. Their two home victories, over Newcastle and West Ham, were comfortable as could be. The experienced heads of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes commanded midfield with authority and grace, providing a creative outlet for the revitalised Dimitar Berbatov. The wingside trickery of Luis Nani and Antonio Valencia provided a constant threat, and Wayne Rooney, rambunctious as ever, bagged his first goal for yonks.
But newly-promoted Newcastle and self-destructing West Ham don’t provide much of a test, especially at home. Any title challenger worth their salt would brush these teams aside. Away games at Fulham and Everton are where championships are won and lost, and United did not exactly cover themselves in glory at Craven Cottage and Goodison.
But it’s not even that two draws away from home against top-half sides is particularly dreadful. What is worrying is the manner of the results. Against Everton, United threw away a two-goal lead, despite looking so comfortable for 70 minutes. At the Cottage, it was an own goal from Brede Hangeland that got them a point.
In both games they had chances – Tim Howard was superb for Everton and Nani missed a penalty against Fulham – but failed to take them. Manchester United of old would have harried and chased into the dying seconds, but this side doesn’t have the legs. Giggs and Scholes have been brilliant so far, but they can’t be relied upon for a whole season. Indeed, they can’t be relied upon for a whole game.
Injuries don’t help, of course. The return of Michael Carrick will be welcome, as will that of Owen Hargreaves – according to his knee specialist, Dr Richard Steadman, his recovery since surgery has been excellent.
But what the football gods give with one hand, they take with the other. Valencia will be out until February at the earliest, and the dragging of Rooney’s personal life through the tabloid dirt is not helping anyone.
But let’s not drag these first few games out of context. At this point last year we had already lost to Burnley. In that light, drawing away with Fulham and Everton doesn’t look quite so bad. Up next are a transitional Liverpool, and a great opportunity to put our great rivals to the sword and march on Chelsea.
In any case, let’s hope the Community Shield is right after all.