Manchester City vs. Chelsea: Key Battles to Watch in Community Shield
The long wait is almost over.
The new Premier League season is a meager nine days away, while the first bit of competitive action comes in the form of the traditional FA Community Shield game.
More about prestige than anything else, the Charity Shield, as it used to be called, is something of a prelude to the Premier League.
It is often the case that the winner at this showpiece event also goes on to take the league title. But the outcome needn't always be a sign of things to come. Allow me to elucidate.
The events from the last season show us that nothing's a given in the beautiful game. While Manchester United were the ones who staged a spectacular comeback from two goals down to win the Community Shield, Manchester City bagged the Premier League title on a wacky final day.
The significance of the game is not in question, given that the team that comes out on top will gain a psychological edge of sorts. Silverware is silverware, after all. Both managers would be tempted to field strong lineups.
I, for one, will have my eyes fixated on a number of individual battles that could be critical. Here are some of the feisty contests you too should look out for.
Sergio Agüero vs. John Terry
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This battle is, as I see it, the key one.
On one hand, you've got the robust Mr Chelsea, John Terry. Most strikers find it extremely difficult to get any change out of him. On the other hand, there is the dynamic Sergio Agüero, who is now so imperative to Manchester City and the way they play.
Aerially, this won't be much of a contest, given that Terry has some 5 or 6 inches over the Argentine. However, we all know that Agüero can wreak havoc when the ball is at his feet. Pace is one of Terry's few weaknesses, and he will have to be wary of Agüero, who loves running at defenders.
A world-class striker against a world-class center back there. This is what the English top flight is all about, ain't it?
Yaya Touré vs. Ramires
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Ramires and Yaya Touré are the industrious, tireless workhorses of their respective midfields.
Ramires' speed and versatility are key attributes. His diligence toward his defensive duties is understated, while he a real threat going forward.
Under the stewardship of Roberto Di Matteo, the Blue Kenyan found himself deployed in a more attacking role than usual, and to much success. I'd expect him to start high up the pitch for this game too.
Meanwhile, Touré is your typical box-to-box man, and his physical presence makes him a major asset for City. His composure and exceptional technical ability together make him perhaps the most important cog in the City wheel.
This duel will be an intriguing one, particularly as each man will attempt to peg the other one back. It will ultimately decide who wins the midfield battle, and could have a massive bearing on the final score.
Vincent Kompany vs. Fernando Torres
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Vincent Kompany was arguably the best defender in England last year. Manchester City's talismanic skipper is a tough cookie, and could line up against Fernando Torres on Sunday—unless his injury troubles get in the way.
Torres, for all his struggles last year, is a rejuvenated soul now, having won three major competitions with club and country, while also bagging the golden boot at Euro 2012.
Kompany is commanding in the air, while Torres' aerial prowess isn't in question either. But it is the Spaniard's ability to get in between the lines that could make him a menace.
Torres will be target man for the creative forces of Eden Hazard and Ramires, so Kompany will have to marshal his back line with purpose. If El Niño can be kept subdued, City might just have the upper hand.
Eden Hazard vs. Nigel De Jong and Pablo Zabaleta
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Going with the assumption that Juan Mata won't be ready to feature just yet, Eden Hazard will have to step up and be the chief architect of Chelsea's attacking forays.
And so, I can see Hazard starting in a central position right behind Fernando Torres, with the license to roam into wide areas.
Nigel de Jong and Pablo Zabaleta could be the individuals tasked with the unenviable job of marking him.
The Dutchman's physicality is noteworthy here. This is Hazard's freshman year in English football, and although De Jong isn't the fastest man around, his intimidating presence will be a factor.
Zabaleta, meanwhile, generally sticks to his tasks well. It is his reliability that makes him first choice at right-back.
On Sunday, it will be his duty to ensure Hazard doesn't make merry down Chelsea's left flank.
Joe Hart vs. Petr Cech
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The field on Sunday will be littered with attacking talent from both sides, and the goalkeepers at each end will have their hands full. While this won't be a direct battle on the pitch, each one will be keen to outdo the other.
Petr Cech was arguably the hero of Chelsea's Champions League triumph in Munich, whereas Hart's composure at his end of the field was one of the main reasons City found themselves crowned league winners.
To win competitions, you need to have a solid foundation at the back, and both custodians will recognize that there's no better way to start your pursuit of the top trophies than winning the Community Shield.
Any notable error or mix-up at the back would deal a major psychological blow to the team that suffers as a consequence.