What Did We Learn from The Community Shield Game?

Now that the euphoria/ doom & gloom and the snap judgements have died down, what were the real takeaways from the community shield?

Understandably, United fans have been on cloud nine, since most of it is good news from the Red camp. What was most reassuring for me was the list of players NOT on the pitch in the second half, when we outplayed Man City. That list reads:  Giggs, Fabio, Park, Hernandez, Valencia, Fletcher, Owen, Berbatov, Vidic, Ferdinand, Carrick and Lindegard to name a few – a decent first 11 could easily be put together from that list, and it’s probably a more accurate representation of United’s starting line up. We may not have the wow factor of Ronaldo and Tevez, but we’re starting to look like the team of 2008 where we had quality cover for every position.

Ashley Young’s sumptuous cross and Smalling’s assured reaction; what could be more pleasing to see the new players stepping up in a game big on nerves if not on significance! Besides, the surprise selection of Smalling at right back would have brought a smile to many United fans. Having lost 2 versatile players – Brown and O’Shea, it was good to see SAF nudge Smalling into the role, where he did gallopingly well, providing plenty of attacking intent and adding to Kolarov’s problems. A couple of moves where he combined with Nani were also excellent. He may be tested by high quality wingers, but they are few and far between and we now know he can provide good cover in the right back position and offers the advantage of height.

Jonny Evan’s remains a liability. But at least we also saw the good side of his game. He gave the ball away dangerously, and continues to be suspect in the air. He was at fault for both goals when Everton came back in injury time last year, and didn’t pick up Dzeko in this game, right at the end, giving him a free header which fortunately Dzeko missed. But he made a couple of great tackles and went on a storming run as well. Let’s hope he gets the time to work out his weaknesses, since his talent is clear to see.

Very little has been said about Anderson, but he put in a very solid performance as well. Didn’t waste the ball, put in a lot of yards, always made himself available for the pass, and was very confident in possession. His problem may be that he is neither an out and out ball winner, nor specialist attacking midfielder, and in recent times, all the fashion is for such specialized midfielders. But Anderson has the engine and the game to become the classic box-to-box player that United have had a tradition of – in the mould of Keane and Robson. He’s still young and I believe that the penny will suddenly drop after one good season, and everybody will be talking about him as the next Keane.

And with Cleverley grabbing all the headlines, you have to feel for Carrick who is everybody’s favourite whipping boy – the same Carrick who was superlative against Chelsea in the semifinals, and is generally good enough against most premiership teams. So if all goes well, and a certain Dutch Master heads to Old Trafford, United’s central midfield options will be Carrick, Fletcher, Cleverley, Anderson, Sneijder and auxiliary support from Park and Giggs. I think that should be good enough, don’t you?

De Gea is unfortunately in the position where public opinion, fuelled incessantly by the media will vacillate between the two extremes of Massimo Taibi and Schmeichel/Van Der Saar. There’s just no middle ground in this discussion. No room for Barthez, Carroll, Ben Foster and Tim Howard, all decent goalies on their day. The cliché is of course that as a United goalkeeper, you have to wait 70 minutes for your first save, but you still have to be brilliant and focused, for 80% of the games. Let’s hope his concentration is as good as his ability.

For good reason, United fans are excited. A new season, a new generation of players who all seem fit for purpose, a great pre-season with everybody looking sharp and ready. Ferguson’s magic is still working. The next generation of United seems to be in safe hands. Clearly, United have the quality to win the league and with the possible additional of Schneider, might make a better fist of the Champions league, where incidentally, they did quite well till the final. And there are still the likes of Pogba, Morrison et al waiting in the wings. Of all the young players, the one I worry about is Welbeck. A wonderful player, but risks becoming the next Theo Walcott – not quite striker, not quite winger and not enough by way of either goals or assists. He needs to become a striker in his own head first, and make sure he gets into the right positions and puts chances away more consistently.

A few words on Man City:

The game may have flattered United a little bit because Man City were clearly off pace and sluggish. Perhaps their pre-season hasn’t really been as robust and it’s something Mancini may still be working his way through. Balotelli is a significant liability though and as Gary Neville put it on Sky, if he was a 25 goals a season player, you can understand the leniency, but he isn’t and it must be a huge distraction for both the manager and the players. City also fielded the same team as the FA Cup semi-final, with the addition of Clichy in the second half, whereas United had many new faces. But more significantly, there wasn’t much change in the style, with City adopting largely a counter attacking strategy, relying on the brilliance of Silva, and set pieces, for their opportunities. It was instructive that Mancini replaced Balotelli with Gareth Barry – hardly a sign of attacking intent. Barry and Milner together on the pitch probably also qualify for the most unimaginative midfield pairing, whatever else their qualities are.

Statutory warning:

Despite all the excitement, let’s not get carried away, we did one on Chelsea last year as well, in the Community Shield but then the start of the season collapsed spectacularly. Somehow I think this year will be different, especially with all the big games early in the year! 

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