It was over before it really began. In the summer sunshine, it felt rather daft to be at a football stadium watching competitive football again just 21 days on from the World Cup final.
The contest was none existent. It was as easy as a 2-0 victory can be for Manchester City as they took home the Community Shield but there were less tangible aspects of City’s win that will spur them on for the coming season.
The major question surrounding City this season is whether they can become the first Premier League champions to retain the trophy in a decade.
Their quality suggests they can, but history does not. ‘Cityitus’ is not exclusive to Man City it can equally be applied to Chelsea – their opponents at Wembley on Sunday.
The zenith is sustained success
A Premier League title victory should not represent the summit of the mountain – unless you are Leicester City. Rather it should only be the end of the first stage of the climb. A truly successful side will go and go again, consistently progressing, always looking forward and never backwards.
Make of the Bundesliga and Serie A what you will but Bayern Munich and Juventus are the epitome of consistent victors.
The Premier League has not seen such a dominant side since Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in the late-2000s. It is the lack of hunger after success that has prevented England from having a truly remarkable side for some years.
However, this Man City side appear different.
Hunger is the crucial quality
The challenge for City is whether they can maintain the standards of last season – it is more a question of appetite than quality when it comes to retaining their title. The difference with this City team and those Premier League champions that have gone before in recent seasons is that they are led by Pep Guardiola.
It helps to have an obsessive like Guardiola at the helm. The manager needs to constantly drive his players to go again even when it is easy to bask in the glory and slack off. Guardiola – despite his squad of riches – managed to do just that at Barcelona and Bayern.
It was this quality that made him so fascinated with Ferguson and even prompted a meeting with the former United manager in New York during his sabbatical.
Depth and quality are also vital
City also have the other key ingredient to ensuring that standards are matched. Unlike recent English champions, City have such extraordinary competition for places.
The in-house rivalry is healthy but real. Their squad has depth, it is vital, and will be tested with the ambition of going far in both league and Champions League.
On the evidence of Sunday, the hunger and quality are there – the way in which the players celebrated what some call a ‘glorified friendly’ was quite telling. This was trophy number three in Guardiola’s eyes and nothing less.
A sense of reinvention is also necessary
What was also striking, and very important, ahead of the new season was Guardiola’s choice to try new things rather than sticking to the tried and tested.
In part, this was forced on Guardiola with players arriving back from the World Cup in dribs and drabs. But there was a conscious decision to move John Stones into midfield for the last 10 minutes.
Vincent Kompany came off the bench and with that Guardiola followed Gareth Southgate’s trail of thought by moving Stones forward. This could prove a useful option for City given their abundance of central defenders – Kompany, Aymeric Laporte, Nicolas Otamendi – and a slight shortage in central midfield.
The failure to sign Jorginho from Napoli – who lined up against City in the deep blue of Chelsea – has forced Guardiola to rethink how he addresses the phasing out of Fernandinho.
Another option in the central midfield is to place more faith in youth and give Phil Foden the stage that he deserves. Again, Foden’s place in Sunday’s starting line-up was probably through need rather than choice, but nonetheless, he excelled.
The 18-year-old is clearly capable of cutting it in the Premier League.
Foden grew in confidence as the match progressed; he was assured, creative and even played the pass of the match to release the evergreen Sergio Aguero early in the second half.
Let us just hope he plays often enough – it is a problem with talents of his slender age. If he does then he will soon be in the England team.
Sunday was very much the checklist that City supporters could not stop ticking. Every question got an answer to some degree. It is not last Sunday but next Sunday that will be the true test for the reigning Premier League champions.
The trip to the Emirates signals the beginning of the journey to retention, or if Guardiola had his way it would not so much be retention but rather re-winning.