The club season begins again – although between the various international tournaments, football never really left.
Premier League football remains a week away, but the rest of England’s domestic leagues will kick off this weekend, alongside the Community Shield on Sunday.
What usually is a largely irrelevant occasion at Wembley, arguably even an inconvenience for the sides involved, takes on greater meaning this year because of the exciting match-up between the two best sides in England.
When England’s top two collide
Liverpool and Manchester City have their sights set on far greater prizes than the one-match trophy on Sunday. Normally between the winners of the Premier League and FA Cup, Liverpool became the second team involved in the Community Shield this year after Manchester City won both trophies last season and the Reds finished runners-up in the Premier League.
Whilst the Community Shield itself means little, the chance to beat your closest rival in the very first game of the season is enticing enough to take the match seriously. Certainly Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola will not be pulling any punches, with both men keenly aware that the other represents their greatest obstacle to rich success this season.
The emergent Liverpool-City rivalry has further intrigue following the trophies collected by both sides last season.
City’s quest to match Liverpool’s European success
In the Premier League and Champions League, Liverpool and City each claimed the prize coveted above all by the other. City wanted to prove their domestic dominance by becoming the first team to defend the Premier League title in a decade, and added the League Cup and FA Cup on the way to an unprecedented domestic treble.
However, they failed to conquer Europe, the priority challenge for Guardiola when he arrived in Manchester. The club’s Abu Dhabi owners had already tasted success in all three major domestic competitions – admittedly not in the style achieved by Guardiola – and now crave Champions League success as the final delivery on their eleven-year investment into City.
For Pep too, the Champions League has become a Holy Grail, one which has caused him to lose part of the genius that the Spaniard employs to great effect domestically. The style and consistency of his teams are often too good for the rest over the course of an entire season, but vulnerable to teams in incredible form, with incredible atmospheres and incredible individual talents.
Often overthinking when faced with these situations, Guardiola made poor tactical and selection decisions in defeats to Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur in the quarter-finals of the past two Champions League campaigns.
He and City have something to prove, and they will genuinely believe this year could be a case of third time lucky for the historic quadruple. Few teams will present a tougher task than Liverpool, therefore City will be eager to make a statement as soon as possible, which the Community Shield could provide.
Liverpool’s deep desire for long-awaited domestic glory
For Liverpool, last season saw the Reds prove to the world, and themselves, that they could be winners again – and, traditionally at least, in best way possible.
Winning the Champions League is not a regular occurrence unless you are Real Madrid, yet Liverpool now own six titles in the competition, one more than Bayern Munich and Barcelona, who Liverpool bested in the semi-finals with one of the greatest European comebacks ever staged.
There is no greater honour in European club football than being Champions of Europe, but the Premier League holds a special place in Liverpool hearts. For what will be thirty years this season, Liverpool have not seen what was once an old friend at Anfield.
Despite the City juggernaut, Klopp will be confident his squad has what it takes to compete with Guardiola’s side again and hopefully go one step further, but ideally without requiring ninety-eight points this time around.
The Reds have seen little transfer activity take place so far this summer, but already have a strong squad that has been bolstered by players returning to fitness after long injuries (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rhian Brewster, Joe Gomez) and players returning from positive loan spells (Harry Wilson).
Victory on Sunday would not only see Liverpool win the Community Shield on their first attempt back in the competition for thirteen years, but would more importantly deliver the message that the Reds are not falling back this season after the unbelievable ninety-seven point, Champions League-winning campaign.
City will have at least one domestic rival again this season – the red half of Merseyside, and Sunday represents a chance for Liverpool to get their new season off to a perfect start.