Chelsea v Manchester United, FA Community Shield, August 9, 2009
If Sir Alex Ferguson is to be believed, the two teams most likely to win the Premier League next season will face off at Wembley in the traditional curtain raiser to the English season this Sunday.
The Community Shield doesnâ€™t always produce the entertainment one would hope for (the last two matches have gone to penalties following uninspiring games) and one has to hope that both teams will look to attack and that the Wembley turf has improved after its travails of last season.
All eyes will be on Manchester Unitedâ€™s strike-force after Michael Owenâ€™s (7/4 to score) largely disappointing performance against Valencia, being the first time Unitedâ€™s new number seven played alongside Wayne Rooney in the champions’ attack.
With Fabio Capello set to be in the Wembley stands much will be made again of Owenâ€™s chances of gaining an England recall. But the chatter will likely be silenced as Ferguson will start with his first choice pairing of Rooney (15/8 to score) and Berbatov (9/4 to score) up front.
United have a few injury problems, particularly at the back with Edwin Van der Sar, Gary Neville, Rafael da Silva and Nemanja Vidic all expected to miss out. Long-term injury victim Owen Hargreaves will also miss the match as will Park Ji-Sung. That may afford some of Fergieâ€™s new fledglings a run-out, including Tom Cleverley who scored the second against Los Che last Wednesday night.
New signing Luis Antonio Valencia (6/1 to score) will test himself against Ashley Cole after a fine display against Valencia and Ferguson will hope to see some attacking cohesion from a forward-line shorn of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez this summer.
Chelsea arguably come into this match the slight favourites and will be looking to repeat their 2-0 2000 Charity Shield win over United and for revenge for their defeat on penalties in 2007 which turned out to be a precursor to the 2008 Champions League final later that season.
There seems to be an air of optimism around Stamford Bridge at the moment. Hopes are high that Carlo Ancelotti will be more like Guus Hiddink than Luis Felipe Scolari, and John Terryâ€™s decision to stay means unlike Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal, the Blues are the only member of the â€œBig Fourâ€ not to have lost a major star (or more) this summer.
Of the incoming players at the Bridge, Yuri Zhirkov (7/1 to score) has the capacity to be a major success although where he will play is still not certain. Ancelottiâ€™s diamond formation should see Didier Drogba (7/4 to score) and Nicolas Anelka bang in goals, and with Frank Lampard (11/4 to score) playing in behind, the Blues have a Premier League winning attack.
Further back, if Michael Essien stays fit then Chelsea can win the league. The Ghanaianâ€™s injury absence during 2008/2009 was a major factor in the Blues lagging behind both United and Liverpool last season.
Optimism should be high on Sunday afternoon, both sides will be wearing their obligatory new kits, the sun may pop out from under the clouds and the hope a new season brings will be in the nostrils of even the most experienced performers.
101gg predicts: Chelsea to shade it, ensuring six days speculation over whether United are a spent force.
Chelsea 2 â€“ Manchester United 1 (8/1)
Full match odds here.