THIS Sunday, Liverpool will contest for the first of a potential seven trophies in 2019-20 when they take on Manchester City in the Community Shield.
As is tradition, Wembley plays host to this annual curtain raiser but the fixture itself has been derided in recent times.
Indeed, fans still like to remind David Moyes the shield was the high-point of an embattled and embarrassing 10 months at Manchester United.
Similarly, Jose Mourinho was mocked for labelling his League Cup-Europa League double a “treble” having seen off a Leicester side still clearly hungover from celebrating a miraculous title win.
Given the opposition however, and more importantly the recent history between the two sides, Sunday’s glorified friendly could carry added significance.
Pre-season or not, the weekend represents an opportunity to land the first blow in what could easily become a slugfest for all major honours.
Granted, neither team will be at full strength.
Sadio Mane is a confirmed absentee having fallen at the final hurdle of the African Cup of Nations. Mo Salah’s Egypt only reached the quarter-final stage but he returns just a week before City, along with Copa America winners Roberto Firmino and Alisson. All will be playing catchup when it comes to fitness.
From the City perspective, Gabriel Jesus, Fernandinho and Ederson all triumphed for Brazil in their home tournament, while Sergio Aguero and Nicolas Otamendi helped Argentina to the semis.
It was Riyad Mahrez’s Algeria meanwhile that conquered Mane’s Senegal in the AFCON.
Pep Guardiola has bemoaned the length of all their seasons and conceded none are likely return to training until after the game.
So there’s every chance we’re left with the prospect of two unfamiliar lineups, but opportunity knocks regardless.
Divock Origi has enjoyed a productive pre-season and the shirt is his to lose as the Premier League draws closer. As fourth choice as fourth choice gets, this could be a rare opportunity for him to lead the line against a Premier League rival.
For, in spite of his heroics against Barcelona and the like at the backend of last season, the Belgian knew he’d invariably make way for Firmino when the Brazilian was match fit, as was proven in Geneva.
The state of play is undoubtedly different in August compared to May. Jürgen Klopp is an advocate of meritocracy though and Big Divvy cannot have done much more to stake a claim.
If he gets chance to rise to the occasion against even an unrecognisable City side, he could at least postpone any immediate reunion of the fabled front three.
The door is also open for Rhian Brewster. This smattering of friendlies has been the first real glimpse many Liverpool fans have had of the precocious young striker. His was a career put on hold for the best part of 18 months and he is seemingly hellbent on making up for lost time.
Clear for all to see is an eye for goal reminiscent of fellow academy graduates Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen. What he appears to possess above that pair however – at least in their early years – is an ability to bring others into play.
The 19-year-old has been dropping deep, linking well and flicking neat balls around the corner in an impressive Firmino tribute act during this pre-season.
While we’ve seen variations throughout the course of his reign, Klopp has nearly always reverted to his favoured 4-3-3 come the crunch. And that puts an emphasis on the centre forward to do so much more than simply chalk up goals. Brewster is seemingly embracing that workload.
The weekend gives him the chance to collect another medal he can wear to the barbers, but also to truly announce himself. Make no mistake, he won’t be overawed at the prospect of facing domestic treble winners. He doesn’t lack for confidence – justifiably so on recent evidence.
Owen wasted no time in showcasing his ability, scoring within minutes of his first team bow away to Wimbledon. Fowler did likewise with a sweetly struck half volley against Fulham.
For all the hype and column inches Brewster has received, Sunday would mark a debut appearance for him too. Few would back against him marking it in similar fashion.
So does the Community Shield have any bearing on the season that follows? The evidence says not.
Of the last 10 winners, only three have gone on to win the subsequent league campaign. That somewhat damning statistic would suggest The Reds are better off forfeiting the match…
In all seriousness though, winning is a habit. Having ended an arduous wait for a trophy and getting a monkey off Klopp’s back in the process, The Reds could do a lot worse than approaching this match with a steely determination.
The sight of Jordan Henderson lifting things is one supporters will never tire of and, though the sharing of the Western Union Cup went unnoticed, hoisting the Community Shield would warrant a drink or two at least. It’s the City factor that gives the showpiece an added dimension, after all.
Not only did they deny us the title by accruing a frankly outrageous number of points last term, they inflicted our sole defeat. Evidently, if Liverpool are going to wrestle the crown from a footballing juggernaut we know we have to match last season’s efforts at the very least.
Improving on 97 points is ambitious and perhaps unrealistic. Likewise, picking holes in a 97 point season meanwhile is ridiculous. Even so, you should seek improvement otherwise what’s the purpose of the enterprise?
And improvement for Liverpool means beating City, over the course of the season and also in one-off games.
Simply put, had we beat Guardiola’s men the two times we faced them last year it would be our title. That’s how little separated us and them. Oh and a difference in net spend of some £351.97m…
With that in mind, Sunday represents an opportunity to add to our 15 Community Shield titles. Moreover, it’s a chance to land the first psychological blow.
And for that reason this game matters.
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"Liverpool are so good now that when there are flaws, even in games that don't matter, people start to worry." 👀
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) July 30, 2019