Having lost three times out of three to opponents Chelsea last season, including a defeat on penalties in the same showpiece 12 months ago, Manchester United’s victory over the Blues will have come as a perfectly timed fillip. Chelsea have understandably been installed as favourites for the Premier League crown with most bookmakers and pundits, coming off the back of a double-winning season without seeing their main rivals significantly strengthen their squads over the summer. United have been written off in places, with even the astute Gary Lineker deeming the squad too old to win the title in his News of the World column. Whilst one positive result should not be enough to change such opinions, it will certainly have done the Red Devils no harm at all.
Chelsea were arguably marginally closer to their full-strength line-up than United but Sir Alex Ferguson’s side controlled the game for large periods and were ultimately comfortable winners. The Blues possess a midfield that is capable of over-running most opponents but lack that little bit of creative subtlety that United boast in the boots of Paul Scholes. The diminutive veteran will not be able to play every game over the course of the season, but with the greatest respect to sides in the bottom reaches of the Premier League, if United cannot beat them without Scholes then they will not deserve to be champions. It is in the games against title rivals and away to top ten teams that Scholes will still prove invaluable, demonstrated by his peach of a 60-yard ball in the build-up to Antonio Valencia’s opening strike at Wembley on Sunday. Developing a long-term replacement to the Salford-born magician will continue to preoccupy the thoughts of Ferguson, with the boss having earmarked Tom Cleverley as having the same ability to score goals from midfield that Scholes was renowned for in his youth.
It was goals that United lacked last season when it really mattered, Sir Alex having cited the goalless draw with Blackburn in the final weeks as one such example where profligacy proved costly as the title was surrendered by just a point. The Community Shield provided a good omen for the season ahead as United netted three times against the reigning champions without last season’s runaway top scorer Wayne Rooney being among the scorers. Valencia scored seven times last season but had not scored in 2010 until pre-season. Having struck in a friendly in midweek, he grabbed another at Wembley to reaffirm his potential as a goal threat cutting in from the right wing. Javier Hernandez came off the bench to score on his official debut, and whilst he did his best to spurn the chance, even a complete loss of coordination could not prevent the new Mancunian hero from finding the net. The goal that might prove most significant was saved for last, Dimitar Berbatov lofting the ball over Hilario with all the confidence he seemed to lack when it counted last term.
Ferguson is clearly confident enough in his striking resources, having allowed Mame Biram Diouf to join Blackburn on a season-long loan. Danny Welbeck is set to join him in temporarily departing Old Trafford, whilst Joshua King, who made a brief first team debut last season, has also been loaned out to Preston. United’s four senior strikers all enjoyed 45 minutes at Wembley, with Michael Owen partnering Rooney before the break. Kiko Macheda has been described by Ferguson as the best one-on-one finisher at the club and he was not even able to force his way on to the bench for the Community Shield. One good game for the team does not guarantee goals galore for the coming season, but realistically United only need one of their strikers to join Rooney in scoring over 20 goals this term for the difference to be made.
It is very early days in the fledgling 2010/11 season and United still have to face Chelsea at least two more times when it really matters. Regardless of how little the result at Wembley will count towards the final league table, Ferguson could not have wished for a better outcome to the occasion. The performance will have left United brimming with confidence ahead of their opening league game with Newcastle whereas Chelsea will have gone home with more questions than answers. One swallow does not make a summer, but it is certainly a good start.