Lescott 38, Dzeko 45+1 – Smalling 52, Nani 58, 90+4
While the Community Shield is often viewed as little more than a dressed-up friendly (especially by the losing team), there was no evidence of either Manchester United or Manchester City taking this thrilling encounter lying down, with the Red Devils overturning a two-goal deficit to run out 3-2 winners thanks to a late Nani strike.
In truth, this match will not necessarily determine the fortunes of either side. City still have Sergio Aguero and potentially Carlos Tevez to return to the side, and both managers are still looking to add to their squads in the build-up to the campaign. However, the result – and in particular, a number of individual performances – will have told both Roberto Mancini and Sir Alex Ferguson a fair amount about where their squads currently stand.
Although United started strongly, with a bold 4-4-2 formation pinning City back for long spells, they were unable to break through a stoic rearguard action by Mancini’s men. Tempers frayed as City struggled to deal with the movement of Danny Welbeck, Nani and Ashley Young, with an exasperated Phil Dowd eventually having to resort to showing a flurry of yellow cards.
Despite United’s dominance, they fell behind to a Joleon Lescott header after a great delivery by David Silva. While David de Gea appeared reluctant to dominate his area, Rio Ferdinand was the guilty party, and failed to put up a fight to the powerful centre-back’s glancing header. Worse was to come for United. With Michael Carrick nowhere to be found, and both Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic unable or unwilling to step forward, Edin Dzeko fired a swerving 30-yard drive past de Gea, who ought to have done better. The striker has struggled since his big-money move, but the strike will have done wonders for his confidence. Question marks over de Gea’s pre-season performances may lead Ferguson to question whether he should begin the full campaign with Anders Lindegaard between the posts, although the Spaniard grew in confidence.
Going in 2-0 down forced Ferguson into a number of substitutions, with Tom Cleverley, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans replacing Vidic, Ferdinand and Carrick, a sure sign that no player is guaranteed a place in Ferguson’s starting line-up this season. Cleverley in particular changed the game, the lively midfielder always looking to shape the play with fine movement and delicate passing, making Carrick’s earlier contribution seem pedestrian. United grew in confidence and City looked devoid of ideas, particularly on the wings, and it was only a matter of time before United were level, thanks to quick goals from Chris Smalling – impressive throughout at right back – and a wonderful team effort finished by Nani. A terrible mistake by Vincent Kompany let Nani in to score a 93rd minute winner, although Gael Clichy ought to have asserted himself more, suggesting his lapses in concentration at Arsenal may still be present this term.
Gary Neville stated afterwards that we may have seen a glimpse of Ferguson’s “team of the future”, with United at one point fielding a team with an average age of 22. While United showed typical determination in their fight-back, City’s players did enough to suggest that they will certainly be challenging for honours this season.
With United seemingly desperate to sign Wesley Sneijder, the Community Shield match may just have thrown Ferguson a budget answer to the question of how to replace Paul Scholes in the shape of the impressive Cleverly. For Mancini and City fans, the first-half performance, plus the introduction of a pair of diminutive Argentineans, will give them more than enough cause to look ahead with genuine optimism.