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It's a showpiece occasion with a prize at stake in the form of a trophy, but how significant is the traditional season opener as a guide to who will win what?

COMMENT
By Graham Lister

As reigning Premier League champions Manchester City prepare to take on FA Cup holders Chelsea at Villa Park in Sunday's 90th Community Shield, their respective managers, the two Robertos, will be fine-tuning their pre-season preparations (notwithstanding that the transfer window remains open for another three weeks) and looking for pointers to how their teams might fare in the coming campaign.

So how reliable an indicator is the Community Shield fixture?

A year ago, the Shield threw up a fascinating and thrilling Manchester derby at Wembley which suggested that, if Roberto Mancini's side had pretensions of becoming the city's top dogs, they could expect to be challenged all the way by United. And so it proved, right up until the final day of the season, when United thought they'd done enough to retain the title until Sergio Aguero's dramatic late strike made City champions by virtue of a superior goal difference.

UNITED LEAD THE WAY
TOP FIVE SHIELD WINNERS
CLUB

Man Utd
Liverpool
Arsenal
Everton
Tottenham
WINS

15
10
11
8
4
SHARED

4
5
1
1
3
TOTAL

19
15
12
9
7
Yet for the first 45 minutes back in August 2011, City could have been forgiven for assuming it would be easier than that when they opened up a convincing 2-0 half-time lead in the Shield through Joleon Lescott and Edin Dzeko. Then the Red Devils showed all their experience and fighting qualities by battling back in the second half to win 3-2, Chris Smalling and Nani, with two, scoring the goals that ensured they successfully defended the Shield, winning it for the fourth time in five years.

When the really serious business got underway, however, Mancini had the upper hand, as City won both league meetings on the way to taking the title. United's victory in the curtain-raiser had not, therefore, been an omen.

We shouldn't have been surprised, because there is usually an experimental feel about this annual fixture. Any summer signings have yet to bed in, players who have been involved in summer internationals with their countries are often at least a week away from full fitness, new tactics and formations may still not be cemented, and substitutions are not restricted to three (United used five last year).

Moreover, with the cricket season still in full swing (and, this year, the Olympics providing a compelling distraction), football does not yet command the nation's undivided sporting attention. So there is a hint of carnival about the Community Shield. It matters, but it isn't crucial. Sir Alex summed this up when he said, prior to the 2008 Shield: "It's always a game we never quite use as a do or die thing; we use it as a barometer for fitness".

Although it offers the incentive of the first bauble of every new season, it is not regarded as a major trophy (except by Jose Mourinho, who was swift to include it among the honours he won while manager of Chelsea). Nevertheless, despite Mark Lawrenson's dismissive description of the Shield as a "glorified friendly", its current prestige elevates it above the level of a mere pre-season run-out. And if its ranking is modest in the silverware hierarchy, it has certainly become a showpiece with a competitive edge.

That wasn't always the case. The fixture was first contested as the FA Charity Shield - under which title it persisted until 2002 - in the 1908–09 season, replacing the Sheriff of London Charity Shield which had been introduced as a professionals (ie, players) versus amateurs (ie, gentlemen) match, the proceeds going to various good causes. Manchester United, who had won the Football League championship in the previous campaign, played Queens Park Rangers, who had won the Southern League. The match was drawn 1-1, United winning the only replay in the Shield's history 4-0. Both games were staged at Stamford Bridge.

The criteria for selecting the participants remained arbitrary and occasionally random until 1974, when then FA secretary Ted Croker formalised the current format with the fixture being played at Wembley between the reigning League champions and FA Cup holders. It was not a novel idea: the first time the Shield was contested by the winners of English football's top two domestic trophies was 1921, when Tottenham beat Burnley 2-0. The 1920s also saw six Amateurs v Professionals matches, before the League champions v FA Cup winners format held sway throughout the 1930s.   

Since the resumption of football after the Second World War, there have been some unexpected Shield pairings. For example, in 1950 the game was contested on Chelsea's ground between the England team that had been infamously beaten by the USA in the World Cup in Brazil, and an FA team including Stan Matthews and Nat Lofthouse that had toured Canada that summer. Such a match-up begs the question: Why?

In 1961, after Spurs had won the Double, they played and beat an FA XI for the Shield. When Arsenal became double winners 10 years later, their previously arranged pre-season friendly matches against Benfica home and away and Feyenoord meant they could not take part, so Leicester City were invited, as Division Two champions, to play FA Cup runners-up Liverpool. Leicester won 1-0.

And in 1972, league champions Derby County and FA Cup winners Leeds United both declined to take part in the Charity Shield, so Manchester City, who had finished fourth in the First Division, and Third Division champions Aston Villa contested it, City winning 1–0. Nor did champions Liverpool and Cup winners Sunderland contest the 1973 Shield, which saw Second Division champions Burnley defeat Manchester City - who'd only finished 11th in First Division but had won the Shield a year earlier. At that point Croker decided future Shield matches should be staged at Wembley between the previous season's two big domestic winners, though when Billy Bremner and Kevin Keegan were both sent off for fighting at the national stadium in the notorious 1974 game between Leeds United and Liverpool, he may have had second thoughts.

It was a more positive affair a week before the inaugural Premier League season kicked off, when 1992 League champions Leeds won a classic Charity Shield encounter 4-3 against FA Cup winners Liverpool, with Eric Cantona scoring a hat-trick. Cantona would soon move to Old Trafford, while two Liverpool debutants that day - Paul Stewart and Istvan Kozma - were destined to become little more than obscure footnotes in Anfield history.

COMMUNITY SHIELD SUCCESS
SEASON


2002-03
2003-04
2004-05
2005-06
2006-07
2007-08
2008-09
2009-10
2010-11
2011-12
WINNER


Arsenal
Man Utd
Arsenal
Chelsea
Liverpool
Man Utd
Man Utd
Chelsea
Man Utd
Man Utd
LEAGUE
FINISH

Runners-up
Third
Runners-up
Champions
Third
Champions
Champions
Champions
Champions
Runners-up
The advent of the Premier League saw the idea of each club keeping the Shield for six months in the event of a draw (as had happened 11 times since the War) scrapped in favour of penalties - first used in 1974 then abandoned - to decide stalemates. The 1993 Shield was won by League Champions Manchester United in a shoot-out after a 1-1 draw with Arsenal. United went on to retain the Premier League title and also win the FA Cup in 1994, so League runners-up Blackburn were invited to play them in the subsequent Shield match. United won again, though by the end of the 1994-95 campaign Rovers had deposed them from top spot in the League. As champions, Rovers lost the 1995 Shield to FA Cup winners Everton.

In 1996, United were again Double winners, so met League runners-up Newcastle United for the Shield and thrashed them 4-0. The result was prophetic, for by the end of the 1996-97 campaign, United were again champions and Newcastle runners-up. In the 1997 Shield, United beat FA Cup winners Chelsea on penalties. It was the second of six consecutive Shield appearances for Sir Alex's side, though they lost the last four of them, despite winning three successive Premier League titles in that period. Such results tend to confirm the Shield's unreliability in predicting who will win what in the coming season. For example, United were thrashed 3-0 by Double winners Arsenal in the 1998 Shield, but went on to claim an unprecedented treble themselves that season, beating the Gunners by a point in the title race and defeating them in an FA Cup semi-final replay.

Double champions again in 2001-02, Arsenal defeated League runners-up Liverpool in the 2002 Community Shield, when that summer's Brazilian World Cup winner, Gilberto Silva, made his first-team debut for Arsene Wenger's side and scored the only goal. Gilberto went on to become a vital cog in the Arsenal midfield, though the Gunners had to content themselves with retaining the FA Cup in 2002-03, when United regained the title.

The Red Devils then beat Arsenal on penalties in the 2003 Shield, but the Gunners suffered no defeats at all in the ensuing Premier League campaign - though United did repeat their victory over Wenger's men in the FA Cup semi-final, going on to win the Cup. They lost the 2004 Shield to Arsenal, and were fated to lose the FA Cup final (on penalties) to the same side nine months later; but by then Mourinho had arrived at Stamford Bridge and taken Chelsea to the League title, and the Blues defeated Arsenal 2-1 in the 2005 Shield.

However, they lost the next two Shields - to 2006 FA Cup winners Liverpool and 2007 League champions Manchester United, respectively - the latter on penalties. That 2007 Shield was the first of five more consecutive appearances in the fixture for United. They beat FA Cup winners Portsmouth on penalties after a goalless draw, then had to swallow the same medicine themselves in 2009 after a 2-2 draw with Chelsea. As Double winners in 2010, the Blues met League runners-up United in the subsequent Shield. It was the third time in four years that the trophy had been contested between the same two teams. United won 3–1 with goals from Antonio Valencia, Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov. Valencia had made his competitive debut for United as a substitute in the previous Shield, coming on for the injured Nani; Hernandez was making his competitive United debut and netting his first goal for the club.

Of the 65 Shields played between League champions and FA Cup winners, 39 have been won by the League champions, with the Cup winners claiming 15 wins and 11 Shields being shared. The six matches between Double winners and League runners-up have seen the latter triumph twice. As for its predictive value, on 16 occasions have the outright Shield winners gone on to win that season's League title. Seven times they've gone on to lift the FA Cup.

The fixture enjoys a special place in the English football calendar, but quite how much it tells us about what lies ahead is debatable. It may be more than a "glorified friendly", but ultimately it's a last chance to tone up and shake off ring-rust before vital points are at stake.

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