?With just a week to go until the 2018/19 Premier League campaign kicks off, this weekend sees the traditional season curtain-raiser at Wembley Stadium, as last season’s FA Cup winners Chelsea face the defending league champions Manchester City for early bragging rights in the Community Shield.
As both sides return to something near full strength squads after a shortened pre-season following the World Cup in Russia, both Pep Guardiola and the Blues’ new boss Maurizio Sarri will be keen to size one another up ahead of the upcoming nine months of domestic jousting.
Both London and Manchester sides have again strengthened this summer, with Sarri having brought midfielder Jorginho with him from Naples, and City with the addition of Leicester City winger Riyad Mahrez after an 18-month period of wrangling with the Foxes.
Neither side will be at full strength for this weekend’s meeting however, but regardless it will be an early opportunity to gauge the two side’s abilities for the coming campaign, as the Citizens look to become the first side in a decade to retain their league crown.
Here is all you need to know ahead of Sunday’s heavyweight clash at Wembley.
The two sides have had somewhat of a checkered pre-season campaign, with neither side keeping an unbeaten record in their three games played thus far ahead of the new campaign.
Sarri’s men won on foreign soil against home side Perth Glory via Pedro’s fifth-minute goal in Western Australia, before suffering penalty defeats to both Inter and most recently against top-flight rivals Arsenal in Dublin on Wednesday night in the International Champions Cup.
Since Antonio Conte’s departure and the arrival of the Argentine in the dugout, the Blues have had a greater drive in midfield but still have a few defensive frailties to iron out as they will likely shift to Sarri’s preferred 4-3-3 system this term.
City have also lost in during the past fortnight on their tour of the United States, falling at the hands of Borussia Dortmund via Mario Gotze’s goal, before comeback wins against potentially their most fiercest league rivals Liverpool in New York, and most impressively versus Bayern Munich – coming from two goals down at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami courtesy of Bernardo Silva’s brace.
Chelsea will still be without four first-team players for the game, with the Belgian quartet of Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard and Michy Batshuayi still away on holiday for another week, whilst Gary Cahill is expected to take part in his first training session post-England new week also.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek however has returned to the Blues’ fold early, having cut his summer break short and has made a premature return to Cobham but is unlikely to feature.
Aside from their documented absences, Sarri has an almost full squad available to him. Only Kurt Zouma (knock) is a doubt for the game, midfielder Marco van Ginkel out with an ACL knee injury.
Likes their opponents, City will be without key potential starters for their opening league game of the season against Huddersfield Town next weekend.
World Cup participants David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Nicolas Otamendi, Ederson, Vincent Kompany, Fabian Delph and Ederson have all now reported back to the club’s Football Academy after missing the American trip.
Kyle Walker also rejoined his team-mates in midweek after the England defender’s star turn in Russia, with only compatriot Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne the only two players still to return to duty.
Guardiola could have Riyad Mahrez available after being withdrawn against Die Roten with an ankle injury, but Phil Foden is a major doubt with a hamstring problem.
Defender Aymeric Laporte is a slight doubt with a knock, however fellow Frenchman full-back Benjamin Mendy is out with a muscle issue.
With just six days until the season begins at kick-off, there will be no room for a lack of match sharpness however the rustiness of the close-season could still be on view in the capital this weekend.
Against the Gunners on Wednesday, the signs for yet another new Chelsea era were promising from an offensive point of view, and Sarri had drilled his players defensively well enough, but having conceded a last-gasp equaliser at the Aviva Stadium, the test of Mancheester City poses a very different test.
From a results perspective, the Ciitzens have grown into pre-season, whilst Chelsea have gone backwards and that could be the telling factor in what will be a tight game in North London.
Despite City not having their entire arsenal at their disposal, Guardiola will be keen to see his charges start as they mean to continue this season in the notoriously tricky sophomore campaign and that should see them victorious here.
Prediction: Chelsea 1-2 Manchester City