The Community Shield traditionally marks the start of the English football season and, while this year’s game risks being overshadowed by the London Olympics, this promises to be a fascinating insight into what lies ahead.
Not only is Sunday’s clash at Villa Park between the Premier League champions and FA Cup winners but Chelsea also double as the champions of Europe and after a summer of spending to make even City’s owners wince these two could be the teams contesting major honours come May.
Roberto Di Matteo won trophies – and a permanent deal – by putting his senior professionals centre-stage. But with Didier Drogba gone and young talent such as Eden Hazard, Marko Marin and Oscar coming in, now he must oversee the transition that Andre Villas-Boas could not.
If that change goes smoothly then the Blues will expect to close the gap on a Manchester City side that has been strangely subdued in thr transfer market since winning a first league title in 44 years in such sensational circumstances on the final day of last season.
No major signings have been made with the focus instead on new contracts for manager Roberto Mancini and inspirational skipper Vincent Kompany, who is a doubt for the game due to a pre-season calf injury.
After a period of startling upheaval at City, steady growth now appears to be the mantra coming out of the Etihad Stadium and with Carlos Tevez fully rehabilitated that policy could take the club further than they dare hope.
A number of players in both squads were involved at Euro 2012 and several more were on Olympic duty earlier this month, with Chelsea’s Oscar still contesting the medals with Brazil.
As a result, Mancini and Di Matteo have players at various stages of progression in their pre-season training programme and that will have a large bearing on the line-ups we see in Birmingham.
For the league champions, Gareth Barry is injured while David Silva and Mario Balotelli could be eased back after contesting the Euro 2012 final last month.
Micah Richards will not start after being involved for Great Britain at the Olympics so Pablo Zabaleta is set to continue where he left off as the first-choice right-back.
Chelsea are expected to name a strong defence given that John Terry and Ashley Cole have been rested by Roy Hodgson for the midweek friendly against Italy, with the main decision being a straight choice between David Luiz and Gary Cahill.
Hazard is likely to start on the left but former Werder Bremen man Marin looks set to miss out through injury.
Possible starting XIs
Chelsea: Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole; Mikel; Ramires, Lampard, Meireles, Hazard; Torres.
Man City: Hart; Zabaleta, K Toure, Lescott, Kolarov; Y Toure, De Jong; A Johnson, Tevez, Nasri; Aguero.