English football’s traditional curtain-raiser holds some intrigue for some of the continent’s big stars at Leicester City and Manchester City
By virtue of their upset victory over Chelsea in the FA Cup Final, Leicester City will have the honour of opening the incoming Premier League season.
The Community Shield is a weird little quirk of the traditional fixture calendar. No one is quite sure how seriously to take it: typically, for the bigger side, it is viewed before the fact as merely an extension of the preseason schedule, while for the weaker it is a legitimate chance at silverware.
Of course, based on the result, those outlooks can (and often do) switch around.
Manchester City, against whom the Foxes will strive, are always competitive, regardless of the circumstance. That’s what happens when you boast backup options most other clubs would fall over themselves to have as starters. Leicester, despite their impressive recruitment so far this summer, do not have quite the same depth.
Regardless of their differing estates though, both clubs will offer a glimpse into what the new season holds. Winning the Community Shield will not ultimately decide their destinies, but it should be fascinating nonetheless to see in what direction these sides are tending.
How soon is the Vardy-to-Daka torch-passing?
For Leicester, there are question marks at both ends of the pitch.
The signing of Patson Daka was an example of the sensible decision-making that has underpinned their rise. It is expected that he will, in time, replace Jamie Vardy as the leader of the line for the Foxes; getting him in now affords Brendan Rodgers the option of easing him into the responsibility.
The initial signs have been good though.
🎙️ New Episode Alert! 🚨
➡️ Following Patson Daka’s arrival, is Leicester City exit on the cards for Kelechi Iheanacho?
— Goal Africa (@GoalAfrica) July 3, 2021
In Leicester’s 3-3 draw with Queens’ Park Rangers last weekend, the Zambian was electric after coming on for Vardy, scoring a goal and winning a penalty, which fellow substitute Kelechi Iheanacho converted, in just over half an hour of action. Both involvements showcased the searing acceleration that makes him so dangerous in the final third too, providing the Foxes with the menace they often lacked whenever Vardy was unavailable.
Indeed, considering the Englishman has himself failed to trouble the back of the net so far in preseason, it would not be a huge surprise to see Daka start against Manchester City.
It would be quite the statement of trust from Rodgers, of course, and it is worth noting that the 22-year-old has only started one preseason game so far: the goalless draw against Burton Albion. Still though, if the Shield is just a glorified friendly, then why not? It would, if nothing else, provide a verdict on the readiness of the former Salzburg man.
Ndidi at centre-back: wacky experiment or something more
The other point of intrigue lies with Wilfred Ndidi.
The Nigeria international’s influence on the club’s play is well documented by this point, and there remains the prospect that he could depart the King Power Stadium this summer still.
However, the purchase of Boubakary Soumare from Lille, as well as Rodgers seeming fascination with the idea of the 24-year-old as a centre-back, suggest there could be a different remit for Ndidi this season…particularly in light of Wesley Fofana’s latest injury setback.
The tough-tackling midfielder featured in defence on a couple of occasions last season, with mixed-to-negative results. (The two legs against Burnley were particularly instructive as to the success of the idea). Against QPR, he was again deployed in the back three.
While it might simply be a temporary measure to account for the absences of Johnny Evans and Timothy Castagne, it is a little more difficult to explain using him there ahead of actual centre-backs like Daniel Amartey and Filip Benkovic in preseason.
Ndidi is no stranger to playing centre-back, of course; he played there at youth level for Nigeria, only converting to a defensive midfield role when he moved to Genk. Could it be that Rodgers has a bee in his bonnet about this? Or is it simply a matter of convenience?
Whichever the case is, the Community Shield should offer some insight into the Leicester boss’ thinking, as well as its viability at a decent level.
What do Grealish rumours mean for Mahrez?
Among his prospective tormentors in the late Wembley afternoon will be winger Riyad Mahrez.
Gradually, the Algeria international has won Pep Guardiola’s trust at Manchester City. Last season, he earned 39 starts, up from 28 and 35 in his first two seasons at the Etihad, and now looks to have gained a fuller understanding of what the Spaniard requires of him tactically.
He would no doubt have expected to push on even more and stamp his personality on this City side. However, the club’s signing of Jack Grealish puts the pressure back on.
If the Aston Villa man comes in either as an advanced central midfielder or as a left winger, it would see both Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden become direct competitor’s for that right wing spot Mahrez seemed to have made his own.
It is also worth noting that the former Leicester man is now, at 30, nominally on a downward trajectory physically. However, a strong performance in the Community Shield would send a message to Guardiola, as well as to the other competitors, who have both yet to feature in preseason due to extended post-Euros breaks.
Mahrez gets a head start, essentially; his ability to seize it could really set the tone for the upcoming season.