LONDON — Let’s be brief when it comes to the “things we learned” from the Community Shield: good luck to the rest of the Premier League.
Liverpool and Manchester City, the winners of the 2019-20 curtain raiser at Wembley, show zero signs of letting up. If anything, they look more determined than ever to shatter records and set new benchmarks, both driven on by the presence of the other to be the very best versions of themselves, even in a friendly. There were 77,565 in attendance at the iconic stadium to witness a 1-1 draw that was settled 5-4 on penalties in favour to City, but the numbers were not as important as the eye-opening effort and application from the main contenders for the crown this season.
The teams’ desire to succeed could be gauged by watching Mohamed Salah, who only returned from his post-season break on Monday and played 45 minutes against Napoli before this tougher test. He was constantly speeding around the attacking third, shrugging off markers and showing fast feet to get 10 shots away — two hit the post, one was cleared off the line (we’ll come to that next) — that was more than City managed in total.
You could see it in the 93rd minute too, when the Egypt international looked certain to have won the match for Liverpool with a header, only for a scissor kick from Kyle Walker on the goal line to avert danger just before it could go in. Those acrobatics at that stage of the encounter — a friendly, remember — underlined City’s ruthlessness and refusal to lose a game.
The most intense element of the showdown didn’t even happen on the pitch, but in the technical area of the Premier League champions.
Pep Guardiola paced throughout the match in frustration, furiously pointing out spaces his side weren’t exploiting to his liking. He put his hands over his head and over his eyes in disbelief at missed chances or misplaced passes, even leaning against the advertising hoardings in annoyance after an indecisive Raheem Sterling dithered, with only Alisson to beat, and failed to make it 2-0. The 48-year-old was so worked up that he even created an imaginary red-card situation when David Silva and Joe Gomez challenged for a high ball and the Liverpool defender got to it first. Guardiola fumed to fourth official Stuart Atwell, suggesting that the England international had gone in on his player dangerously and with force. His continued protestations earned him a yellow card. In a friendly.
Tensions eventually spilled over late in the second half, with City’s boss exchanging words with Jurgen Klopp, Jordan Henderson, Andrew Robertson, Virgil van Dijk and just about anyone else in red. At the final whistle, there were a lot kinder exchanges marked by a wealth of respect, with both camps fully aware that another almighty battle will brew between them over the season ahead.
It’s been 1,253 days since the last and only time these teams have previously met at Wembley and the upgrade for both since City won the 2016 League Cup — also on penalties — has been staggering. They are now, by quite some distance, the supreme powers of English football.
Back then, however, Klopp had been in the Liverpool job for four months and only two of his starting XI, Henderson and Roberto Firmino, in that final were also in his Community Shield first 11 on Sunday afternoon. Guardiola wasn’t in situ at the Etihad yet, with Manuel Pellegrini seeing out a final term that ended with City 15 points adrift of domestic champions Leicester City. Liverpool were 21 below the pace but fast-forwarding to the present day, it is difficult to imagine any side bar Tottenham getting remotely close enough in the league to trouble these two.
“We know which team we will face [as Premier League contenders],” Guardiola said post-match. “They are the champions of Europe, so I give a lot of credit to the players for the way we played in the first half.
“At this level the difference is nothing: one penalty, one point. It was good to face them to show the guys how well prepared we have to be to win the title.”
Klopp echoed this desire after the match. “We will try everything to win more trophies this season and I thought what the boys showed today, they looked pretty hungry,” he said. “Both teams wanted to win it today. My team is not satisfied.”
And neither are City. Another epic campaign awaits.