For the first time, fans will be treated to a Community Shield double-header on Saturday, as both the women’s and men’s matches take place at Wembley.
The Women’s Community Shield, back for the first time since 2008, kicks off the day with WSL champions Chelsea taking on 2019 FA Cup winners Manchester City. Then, Premier League champions Liverpool face FA Cup holders Arsenal.
In response, we’ve given our top five predictions ahead of the games, centred on all four sides, from the Premier League champions all the way through to the reigning Women’s Super League title-holders, Chelsea.
So, without further ado…
1) A Salah-vating performance from the Reds’ attack
Though there are some suggestions that neither Jurgen Klopp nor Mikel Arteta will want to field a strong starting XI ahead of another hectic, condensed Premier League campaign, the alternative seems far more likely: a rotated squad with a mixture of the impressive youngsters and the big guns, especially where the attack is concerned.
For Liverpool, this means having 20-year-old Rhian Brewster in the mix, whose brace against Red Bull Salzburg and attacking contributions vs Stuttgart in pre-season should put him ahead of Divock Origi, whether that’s leading the Reds attack or an option from the bench.
This could see Mohamed Salah take his place as understudy, waiting in the shadows should Liverpool require him for a late victory. The Egyptian has proven that he is capable of just as much.
Although he may have been edged in the Golden Boot race by the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (22 goals) and Jamie Vardy (23 goals), Salah still snapped up 19 goals and 10 assists in 34 games last season, playing a key role in an attacking formation that was far more effective.
Indeed, it was the highlight of a campaign that saw the Reds pretty much wrap up the season in early February, 25 points ahead with 10 games left to go: playing a higher line, instigating more ventures into the attacking third, and allowing their talisman to connect with his partners in crime Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino – two players who are expected to make the starting XI.
So, whether it’s Brewster or Salah who assume pole position alongside Mane and Firmino, expect the Reds to entice at Wembley this Sunday.
2) Manchester City 2.0 ft a Kiera Walsh masterclass?
It goes without saying that Gareth Taylor’s summer transfer haul make City a formidable foe ahead of the 2020/21 WSL season. The incoming list at the Etihad Campus feature some big names, with Lucy Bronze reportedly on the way – winner of the 2019 UEFA Women’s Player of the Year – and Samantha Mewis – part of the cohort that swept aside Bronze and England on the way to a fourth World Cup title – right at the top.
The name receiving the most amount of attention, however, is OL Reign’s Rose Lavelle.
Standing at 5ft 4, you wouldn’t expect Lavelle to be the midfield tormentor she is. Yet, as her agent Remy Cherin puts it, on the pitch, she is ‘f****** ruthless’. Where many of her former teammates play with a certain level of hesitation, the calculation, creativity, and bullishness that she offers often leaves defenders running back towards their goal.
Indeed, when the US international drives, they retreat, and just as she learned in the academy that she came through, the skills and trickery on show are more than just a facade. Just ask the Dutch (see the 2019 Women’s World Cup final).
And that’s without mentioning Man City’s existing cohort of attackers that’ll see them level up, chiefly in midfield maestro Kiera Walsh.
While the likes of Bronze and Lavelle may not feature against the Blues, Walsh is likely to be in the starting XI, pulling strings from the base of the midfield as a deep-lying aggressor, orchestrating attacks and breaking up counters in a fashion akin to City men’s Fernandinho.
Chelsea’s woman in thay position is Sophie Ingle, who we know is more than capable of doing the same (see *that* goal against Arsenal). And yet where Ingle may be more attack-minded, Walsh is intelligent in her passing, coy in her movement, and slick in her delivery with the likes of Ellen White and, potentially Lavelle, looking to latch onto as Caroline Weir did to open the scoring in the WSL fixture at Kingsmeadow last season. Chelsea defenders beware – our predictions see her controlling the game once again.
3) Can Arsenal outscore their defensive problems?
Arteta will be without some key defensive additions – Shkodran Mustafi (hamstring), Pablo Mari (ankle) and Calum Chambers (knee) – which means the odds about a repeat of Liverpool’s 2006 Community Shield victory are far more likely than an Arsenal upset.
Sure, the young guns that have often been brought in as understudy – Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Rob Holding etc – have usually been able to perform well. But this isn’t a midseason clash, this is a curtain-raiser where both teams may be rusty, experimenting with formations and lineups, wary of overworking players, or, in Arsenal’s case, without an experienced central defence with which the likes of Mane and Brewster will be relishing to engage.
The only way to pave over those cracks is through attack, and with a certain Gabonese international leading the charge – that’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for those who haven’t clocked on – there’s always a chance to outscore Liverpool.
Indeed, the forward has a point to prove with recent contract extension talks still up in the air. A few goals to win the tie against the Premier League champions with a barely functioning back four would make quite the statement.
And considering the 31-year-old scored a brace in each of his last two visits to Wembley, expect him to make the score-sheet again on Sunday, even though, going by our predictions and betting tips, he’ll finish on the losing side.
4) Midfield magic from Mjelde, Melanie, Reiten & Ji
Last season’s approach adopted by Emma Hayes’ Chelsea was to pretty much throw on every attacker in the squad and expect goals to follow – as they did. However, with the kind of business that City have completed in this season’s window, a far more refined perspective will be needed and that begins with the midfield.
Step up Maren Mjelde, Melanie Leupolz, Guro Reiten and Ji So-yun – a girlband you wouldn’t want to face on the stage, let alone a formidable midfield quartet on the pitch.
While Reitan, Ji and Mjelde are all experienced in the Chelsea midfield, it’s Leupolz that’s worth mentioning as the new addition to the squad, announced back in March.
The former Bayern Munich captain is a veteran in the holding position, winning two titles in the Frauen-Bundesliga with a proven pedigree in bossing the centre of the pitch – both on the domestic and international stage.
With Leupolz in the mix, expect both Reiten and Ji to provide more crosses from the flanks, and Ingle to push up and connect with Sam Kerr and Bethany England, who will need no invitation to put the Man City back four to the test.
And that’s all without mentioning the most exciting aspect of the Chelsea attacking midfield: Fran Kirby. Although Emma Hayes has made it clear that the midfielder is still recovering and training hard, even if we see her for half an hour, we’ll have seen the ‘dream midfield’ in play.
5) Two high-scoring games on the cards
The final gear in our Community Shield double-header predictions is a forecast for goals galore in both the men and women’s Wembley clashes.
For Klopp and Arteta, it’s almost an expectation given that the last 0-0 scoreline between the pair came in August 2015, with over 3.5 goals netted in eight of the last 10 meetings – a wager well worth punting on.
Meanwhile, considering Chelsea possess a duo in Kerr and England that netted 23 goals between them last season, it would be extremely unusual for neither to make it onto to scoresheet, especially with the more possession-based football that Hayes is aiming for with Leupolz in the mix.
City aren’t without their own goalscorers; in a very Pep Guardiola-esque fashion, the front six is an interchangeable one that is more than capable of repeating that 3-3 clash that unfolded at the Academy Stadium last season.
All in all, expect an entertaining game to unfold in both matches.