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Manchester City clinch Community Shield even as Liverpool prove worthy rivals

If thrilling season opener is any indicator, expect titanic clashes between the English and European champions in 2019/20

There was a time when Liverpool fans used to call Wembley ‘Anfield South’. If it might be unoriginal for their Manchester City counterparts to now dub it ‘Etihad South’, their sentiments would be understandable.

For the fourth time in 365 days, City returned north with a trophy. “The first title of the season is in our sight,” Pep Guardiola said.

Yet while retaining the Community Shield brought silverware, it also felt an appetising preview, potentially a microcosm of another titanic duel between English and European champions. A game of two halves – City boasting 60 per cent of possession in the first and a mere 35 per cent thereafter – showed rivals are evenly matched.

“An incredible final,” Guardiola added.

Ultimately, the decisive moment was Claudio Bravo’s shootout save from Georginio Wijnaldum. With Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, Phil Foden, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus all scoring from 12 yards, City prevailed 5-4 on penalties.

It amounted to a redemptive afternoon for Bravo. His troubled first season in England can still colour perceptions but, while he will soon revert to the role of Ederson’s understudy, he highlighted why he has a reputation as a penalty specialist. But for his earlier agility, spot kicks would not have been required.

“We were exhausted in the last 15 minutes,” Guardiola conceded. “It is nice to realise what we are going to face the rest of the season.

"We score one more penalty than them. Last season we make one more point than them. The distance is here: one inch.”

Liverpool can again rue the narrowness of the margins. Kyle Walker produced an early contender for the unofficial award for goal-line clearance of the season, acrobatically hooking Mohamed Salah’s injury-time effort away. Salah was relentless, belying the reality he only returned to training last week; his eight shots brought a range of misses and near-misses, hitting the post, finding an in-form goalkeeper, in Bravo.

“Wow, it was a really good, really powerful performance in the second half,” Jurgen Klopp said. “I cannot be disappointed because of their performance. We had wonderful chances.”

Virgil van Dijk was denied by a combination of the underside of the bar and the line. Instead of being a scorer, he was the supplier. Van Dijk demonstrated the range of his gifts by setting up the substitute Joel Matip’s equaliser. Few strapping stoppers could provide such a deft cross, but one centre-back centred for the other to head home.

Raheem Sterling of Manchester City celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during their Community Shield match. Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images
Raheem Sterling of Manchester City celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during their Community Shield match. Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images

It reflected Liverpool’s comeback. Their defence began with their high line being exposed by an Anfield alumnus. They ended up powering a fightback. City were much the superior side before the break, Liverpool vastly improved after it.

Their pre-season defeats felt an illusion, not an indication.

But only after they went behind. Raheem Sterling’s CV has expanded in two prolific seasons, but it did not include a goal against his old employers. That changed inside 12 minutes, the Englishman finishing from close range after Liverpool were caught out from a free kick and David Silva supplied Sterling with a deft flick.

Yet if Sterling was as elusive as Salah, each then struggled to find the finishing touch. Perhaps the turning point came when Walker sent Sterling scurrying through on goal and he delayed too long before shooting.

While one forward struck, another had to be substituted. The injured Leroy Sane only lasted 12 minutes, going off as Jesus was rushed back and Sterling’s spell as a striker was a cameo. In effect, City won without the German, not to mention Sergio Aguero, Aymeric Laporte and Fernandinho.

On the sidelines, Guardiola became the first top-flight manager to be booked in England. For City, though, this was a rather different slice of history.

Updated: August 4, 2019 10:15 PM

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