You know it has been a long summer when both participants in the Community Shield look back all doey-eyed on last season’s heroics. Manchester United captured the Premier League title by an emphatic margin, while Wigan Athletic triumphed somewhat impossibly over Manchester City at Wembley.
United’s league victory rounded off Sir Alex Ferguson’s time in charge of the club, but with it came a tough opening two months of David Moyes’ time as successor. Meanwhile, 25 miles east of Old Trafford relegation to the Championship has brought a raft of playing changes and a new manager at Wigan. As Dickens didn’t quite say: it was the best of times, now the worst of times.
The Shield is Moyes’ first competitive fixture in charge after a summer of mixed results on the pitch and serial frustration off it. Defeats in Thailand, Japan and at home to Sevilla last Friday night have brought murmurs of concern from United’s supporters keen for a positive start to the new regime. Meanwhile, the club’s inability to secure either of Moyes’ primary playing targets this summer has left the side painfully short in midfield.
Throw the ongoing Wayne Rooney saga into the mix and Moyes begins the season in an invidious position; keen to hit the ground running, but hamstrung by circumstances largely beyond his control. Indeed, the Scot has less resources at his disposal than his predecessor, positive contributions this summer from younger players notwithstanding.
That may change in the coming three weeks of course, but United heads into the Shield against lower-division opposition in decidedly pensive mood.
With a record against the Latics that reads 16 victories in 17 fixtures Sunday’s game should provide one last boost to team morale before the Premier League kicks off in seven day’s time. Yet, there remains just a modicum of apprehension; after three defeats and two draws in seven games during pre-season the Reds head into the new campaign in anything but good form.
Still, Moyes remains upbeat ahead of Sunday’s game. He can be nothing but; at least not until the campaign begins in earnest over the next few weeks.
“I just cannot wait to get the season started,” said the new United manager.
“I know what it is like to walk out at Old Trafford as the manager of the opposition, so to step out in front of more than 75,000 fans as the Manchester United manager will be a special moment for me.
“Being given the chance to manage a club like this was a dream come true for me and probably more so given that the previous manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, wanted me to be in charge of the club. It won’t always be easy – I know that – but I just hope we can all work together. My sole goal is to be successful and have a winning team.”
On the pitch Moyes will be without Rooney, with the Scouser left out of United’s squad despite being fit to take part at Wembley. The striker has featured for just 45 minutes this summer – in a behind-closed-doors friendly last week – but has suffered a rash of increasingly curious injuries that have kept the 27-year-old out of public-facing fixtures.
In truth, the player’s determination to quit Old Trafford is in little doubt; only the fee and Rooney’s destination is now to be agreed before the transfer window closes on 2 September.
Elsewhere, Moyes may also be without Nani, who suffered a hamstring strain against AIK last week, while Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Namanja Vidić and Chris Smalling are at varying stages of fitness. Rio Ferdinand played more than 80 minutes of his testimonial against Sevilla and is likely to miss out at Wembley.
Winger Wilfried Zaha could feature having enjoyed a fine pre-season, while youngsters Adnan Januzaj and Jesse Lingard will be in the matchday squad for the trip to north London. Each impressed over the summer, Lingard top-scoring on tour, while Januzaj walked away having won hearts and minds of the United faithful.
Jonny Evans could partner Phil Jones in central defence, while Rafael da Silva is available despite having to serve the final game of a three match ban against Swansea City next weekend.
Meanwhile, new Wigan boss Owen Coyle has retained much of the squad relegated from the Premier League last season. Arouna Koné departed in a £6 million move to Everton, while Antolín Alcaraz also joined the Toffees on a free transfer, and Maynor Figueroa signed for Hull City. Shaun Malloney and Callum McManaman have remained with the Latics despite offers elsewhere.
However, the former Bolton Wanderers manager will call on significant top flight experience this season: Scott Carson, James Perch, and Grant Holt have joined from Bursaspor, Newcastle United and Norwich City respectively.
Coyle is without club captain Gary Caldwell, and defenders Ivan Ramis and Thomas Rogne through injury at Wembley, but the squad is fine form having beaten Barnsley 4-0 in the opening weekend of this year’s Championship last Saturday.
“Sunday is an opportunity to win a trophy, it’s as simple as that,” said Coyle.
“We have the task of trying to do that against the champions of England and one of the biggest clubs in world football. So it’s going to be a very tough game for us and we will be labelled as underdogs before the game but we have no doubt that if we perform to the best of our ability on the day then there’s nothing we can’t achieve.
“We’ll be playing against a team with quality all over the pitch and the media spotlight on them as always, after the arrival of David Moyes. I know David well, and I’ve no doubt in my mind that come the end of the season they’ll be right up there once again competing for the title.”
Wigan, though, will play with little pressure at Wembley. Just 5,000 fans will make it to support the FA Cup winners in London, while United has sold more than 47,000 tickets for the match. It is just one further data point that underscores the size of the task Moyes has taken on.
And despite a difficult transitionary summer – and the very likely probability of a tough first few weeks of the campaign – Moyes can add a tropy of sorts on Sunday. It would be folly to underestimate the opportunity.
“I will be trying to make this the first trophy of many,” said 50-year-old Moyes, who claimed no silverware during a decade at Everton.
“But, if we win, it’s really something that will have been earned by Sir Alex. I’ll do my best to finish off the job but it’s Sir Alex who will deserve a lot of the credit if we’re successful at Wembley.”
Manchester United v Wigan Athletic, Community Shield, Wembley, 2pm 10 August 2013
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Assistants: Mike Mullarkey and Scott Ledger
Fourth Official: Michael Oliver