Big Weekend: Man City, Chelsea, Bielsa, Mount, Swansea

Date published: Friday 3rd August 2018 6:46

Game to watch – Manchester City vs Chelsea
This is a friendly. Jose Mourinho might have held three fingers up as Manchester United were celebrating their Europa League triumph in 2016, but nobody was convinced. The Community Shield is the curtain raiser to the domestic top-flight season. Participation – and victory – in it is an indicator of past success, not current. Arsenal competing in three of the last four and winning two of them proves that. Zing.

But that’s not to say that Sunday’s game is meaningless, and it would be foolish to judge this the same as any other friendly. After a meandering, stagnated preseason following the World Cup, Manchester City and Chelsea now have a chance to lay down a marker.

No game at Wembley is meaningless, but Sunday does provide a different contest than usual. Whereas the Community Shield might typically consist of star performers playing at 70% in order to ease themselves into a new season, there will be a number of players absent for both sides after far too little preseason training after the World Cup. Those who will start are the fringe players and youngsters that have impressed in preseason training, and are therefore keen to enhance their chances of regular Premier League football this season.

For Chelsea, Callum Hudson-Odoi has earned rave reviews, Ross Barkley has impressed as the third midfielder in Maurizio Sarri’s 4-3-3 while David Luiz is back in from the cold. Then you have Jorginho settling into new surroundings and Alvaro Morata battling for form ahead of his second season in English football.

Pep Guardiola probably has a more settled idea of his first team, but many of those have an awful lot of catching up to do. The side that started their final preseason friendly against Bayern Munich contained Brahim Diaz, Phil Foden, Luke Bolton, Eric Garcia, Lukas Nmecha and Cameron Humphreys. Garcia has impressed Guardiola in the US, while any minutes Foden can get are crucial.

Judge this Community Shield as a massive match between two elite clubs and it will leave you cold. Take the chance to watch a group of players desperate to secure a place on the first weekend of the league season – when squads will still be depleted – and it should be great fun.

 

Player to watch – Mason Mount
There are regular watchers of the Eredivisie who are either angry or confused that Mount will be playing second-tier football in 2018. Most would consider him more developed than Justin Kluivert, who joined Roma this summer and will hope to break straight into the first team. Fourteen league goals and nine assists for a team that played in Europa League group stage was surely enough for Mount to have gained a promotion rather than relegation.

And yet there is good method to this apparent madness. If Mount does indeed possess the talent that most believe, 2018/19 will be a trial run for his presence in Chelsea’s first team the following season. While Sarri would prefer Hudson-Odoi to stay around the first team, he is happy for Mount to gain the regular football that is so crucial to development between the age of 18 and 21.

The Championship provides Mount with that opportunity – he will be a key player and is even a contender to be the division’s best player. It also give him the chance to experience English football, something that is lacking from his CV. Mount has never played a minute of competitive senior football in England, and Chelsea will want to see evidence that Eredivisie form can be transposed. Many others have failed in that task.

Finally, there’s the identity of the club itself that Mount has joined – or their management, to be more exact. In Frank Lampard, Mount will be managed by a Chelsea legend but one taking his first steps in management, and there’s little doubt that Chelsea are doing Lampard a favour.

But Lampard’s assistant manager will have swung the deal. Jody Morris coached Mount as Chelsea Under-18 coach, and has nurtured so many Chelsea kids from the club’s youth teams to the bright lights of Arnhem. Derby are the perfect halfway house, a home away from home, for Mount.

Derby start their Championship season live on Sky on Friday night against Reading, coincidentally managed by another former Chelsea youth coach in Paul Clement. Mount is the one to watch.

 

Manager to watch – Marcelo Bielsa
Common wisdom suggests that this will go one of two ways. Bielsa’s methods – and his demands of players to commit themselves fully to his methods – mean that things either work out wonderfully or go south incredibly quickly. In the recent past, they have gone badly. His spell at Marseille last 41 matches, at Lazio he didn’t even make his first match and at Lille he was sacked after 19 games.

After all, that’s why Bielsa is here in the first place, managing a giant of English football but one that has been sleeping for so long that they’re being prodded to make sure that they haven’t deceased. Managers like Bielsa were never supposed to manager in the second tier.

But then this is Leeds United, a club that became a byword for upheaval and unpredictability. It is both ridiculous that Bielsa and Leeds have entered into sporting communion and also entirely logical. But of course they have.

Leeds’ season starts at home to relegate Stoke, the pick of the first weekend’s matches and earning pride of place on a genuine Super Sunday. Imagine being told at the start of last season that Bielsa vs Gary Rowett would be a Championship fixture hosted by a then-Premier League club.

There is a third option besides Bielsa glory and Bielsa gory, of course. Leeds finished 13th last season, 15 points off the play-offs and 19 points from relegation. In the eight seasons since they were promoted, Leeds have never once finished in the Championship’s top six and never finished in the bottom nine either. A club that exists in a constant mania has drifted into mediocrity over the long term. That’s a heck of a look to pull off.

Getting out of that midtable drift might be reason enough to appoint Bielsa, but there is no guarantee that this club will rush towards or flounder down the league and cause another sacking within three months. Would there be anything more Leeds than a batsh*t club appointing batsh*t manager and achieving only more mediocrity?

 

Team to watch – Swansea City
The general public assumption is that any club relegated from the Premier League has a decent chance of coming straight back up, but history doesn’t quite back that up. Only nine of the last 30 relegated clubs have immediately bounced back. Of this season’s crop, Stoke have the most obvious shot and West Brom might not be far behind. Swansea are a little different.

Having appointed Graham Potter with the task of rebuilding and recharging the club after several years of losing their way, Swansea made the new manager feel thoroughly grumpy about life. No first-team players had been signed and very few of the high earners moved on, leaving Potter with a squad still suffering from some serious downward trajectory. Preseason had been an unpleasant, chastening experience.

Since then, things have picked up a little. Alfie Mawson has joined Fulham for £15m, allowing Potter to invest a little in the squad. Bersant Celina has joined on a permanent deal for Manchester City, while they have taken a chance on Nottingham Forest’s Barrie McKay. Much more is still to be done, assuming Sam Clucas and Wilfried Bony find new homes, but Potter will be breathing a little more easily.

Still, there seems little doubt that August is a good time to play Swansea, before Potter has settled in and the players have arrested the slump of last season. Sheffield United, with play-off ambitions of their own, will be looking for a fast start.

 

European game to watch – Hamburg v Holstein Kiel
You didn’t think that European football was back, did you? Well it is, and you can celebrate by watching Hamburg’s first ever second-tier league game. They face Tottenham’s sponsor between 1983 and 1995.

Daniel Storey

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