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Battle of Community Shield new boys

The Community Shield will welcome several new faces to English football. NEIL HUMPHREYS looks at a few of the interesting battles.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan v Nampalys Mendy

One fills an awkward spot for Manchester United, the other attempts to fill the boots of a departed Leicester City legend.

At Wembley, their paths should cross.

On the right side of midfield, Mkhitaryan presents his manager Jose Mourinho with a hardier, stronger alternative to Juan Mata.

The Armenian likes to cut inside, where he could meet Mendy, N'Golo Kante's successor.

The 24-year-old Frenchman is short, stocky and blessed with a low centre of gravity. He gets around quickly and efficiently.

Both men are expected to play pivotal roles for their clubs this season.

Ahmed Musa v Eric Bailly

Technically, this match up shouldn't happen.

Bailly was Mourinho's quick response to United's defensive problems.

The Ivorian is strong, quick, remarkably experienced for a 22-year-old and expected to make the centre-back berth his own.

Musa (left), on the other hand, can be a nominal winger, a link man, an off-the-shoulder runner or a conventional target man. 

He's short and nifty, with the kind of pace considered a prerequisite for Leicester's counter-attacking.

His double in a friendly against Barcelona should concern a United defence still unsure of itself.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic v Wes Morgan

OK, Morgan is hardly a new boy, but his battle with the superlative Swede will provide a clear indication of Leicester's potential for next season.

Morgan's title-winning partnership with Robert Huth will soon be the stuff of movies and books, quite literally, the classic tale of the ageing gunslingers rocking into town for a final shoot-out.

Morgan's tussle with fellow veteran Ibrahimovic should give Foxes' fans an idea of how much further their fabulous back four can go.

Ibrahimovic, on the other hand, loves a combative, no-frills centre-back to test his attacking mettle.

This old-fashioned dust-up between a couple of seasoned bruisers promises to be anything but friendly.

Community Shield pressure’s all on Mourinho

United boss must win at Wembley or early nerves will jangle

EVERYONE'S WATCHING: The eyes of the football world will be on Jose Mourinho's (right) first competitive match in charge of Manchester United today.

LEICESTER CITY v MAN UNITED
(Tonight, 10.30pm, Singtel TV Ch 109 - Eleven)

Previews for tonight's Community Shield are mostly following a one-sided narrative.

Jose Mourinho's cavaliers should swagger into Wembley like seasoned gladiators returning to the Coliseum of their recent FA Cup triumph.

They will knock over Leicester City to restore English football's natural order.

The Foxes can then return to their former home, the Heartbreak Hotel for relegation contenders, as Manchester United take back the throne.

But the consensus is too simplistic.

It doesn't take recent history into account.

United's rise is no more guaranteed than Leicester's fall.

That's why the pressure isn't on Claudio Ranieri tonight.

He's still free to bask in his title-winning glory. Mourinho is the manager tap-dancing near the trapdoor.

United's new manager has everything to lose and little to gain. 

At the very least, he needs to prevail in the Community Shield, not to lift a meaningless trophy, but to demonstrate that the marriage of convenience might actually work.

Two embarrassing exits from consecutive clubs have already wounded the manager.

FATAL

A third could prove fatal.

And this time, United's owners have painstakingly removed every potential obstacle to the Portuguese's success.

Every future excuse has already been rubbed out.

At Real Madrid and Chelsea, the paranoid conspiracy theorist always pointed fingers. There were secretive, destructive forces at work.

In Spain, it was the Spanish cliques, the governing galacticos rebelling against the Portuguese imposter.

At Stamford Bridge, it was the Russian oligarch, refusing to cede authority, overruling Mourinho's decisions and unwilling to loosen the purse strings.

But United, in their utter desperation, have granted the 53-year-old carte blanche.

He can do what he likes and buy and sell whomever he likes.

When he leads United out at Wembley, the squad marching along behind him will include Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, excellent purchases in pivotal positions.

Only the grotesque greed of Paul Pogba's army of advisers has so far stopped the Frenchman from pulling on a United jersey.

Other than that, Mourinho finds himself in an extraordinarily unique position; the omnipotent manager of the world's biggest club.

Even Sir Alex Ferguson couldn't demand £100 million ($178m) - or the inflationary equivalent at the time - to sign football's most highly prized midfielder.

Louis van Gaal enjoyed a similar degree of financial control, but lacked the competition that Mourinho now faces.

He's the first United manager in history to be blessed with unlimited funds, but cursed with zero excuses.

He's already expected to roll over the Foxes, which hints at too much expectation and a dash of arrogance.

United are a squad in transition still smarting from a dreadful pre-season campaign, where the lowlights included a nightmarish defeat against Borussia Dortmund, the farcical Manchester Derby postponement in China and the dull 0-0 draw against Everton in Wayne Rooney's testimonial.

POOR PREPARATIONS

For such a meticulous perfectionist, the team's preparations were poor.    

Of course, the same could be said for Leicester.

Shipping eight goals in two games - against Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain - was perhaps an indication that the wheels were already coming off.

But the Foxes were up against superior opposition and, more pertinently, have kept the core of a triumphant squad.

Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy, Danny Drinkwater and the defensive triumvirate of Kasper Schmeichel, Wes Morgan and Robert Huth are all still there; a year older, but a title-winning year wiser, too.

The obvious absentee at Wembley will be N'Golo Kante, who swopped Champions League football for championship-winning potential at Chelsea.

But Nampalys Mendy, a recent signing from Nice, is considered a near like-for-like replacement, in terms of size, stature and style.

And Ahmed Musa scored twice against Barcelona to suggest a succession policy is already in place for Vardy.

But, in so many ways, the Community Shield isn't really about these guys.

It's about Mourinho, as it usually is.

He's taken on a managerial role with no middle ground.

He either wins the league as expected or drinks from a poisoned chalice.

United's owners, so eager for a return to those increasingly distant halcyon days, have given him a free hand.

He's going to be in for a long season if it doesn't look like a winning hand at Wembley.

Guardiola's EPL test

Guardiola proved his worth in Spain and Germany but can he survive in the EPL?

STORM BREWING: Pep Guardiola needs to adapt to EPL fast if Man City are to burst off the blocks.

THE BOSS

If the other leading managers in the English Premier League are considered rock stars, then Pep Guardiola is Frank Sinatra.

He's the chairman of the board, an elegant, effortless craftsman who makes artistic perfection not only appear simple, but also a way of life.

Of course, there's also an underlying steeliness, a latent desire to work harder than any other to stay at the summit.

Sinatra had links to the mafia. Guardiola was raised in La Masia, the world's most competitive football academy.

His move to Manchester City underlines his insatiable hunger.

He could have coasted at either Barca or Bayern Munich, the biggest fish in their respective oceans.

But his resume had a weakness. He had never prevailed in the EPL.

Guardiola went to Man City to further his education and extend his legacy, but this isn't a cakewalk for the Catalan. He not only joins an unpredictable league at its most competitive, but he's also at a polarising club.

At best, City are begrudgingly respected, but rarely loved by weary sceptics.

They were not the first club to buy success with wealth, but there was a certain soullessness to their rapid rise.

Second-tier superstars joined the second team in Manchester 
for the pay cheque, rather than 
the pedigree.

Only Guardiola can change that.

Nolito, for example, signed not for the money, but the man.

Finally, City boast a real managerial magnet; a tractor beam that drags football's knights towards a vast empire.

Without a doubt, Guardiola has taken on the biggest coaching challenge of his career.

But he also knows that domestic and European silverware move him closer to that elusive title of "greatest of all time".


THE STARS

Leroy Sane, 20, winger

Guardiola had monitored the youngster's progress at Schalke and moved quickly to sign one of the most promising talents in Europe.

Sane's tender age obscures a tough teenager with two full seasons of Bundesliga football under his belt and an 11-year career with Schalke.

He joined when he was just nine. Sane also made his international debut for Germany at 19.

On the right wing, Sane is a natural replacement for the exasperating Jesus Navas and potentially offers City a balanced attack for the first time in years.

Still learning, he'll inevitably make mistakes, safe in the knowledge that Guardiola nurtures a protective environment that turns 
boys into 
men.


Nolito, 29, winger


Euro 2016 confirmed the suspicions of many sceptics. Raheem Sterling isn't the finished article. He was overpriced, overhyped and underwhelming.

Nolito, on the other hand, delivered precisely the kind of solid, dependable performances on the left wing that have deserted Sterling.

Admittedly, Spain exited the tournament early, but Nolito left with his dignity intact and earned Guardiola's approval.

At 29, the winger represents a stop-gap as City patiently wait for Sterling to fulfil his potential (or find his successor).

Guardiola, who gave Nolito his first-team debut at Barcelona, knows what this signing will bring: Commitment and consistency, which have been in short supply 
at City.


Ilkay Guendogan, 25, midfielder


Even Juergen Klopp acknowledged that Guardiola had pulled off a transfer coup.

Under Klopp, Guendogan drove Borussia Dortmund to a league and cup double with his rare ability to play both artist and artisan.

His impeccable work-rate is matched by an attacking incision. He threads the needle effortlessly in central midfield, which earned him one of the highest pass-completion rates in the Bundesliga.

His swashbuckling runs bear comparisons to Yaya Toure, but Guendogan is arguably less reckless.

At Dortmund last season, he played deeper and scored less, but dominated more in a position that Guardiola considers essential for his formation to flourish.

In the EPL, Guendogan could enjoy more freedom to push forward.


THE FINAL ANALYSIS

If, as expected, John Stones joins Manchester City for a grotesquely inflated sum, consider the rough line-up.

In a 3-5-2, which Guardiola used in pre-season, there could be Joe Hart, Stones, Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi in defence; Fernandinho, Guendogan and Yaya Toure somewhere around the centre circle; Leory Sane and Nolito out wide; Kevin de Bruyne in the hole and Sergio Aguero up front.

That still leaves Raheem Sterling, Fernando, Fabian Delph, Aleksandar Kolarov, Bacary Sagna, Wilfried Bony and, lest we forget, David Silva on the bench.

There's even a third tier of players that includes Samir Nasri, Jesus Navas, Pablo Zabaleta and Eliaqium Mangala.

City's strength in depth suddenly looks phenomenal and Guardiola probably isn't done yet. But there are caveats.

Three at the back worked in short bursts at Euro 2016, but it's a riskier proposition across 38 games in the EPL, which means deploying fullbacks.

Kolarov, Sagna and poor Zabaleta were hardly models of consistency last season.

Up front, Aguero will always be an accurate barometer of those around him. When City pour forward, he reigns. When they wander, he's left in the wilderness.

In other words, City remain a burgeoning squad of outrageous talents in search of the clear-headed system, approach and mindset that allowed Leicester City to pull off their title-winning miracle.

The missing link was always the manager. Guardiola really will either make or break Manchester City's season.


IN

  • IIkay Guendogan (Borussia Dortmund, £21m)
  • Nolito 
(Celta Vigo, £13.8m)
  • Leroy Sane 
(Schalke, £37m)
  • Gabriel Jesus (Palmeiras, £27m)

OUT

  • Martin Demichelis (released)

New-look cycling squad prepare for KL Games

New-look national squad get down to business

ALL EARS: National cycling coach Adrian Ng (far right) addressing the new national squad for the first time on Friday.

There were young boys in school uniforms, a few steeped in hipster sub-culture, one covered in tattoos, and a few women too, a motley crew coming together for the first time, braced for the gruelling journey ahead.

Some were chatting among themselves but, mostly, the group were wide-eyed and silent, paying close attention to the briefing, then lining up to get fitted for uniforms.

It looked - and felt - like the first day of Basic Military Training on Pulau Tekong.

Like military recruits, this group will be physically and mentally put to the test, but their goal is different - sporting glory at next year's South-east Asia (SEA) Games in Kuala Lumpur.

After three months of open trials, the national cycling squad assembled on Friday, with familiar faces as well as new additions.

Thirty-six members were selected after the Singapore Cycling Federation (SCF) selections, with training kicking off tomorrow, in what will be a five-day week for the squad.

The number will be whittled down to 27 at the end of next month, before cyclists are sent to various races to be tested against regional rivals.

TRAINING CAMP

Those who ace the tests will still have a training camp to contend with, before earning the right to represent the Republic at the biennial Games.

Singapore won two bronzes at last year's SEA Games through Vincent Ang and Dinah Chan, and the aim is to better that tally next year.

"Some of you will not be able to take the training," said national coach Adrian Ng, while addressing his charges. "But this is the survival of the fittest, that's the way it is."

But they are looking forward to the challenge.

"It's a real honour to represent the country," said Teoh Yi Peng, who quit his real estate job to give the sport his full attention.

"I really want to be at the SEA Games. I'm 28 this year and, if I don't give it a good shot, I will be too old."

Luqmanul Hakim, 18, is approaching it with similar positivity.

Said the junior champion of this year's OCBC Cycle National Mountain Bike Championship: "I came here not knowing what to expect, and this is a group of strangers trying to become a team. I think it will be a good experience.

"I used to be a rebellious teen, and got into quite a bit of trouble before I got into competitive cycling two years ago.

"I like the adrenalin, and I'm now more focused. I've achieved some of my dreams already by being the national champion, but I want to cycle at a pro level."

This is the first senior national squad that have been selected via an open trial-based quantifiable measurements of athletes' power.

Bastian Dohling, the SCF's vice-president (Road), believes it is a move that will hopefully keep more in the sport.

HERE TO STAY

"We will have to cut the squad over time, but we hope that by being involved, we can inspire them to keep training, and try again next year," he said, confirming that the system is here to stay.

"We were overwhelmed by the response to the open trials, and we've got several new faces here. We now have nine women in the squad, compared to two last year.

 "But quantity will give us quality (in the long run), and we hope to attract more people and increase our pool."

Former national cyclist Loh Kheng Wah, whose son Firoz finished fourth in the junior time trial at last year's Asian Cycling Championships, is buoyed by the SCF's new national team selection process.

He believes this is a sign of better things to come.

"I've not seen such a proper plan for a long time.

"I think it's a clear and transparent system that is fair to riders," said Loh, a three-time bronze medallist at the South-east Asian Peninsula Games, the precursor of the SEA Games.

"If we didn't have this, we'd draw from the same pool of riders all the time."   

“I’ve not seen such a proper plan for a long time. I think it’s a clear and transparent system that is fair to riders.”

— Former national cyclist Loh Kheng Wah, whose son Firoz finished fourth in the junior time trial at last year’s Asian Cycling Championships, on the new open-trial system for the new national cycling squad

Tags: CYCLIST and Singapore

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