Community Shield pressure’s all on Mourinho
United boss must win at Wembley or early nerves will jangle
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.
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.
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.
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.