9 August ~ Drawing conclusions from a match with 11 substitutions is never easy. But, judging from their day out at Wembley yesterday, not much has changed for the players at the pinnacle of English football. There were a few boos for England’s World Cup flops and one guy blowing into a vuvuzela with all the gusto of an asthmatic cat, but the Community Shield felt oddly familiar. John Terry is still disliked, Ashley Cole is still hated and Paul Scholes is still the best midfielder in the country. Scholes, who will be 36 by Christmas, stood in the centre-circle for most of the afternoon spraying passes around the field with an ease that must have depressed the onlooking Fabio Capello.
The result will be forgotten in a week’s time, but for Manchester United the performance was encouraging nevertheless. Scholes was the stand-out performer, provoking compliments from his manager that nearly seem as old as the player: "He's just an incredible footballer. It's a phenomenon that he goes out there and becomes man of the match, approaching his 36th birthday." Although impressive, Scholes’s ability to pick a pass in a game played at walking pace wasn’t all that surprising. The real treat for United fans was the way he combined with Michael Carrick. Playing in the same positions they occupied in the all-conquering 2007-08 season the pair managed to subdue Chelsea’s three-man midfield. For Carrick, a scapegoat for United’s failure in Europe in the past two seasons, a confidence-building performance could not have been better timed.
With Scholes and Carrick in control in midfield, United were able to spread the play across the pitch. Antonio Valencia always looked to have the beating of Ashley Cole down the right flank. And Nani seems to have recovered from his hasty World Cup exit to offer some directness down the left. Javier Hernandez had the brightest of cameos up front, managing to both score with his mouth and kiss his new badge in one movement. And even Dimitar Berbatov was smiling by the end.
Perhaps the most heartening sight of the afternoon for United fans was Nemanja Vidic leading the team up to collect the trophy. The defender has often bemoaned his position beneath Rio Ferdinand in the club’s pay scale. With a new contract secured only a few weeks ago, Ferguson – always adept at manipulating his players' psychology to his best advantage – gave Vidic the captaincy in Ferdinand’s absence.
While United deserved the win, they never needed to hit top gear to beat a fairly plodding Chelsea team. It is difficult to draw many positives from the Double-winners’ pre-season. The defeat was their fourth in succession, following losses to Ajax, Eintracht Frankfurt and Hamburg. They looked slow, predictable and disjointed. And with only Yossi Benayoun available to add sparkle to an ageing squad, they seemed bereft of ideas for long stages. But with Michael Essien returning to fitness and Ramires – who is, according to Kaka, "without doubt the very best young central midfield player in the world" – on his way to the club, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see them score seven against West Brom at the weekend. That's the Community Shield for you – a nice day out in the sun, but not much more than a chance to pick up a tan in north London. Paul Campbell