Early Doors

Warring neighbours renew hostilities

Early Doors

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The banner has been torn down from the Stretford End, and now Sunday's showdown at Wembley marks the opening salvo of a season in which Manchester City will aim to rub Manchester United's name off the Premier League trophy.

As the warring tribes of Manchester descend on London, the notion of a 'Community' Shield may be a misnomer. After all, there is little that strains the bonds of a community more than some horrendously noisy neighbours. This season may determine if the din has become deafening.

City's famous 1-0 win over United at the same arena in the FA Cup semi-final last season paved the way for them to win their first trophy since the League Cup in 1976, ensuring that the gap between the two clubs is as small as it has been for decades.

Still, though, it is fair to say that a trip to Wembley at this stage of the season holds more allure for City than it does United.

Ferguson and his men have a keen working knowledge of the stadium's bowels and of its pitch. Indeed they were there in May for the Champions League final - a fact which makes the gap between the two clubs slightly more pronounced.

For City fans the venue retains an aura. It was there that Yaya Toure slayed United in the FA Cup semi-final, before Stoke were beaten in the final to end a 35-year wait for silverware. Another visit further underlines their membership of England's elite.

Two of the country's best sides, divided by local animosity. As Wayne Rooney admits, this is a Community Shield to savour.

"You couldn't get better motivation to start the season with a bang," said the United striker, who scored arguably the goal of the season with his remarkable overhead kick against City in February.

"It's a great way to start pre-season training, knowing at the end of the hard work, before the games begin, there's a Manchester derby. Playing City in the Community Shield is the best way to start.

"I hadn't even thought about it until I turned on the telly the other night and someone was talking about potentially the best Community Shield ever."

It is even more eagerly awaited as both sides have made plays in the Manchester arms race this summer.

United have focused on bringing in expensive young talent. Phil Jones, who is expected to win his first England call for the friendly against Netherlands next week, may get a game in defence while the tie is the first proper chance for many supporters to see David De Gea take on the onerous task of inheriting the gloves of Edwin van der Sar.

However, as Paul Scholes enjoys his testimonial on Friday night, the club will still reflect that they have failed to bring in a playmaker worthy of replacing the United great. Wesley Sneijder continues to be pursued, but on Sunday perhaps summer signing Ashley Young will be handed a central role.

Meanwhile, City's eye-catching addition has of course been Sergio Aguero, who cost all of £38 million when signing from Atletico Madrid. However, he is a fitness doubt due to illness and foot blisters and may miss out for Roberto Mancini's side.

As Carlos Tevez is being indulged with a prolonged holiday - presumably so he has the chance to plan how to undermine the club next - City will get their first proper glimpse of life without their moany former captain, albeit one whose industry and application saw him contribute to almost half of their goals last season.

Aguero is the headline act though, as a wariness of UEFA's Financial Fair Play regulations has prevented another all-out assault on the transfer market of the kind that has characterised City's dealings since the arrival of Sheikh Mansour. Gael Clichy and Stefan Savic are the other arrivals.

But City no longer need to make great leaps forward. This is a squad already blessed with deep reserves of talent and that gap, once cavernous, has almost been closed.

Having delivered the FA Cup and Champions League football last season, Mancini has achieved more than any City manager in decades. But now the onus is on the Italian to take the club onto the next level and battle Ferguson for the most coveted title of all.

After all, when City sacked Mark Hughes for failing to get the club on the right "trajectory" the implication was clear: the Etihad Stadium hierarchy require continual improvement. That means taking on United this season.

Though Sunday's game will not be definitive, it will nonetheless hint at whether City are ready to change the balance of power in Manchester for good.

- - -

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "At the minute the way things are going with the social networking websites, everybody is involved in them these days and everybody is watching them. You do have to be kind of careful these days and watch what you say, as I found out myself. It is something that managers are now having to talk to teams about and their players about, which was obviously never the case before." - Danny Gabbidon, who was fined after addressing West Ham fans with "f**k the lot of you" back in April, joins the great Twitter debate.

FOREIGN VIEW: "He always seems selfish and arrogant. His behaviour won't help his cause in China, nor will it help that of (sponsor) Nike." - Titan Media's Yan Qiang explains why Cristiano Ronaldo has damaged Real Madrid's efforts to tap into the Chinese market after his curt answers to questions in a press conference. In fairness, he did get asked if he changed his son's nappies.

COMING UP: Arsenal's Champions League play-off fate will be decided when the draw is made in UEFA headquarters in Switzerland at around 11:00 am. The Gunners can face either Udinese, Rubin Kazan, FC Twente, FC Zurich or Odense. The Champions League draw will be followed by the Europa League draw - with no less than 76 teams in the hat, including Tottenham, Stoke and Birmingham City - and we will have live coverage of both.

We will also be bringing you our comprehensive, team-by-team preview of the upcoming Championship season, plus live coverage of the macth between Hull City and Blackpool tonight, while Jim White and Paul Parker will be filing their latest columns. Oh, and there's Paul Scholes's testimonial against New York Cosmos of course.

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