The last time they met last month, the crowds shut out of the stadium in Abuja in Nigeria embarked on a full-scale riot with the local police. Tomorrow at Wembley, it is unlikely that passions will be running quite so high between Manchester United and Portsmouth in a Community Shield game which will not showcase the full range of talent both sides have to offer.
Sir Alex Ferguson said yesterday that he would use the game as an opportunity to bring players such as Michael Carrick, Gary Neville and Nani back to full fitness. He is already without Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Owen Hargreaves and could even give a start to his 20-year-old academy graduate Frazier Campbell, who is one of the few strikers at Old Trafford – along with Carlos Tevez – still fit enough to pull on a shirt tomorrow.
Not since Newcastle United in 1996 – who had finished second in the League the previous season has there been a team outside the Big Four of English football contesting this essentially meaningless game that starts the madness of another season all over again. "It's an unusual game because, over the years, the Charity Shield has tended to be with ourselves, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, but this is different and it's good for Portsmouth," Ferguson said.
It was still called the Charity Shield when United beat Newcastle 4-0 that day in 1996 and tomorrow will be the 13th occasion that Ferguson has contested the game. "As a game we have never considered it as 'do-or-die'," he said. "We have used it mainly for fitness and sometimes in the past, we have played players who were never nearly fit – we just had to get them minutes on the clock.
"On this occasion, it's more or the less the same and I'll play Carrick, Neville and Nani because I want to get minutes on the clock for them. It's a prestige match. We played them in a pre-season game in Nigeria, but this is a real game and, as we know, they had a great season last year."
Having reached a level that few outside the top four ever attain, Portsmouth are already feeling the pinch before the season begins. They have acquired Peter Crouch for £11m but the spending spree that was intended to bring Shaun Wright-Phillips, Nicky Shorey and Younes Kaboul to the club has not materialised. They have sold Sulley Muntari to Internazionale for £12m in a move that was anticipated to facilitate more transfers but has not done so and tomorrow they will miss the injured Lassana Diarra, who will be a key player for them this season.
In Nigeria against a United team that had only a sprinkling of their key men on the pitch, Harry Redknapp's team were scarcely in a game they lost 2-1 – on the right wing and at left-back they still lack the quality to propel them past last season's ninth-place finish. Redknapp was not at the training ground yesterday so it fell to his assistant, Tony Adams, to offer a bombastic take on facing Ferguson for the second time in the space of a month.
"He [Ferguson] is a great man at a great club but there is just something about him and them that I love beating," Adams said. "If I'm honest, I think I love beating them more than I would beating even Arsenal. It's just something that's there – just like Alex always wants to beat Liverpool, maybe. I don't know how long he's going to go on but he's been fantastic. I'm still dreaming I know, but one day I might be lucky enough to be Arsenal manager – and knock United off the top."Reuse content