Five goals, one red card and eight bookings yesterday in a match that is supposed to be a friendly: English football might remain immune to the Olympic spirit but it is hard to deny that it is rattling good entertainment.
The Community Shield at Villa Park drew a crowd of 36,394 that fell 7,000 short of a full house, reflecting the tie's status this time as a sideshow to the country's great sporting event rather than the appetiser for the main feast. The Football Association chairman, David Bernstein, might have called for the country's footballers to take their lead from Team GB; it was not immediately obvious the warning had been heeded by players or fans.
The rain fell; John Terry was abused over his recent court case by the Manchester City support; players surrounded the referee Kevin Friend to berate him for his decisions; a fan dressed as Zippy from Rainbow was ejected by police; the rain continued to fall and Terry was abused some more.
English football is not about to change its ways just because the country has hosted a successful Olympics, but no one could complain about the competitiveness. The game caught alight before half-time when Fernando Torres scored for Chelsea and Branislav Ivanovic was sent off. As for the behaviour? It looked indistinguishable from that of last season.
After half-time, it was all City, led by the magnificent Yaya Touré, who scored the equaliser and was the game's stand-out player. After him Carlos Tevez, looking slim and sharp, went past David Luiz and Terry to score a brilliant second before Samir Nasri poked in Aleksandar Kolarov's cross for the third.
City almost let Chelsea back in with 10 minutes left when goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon dropped the ball at substitute Ryan Bertrand's feet and he scored. Otherwise, Chelsea's poor pre-season form continued.
It will be a while until Chelsea see the best of Eden Hazard, played out on the left behind Torres, whose performance was most notable for a back-heel that went awry and caused him to fall on his face. Ivanovic was deservedly sent off for his lunge at Kolarov and will miss the first three games of the season.
Frank Lampard and Ramires, both booked, were fortunate not to pick up second yellow cards and Chelsea became increasingly stretched in the second half. These are early days yet for Roberto Di Matteo, but it was a chastening reminder of just good the champions are when they find their rhythm.
The Chelsea manager said that City were "absolutely" the team to beat. "They're the champions. We have to catch up 25 points from last season. They are the favourites, no doubt about it, and United will be chasing City as well. They've kept the squad together. I'm not sure if they'll make more signings, but they're a strong team."
City had made their first signing just hours before kick-off and Roberto Mancini said afterwards that Jack Rodwell, a £15m signing from Everton, had completed a medical at the club yesterday afternoon. It is an interesting signing, and not quite the big-name striker that Mancini would have had in mind, but it does represent another investment in young English talent.
The City manager described Rodwell as "a good player for our future" and hinted strongly that he would not be an immediate part of his first-team plans. "It's the first time he was [sic] in a club that plays to win [trophies], and it will be different for him, but I'm sure that in a couple of years he will be a top, strong midfielder." Everton fans might bridle at the first point.
Mancini was also less keen to reignite Friday's feud with the club's "sporting director" Brian Marwood, although the manager will meet chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak, who is in town this week.
"I always speak with Khaldoon. I did a press conference on Friday and you asked me about the market. I don't know anything about the market, so I said, 'Speak with Brian Marwood'. Then it was chaos in the newspapers. Any manager would be unhappy when, one week before the start of the season, we haven't bought any players. But I hope we are working and, this week, we can do something about this."
There was no Joe Hart in the City team; he was out with a back strain, which also means that he will miss the England friendly with Italy on Wednesday, leaving Roy Hodgson with just the uncapped John Ruddy and Jack Butland to choose from. City were also without Mario Balotelli who was suffering from conjunctivitis.
Daniel Sturridge, a substitute, looks like he too will have to pull out of the England squad with injury. He was one of two Olympians on show yesterday. English football, however, exists in its own world.Reuse content