with Nick Pulford
The Community Shield is often regarded as a phoney war that has little relevance for the season ahead, but Chelsea and Manchester United may just view tomorrow's match as an opportunity to strike a significant psychological blow against their major rivals.
That would add an edge to the Wembley curtain-raiser that is usually missing at this stage of the season and give punters more confidence to get involved in a match that is not always taken seriously by the contestants. Manchester United, for example, have rarely given the impression that the Community Shield is a trophy they want in their cabinet. Since demolishing Newcastle 4-0 in the 1996 Shield, United have not won in 90 minutes in seven Shield appearances (five defeats, two draws, though they did win both of the drawn matches on penalties).
Perhaps United believe in the supposed curse of winning the Community Shield - since the inception of the Premiership, only three Shield winners have gone on to lift the championship trophy at the end of the season, whereas the runners-up have been crowned champions on five occasions. Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has a reputation of wanting to win every competition he enters, but it is unclear whether that is true from his Shield record of one win (2-1 v Arsenal two years ago) and one defeat (2-1 v Liverpool last year).
There is the added difficulty of evaluating pre-season form. This time last year Chelsea were struggling to score and had lost to the MLS All Stars and drawn with Celtic, which perhaps foretold their Shield defeat by Liverpool.
This year it has been a similar story for Chelsea, with low-scoring wins against Feyenoord and Brondby and a 2-0 defeat by Rangers. United, meanwhile, lost 3-2 to Inter Milan in their first serious pre-season friendly, and the excuse that Inter were further ahead in their preparation didn't ring true, with the Italian league season starting two weeks later than the Premiership. The edge is probably with Chelsea, who have had a good head-to-head record against United since Mourinho took charge (four wins and four draws from nine matches) and won the only meeting on neutral territory when lifting the FA Cup at Wembley in May, though they needed extra time to come out on top. Chelsea v United matches are usually closely fought, with six of the nine recent meetings having under 2.5 goals. In a game where it makes sense to keep stakes small, a low-scoring contest might be the best bet.
France's Ligue 1 is the first major European league to kick off this weekend, and home teams appear to have the edge.
Caen, who appear to have recruited well in the close season, could emerge best of the promoted teams and they have a good chance of making an immediate mark with home victory over poor travellers Nice.
The strongest chance, though, is Bordeaux at home to Lens. Bordeaux ranked third on home form last season and look decent value to start with a win.