Erling Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne, Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk; two world-class goalkeepers in Ederson and Alisson; and arguably the two leading coaches in the game in Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp. With so much A-list talent and winning pedigree between Manchester City and Liverpool, Saturday’s Community Shield clash (stream live on ESPN+ in the U.S. at 12 ET) is more than a curtain-raiser for the new season, it is a showcase of excellence that has become the defining game in English football.

Sure, Manchester United vs. Liverpool is still the game that generates more global interest than any other Premier League match, but right now, it is far from a level contest. Liverpool beat United 9-0 on aggregate over two games last season, leading that rivalry to become somewhat irrelevant in deciding the outcome of title races and battles for silverware.

The same applies to United vs. Arsenal. The two clubs dominated the Premier League for almost a decade in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with one or the other winning the title in nine straight seasons between 1995 and 1996 and 2003 and 2004, but a generation of fans have since grown up without ever witnessing them slugging it out for the title. The rivalry, if it still exists, has been reduced to deciding Europa League qualification rather than the major honours.

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Liverpool vs. Man City is now the Premier League’s headline act and the Community Shield meeting this weekend feels more like a taster for the main event over the next nine months than a stress-free warm-up for the campaign ahead.

Eighteen other clubs will contest the 2022-23 Premier League season, but it is virtually impossible to make a case for anyone but City or Liverpool emerging as champions next May. The Community Shield will give us a glimpse as to just how far ahead of the pack they are.

Tottenham have invested well this summer, giving manager Antonio Conte the reinforcements he demanded to be able to transform the team into title challengers, but while the six new arrivals — Richarlison, Ivan Perisic, Yves Bissouma, Djed Spence, Fraser Forster and Clement Lenglet — have arguably turned Spurs into the best of the rest, they’re still some way back from the top two. Meanwhile Chelsea, under new owners following the departure of Roman Abramovich, look to be on the brink of crisis with coach Thomas Tuchel complaining about the lack of new signings and the preseason performances of his existing players.

United are an unknown quantity under new coach Erik ten Hag following the club’s worst-ever Premier League season. They have brought in Lisandro Martinez, Christian Eriksen and Tyrell Malacia, but haven’t yet been able to convince primary midfield target Frenkie de Jong to leave Barcelona, while Cristiano Ronaldo continues to be a distraction due to his desire to leave Old Trafford.

And although Arsenal have strengthened under Mikel Arteta, including the signings of Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko from City, the Gunners are still nowhere close to winning the title for the first time since Arsene Wenger’s “Invincibles” in 2003-04.

City and Liverpool were already miles ahead — runners-up Liverpool finished 18 points clear of third-place Chelsea last season — and they have both also strengthened during the summer, so their hegemony is only likely to be extended over the months ahead. The Community Shield will merely offer a worrying glimpse for the rest of just how far in the distance they are.

Both have reshaped their squads this summer, losing players who have contributed to successes in recent seasons — Jesus, Zinchenko and Raheem Sterling have left City; with Sadio Mane, Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino leaving Anfield — but such is the stability and consistency at each club that replacements have been signed with an eye on the long-term.

Haaland and Kalvin Phillips have arrived at the Etihad — Haaland as the long-awaited replacement for Sergio Aguero; Phillips filling the gap left by the departed Fernandinho — for less than a combined £100 million. Both are proven at the highest level, with the 22-year-old Haaland already justifying his billing as a generational talent with Borussia Dortmund and FC Salzburg.

With Haaland’s goal threat, City may have to alter the way they play and become more direct to ensure he gets the service he needs, but with such a dangerous focal point in their team, any change will only likely make them better. In tight games — both league games against Liverpool finished as 2-2 draws last season — Haaland could be the decisive difference, especially in the Champions League.

Liverpool’s big challenge is ensuring a seamless transition from Mane to Darwin Nunez, the £90m summer signing from Benfica. Mane scored 120 goals in 269 appearances for the club, registering 38 assists too, so his £27m departure to Bayern Munich will be a loss for Klopp’s team, but Luis Diaz has already shown himself to be a quality addition since arriving for £37.5m from Porto in January and Nunez’s signing continues Liverpool’s attacking evolution.

Meanwhile, Salah’s decision to sign a new contract this summer, ending uncertainty over his future at the club, was a huge boost that ensures that Liverpool retain a player who could outscore Haaland and win another Golden Boot this season.

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Shaka Hislop feels Manchester City have no reason to worry that pressure will get to Erling Haaland in his first season in the Premier League.

It is difficult to find weaknesses in either team. Liverpool came within a whisker of achieving an unprecedented quadruple last season, while City once again displayed incredible quality and resolve to fend off Liverpool’s challenge to win the Premier League title again.

The presence of each other as a competitor arguably drives them on — the same happened with United and Arsenal during the peak years of their rivalry — the key to success this season will unquestionably boil down to who does best in the game against each other. If there is a winner when they meet at Anfield on Oct. 15 or at the Etihad on April 1, it will be a momentous result for the victor. And although the Community Shield is not classed as a major trophy, winning it will matter this weekend.

Every possible edge that can be gained by either side will be welcomed by Klopp or Guardiola. The rivalry between the two teams has been reduced to the finest of margins, so the psychological boost of winning on Saturday cannot be overstated — neither can the blow of losing.

Neither team will be looking over their shoulder at the chasing pack. Instead, they are staring each other out, waiting for the first blink or sign of weakness. That is why the Community Shield matters. Both managers and sets of players might like to suggest otherwise by playing down the game’s significance, but every game now matters when Liverpool face Manchester City and this one is no different.



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