Slakr: Community Shield teaches us what?

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Slakr tries to glean some useful information from his Liverpool side’s victory in the “first major trophy” of the season.  We’re not entirely sure that the jugs of celebratory lager have worn off yet.

I’ve been accused of getting carried away in the past, and I trying not to make that mistake here.  So I won’t claim that Liverpool’s victory over Chelski is proof-positive that we’re going to be challenging all the way this season.  In fact, I’m going to claim exactly the opposite — I think the biggest lesson we learned from Sunday’s game is that this season’s Chelsea side have improved dramatically in the one area they had to last season, and may actually wrap up the title in April for real this time around.

The one area where the Soviets (Chelski fans: your own fans were holding banners with the Hammer and Sickle so stop your whinging) were a class below Arsenal and the Mancs last season was in the quality of their strikeforce.  Drogba is not in the same league as Henry and Van Nistelrooy, and Crespo didn’t seem to click (at least not to the level of his lofty standards).  So Roman went out, and did what the Soviets did — hired Ukrainian firepower, this time in the form of Andrei Shevchenko.  And from the look of him yesterday, he’s going to be a handful.  Sheva looks like he’ll be a nightmare for some of the less able defenses of the pretenders to the top four (Titus Bramble, we’re looking at you), and even Arsenal and Liverpool may not have the players to keep up with him.  Sammi Hyppia notably was not on the pitch yesterday and while he’s a rock in the centre of the Liverpool defence, it would have been interesting to see if he could have kept up with the Ukrainian.

Where Chelsea may have a bigger issue is in midfield.  They’ve managed to overcome having Droggers as their primary target over the last couple of years due to consistently stunning performances by Fat Frank.  I cannot name another midfield player who has had as long a run of form as Lampard, where he doesn’t seem to have had a dip for the last three seasons.  The World Cup certainly suggested that he’s in a rut now, and yesterday’s game hinted that maybe it will continue for club as it did for country.  With the introduction of Ballack, Frank may be dispensable but its more likely that one of his wingers will pay the price for Ballack’s introduction.  Though Duff was sold in the summer, that still leaves Robben, Cole and Wright-Phillips competing for just one spot, a change that narrows Chelsea’s focus tremendously.   Joe Cole in particular may be a victim of the change given his increased threat when he cuts in from the wing, while Robben and SWP have the ability to keep it wide for longer.  A marauding full back would seem to be a requirement for the Blues, and we all know who that is likely to be.  For the good of the competition, lets hope that Eric Abidal is the chosen one instead of young Cashley (who distinguished himself again in England colours).

Liverpool can also take some encouragement from parts of yesterday’s game.  Sissoko has rightly gotten many plaudits for his performance as a midfield enforcer.   Benitez described him as a significantly cheaper but less polished version of Essien last season — it seems that a summer without World Cup duties has done Sissoko a world of good.  He seemed to be making crunching tackles all of the pitch yesterday, and may have demonstrated the only way to defeat Chelsea this season — by breaking up moves in midfield rather than trying to defend deep against the improved strikeforce.  Liverpool’s new width was also an exciting propect for fans.  I’ve never hidden my appreciation for Harry Kewell’s potential.  But in “Speedy” Gonzalez, Liverpool look to have acquired a winger of tremendous class.  The only downside to his contribution is that Liverpool focused way too many of their attacks down that one side, leaving Pennant isolated at times, and he was unable to demonstrate the value he will add to this side.

Crouch still provides a dilemna, but Bellamy’s introduction showed that the new first choice pairing can work well together, and even with Garcia and Zenden behind him, Crouch demonstrated that an intelligent player that waits for his knockdowns will get plenty of opportunities.  Cisse, who didn’t have the correct positional awareness to play off him, paid the price in the summer.  Bellamy may not display much intelligence off the pitch, but on it he looks breathtaking.

There were plenty of negatives too, but why ruin a perfectly good Monday by going into those?  In general, both sides can take a few lessons from the game (Liverpool: how do you fit Alonso and Gerrard into the team, Chelsea: where was Shevchenko in the second half?), but a lot of positives as well.  Great game, great result, great spectacle for the fans (in red).