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African All Stars

Community Shield: Why Manchester City vs Liverpool means more to Salah and Mahrez

12:33 PM IST 30/07/22
Salah Mahrez
While Sadio Mane may no longer partake in this rivalry, the principal African pair need to thrive on Saturday for varying reasons

English football’s traditional curtain raiser is always a fascinating study, where the winners claim bragging rights and the defeated play down its importance.

For the dominance Manchester City and Liverpool have enjoyed since the late 2010s, Saturday’s meeting is only the second time in the last five seasons that both sides have faced off in this fixture, although the participation of either side in every game since 2018 reflects said supremacy.

While the 100th Community Shield will be held at the King Power Stadium and may be seen as nothing more than a glorified friendly, it sees hostilities renewed between the best clubs in England and arguably in Europe.

Very little separated the Citizens and the Reds in the preceding campaign, with Pep Guardiola’s troops claiming last year’s Premier League title by a point on the final day. Their evenly-matched rivalry was evident in the results in all three meetings in 2021-22—two draws and one Liverpool victory in the semi-final of the FA Cup.

Sadio Mane, the difference maker in their last meeting, departed the club this summer after six years on Merseyside. Jurgen Klopp’s troops will undoubtedly be weaker without the Senegal superstar in their ranks.

Be that as it may, convincing Mohamed Salah to stay on for three more years after protracted negotiations was a relief for supporters who dreaded the possibility of their star forward moving on a free in circa 12 months. Indeed, it was music to many fans’ ears but the Egypt superstar knows the high standards he has demanded of himself cannot dip now.

Those lofty benchmarks dropped at the turn of the year and extended till the season’s end for the Reds legend, the disparity in performance in the first half of the season and the second like chalk and cheese.

Salah scored in only five of 15 league appearances after returning from Egypt’s Africa Cup of Nations failure. At times, he resembled a man going through the motions, jaded from all the non-stop action and failing to guide his nation to an eighth African title and a first since 2010.

A goal against Wolverhampton Wanderers was enough to share the Golden Boot with Tottenham Hotspur’s Heung-min Son, the attacker’s third in England, but there was a feeling the erstwhile Chelsea attacker’s campaign ended not with a bang but a whimper.

Klopp and supporters will hope a summer’s rest, albeit a short one, has revived their star attacker, especially as they can no longer lean on Mane’s at times underrated brilliance and have to play a tad differently to accommodate the fresh Darwin Nunez.

Two goals in four pre-season appearances point to a return to form, especially as those goals came in just 165 minutes of action, and a strong start to the campaign will get fans believing in the superstar’s renaissance after a rather worrying lull at the backend of 2021-22.

As for Riyad Mahrez, while the wide attacker’s drop-off was not as bothersome as Salah’s, the noticeable dip after Algeria’s failed World Cup hopes were dashed in March must have caught the eye.

Of course, the Fennecs had an embarrassing Afcon defence in Cameroon, exiting the continental showpiece with one point from three, but Mahrez’s performances and output after returning stayed adequate.

Eleven goal contributions (nine goals, two assists) in as many games following that catastrophic outing indicated no hangover from his national team’s let-down in Central Africa.

Yet, the inability to make it to this year’s Mundial in Qatar appeared to knock the stuffing out of the former Leicester City winger.

There were only four more goal involvements after the gutting defeat by Cameroon in March’s double-header, with those direct contributions notably coming in three of those 11 appearances.

Admittedly, a small caveat of seven starts in that time adds the necessary context, while a goal and assist in their Champions League semi-final exit at the hands of Real Madrid suggested the Algeria international remained dependable on the big European nights, irrespective of Man City’s imperfections.

A reward of a two-year extension came a fortnight back, further demonstrating Guardiola’s faith in a player who netted 24 times and set up another nine for the Citizens in the preceding campaign.

Be that as it may, he needs a strong start to his fifth year at the Etihad Stadium, especially with the threat of Guardiola’s inclination to fall out of love with players always lurking in Manchester.

The latest instalment of this competitive rivalry pits two of England’s finest sides against each other.

It may not be held in high esteem by observers but it represents a chance for Salah and Mahrez to register strong starts in the domestic season’s curtain raiser.