Britannia Rules the Super Cup
English football fans are abuzz about Premier League teams annexing both European trophies. Some forget there's a third. At summer's end, the Champions and Europa League winners will meet at the Vodafone Park in Istanbul for the UEFA Super Cup, the continental Community Shield if you will.
Madrid and Baku merely host the preliminary rounds. The winner in Turkey takes bragging rights for all of Europe. There is only one question more important than who will win. Which English supporters will be shafted out of more ticket allocations?
Turkish fans will be settling for second-best no matter who plays. Manchester United are said to be the most popular Premier League side in the isthmus. Unfortunately, they won't be there. Stupid Messi.
On a more serious note, the game will be something of a headache for the participants, scheduled as it is on the Wednesday after the new season begins. With players not quite match fit, the extra travel could prove hazardous. Following Manchester City's win over Watford in the FA Cup, Liverpool face heavy fixture congestion from the off due to their mandatory participation in the Community Shield as Premier League runners-up.
The Super Cup is one of those friendlies everyone involved could do without. The cup provides motivation for players to put in that hard tackle that could lead to injury. If it can happen to Ruben Loftus-Cheek in a meaningless encounter, who might fall victim when there are stakes involved?
While it's still in the distant future and no one is too worked up about the risk, let's look at the four possible matchups.
Tottenham v Chelsea
The first of the two possible London derbies, the Blues and Spurs are most likely to promote the Premier League as an exciting competition. The two sides recorded just three goalless draws when pitted against one another over the past decade and a half. The quality tends to bubble over, producing high-octane entertainment. While it's true that both sides hate Arsenal more, the difference is like asking someone if they'd rather be friends with Hitler or Stalin.
Gus Poyet, Glenn Hoddle or Scott Parker might answer the question if they attend. Along with Jimmy Greaves, the trio turned out for both clubs.
Tottenham might be the more motivated side even as Champions League winners. Spurs lost the League Cup final in 2015 to Chelsea. They also fell to the Stamford Bridgers in the FA Cup semifinal of the succeeding odd years. Once Mauricio Pochettino has a taste for silverware will anyone be able to stop him from claiming more? Of course, you can ask the same of Maurizio Sarri.
Tottenham v Arsenal
A North London Derby in the centre of Istanbul. The rivalry trumps all other London matchups in terms of history, passion and quality. The North London sides have met once before outside London, in the 2001 FA Cup semi-final held at Old Trafford. This would be the first contested outside England.
While Tottenham performed better than Arsenal of late in the Premier League, the sides are pretty even head-to-head. The last five meetings split right down the middle with two wins and a draw for each. The three prior encounters were all shared spoils.
The two fanbases love to cite history in a game of one-ups-manship. Who was the first to play on live television, in North London, to win the league at the other’s home ground? The list goes on even though both would agree that who won the last is most important. The match in Istanbul adds another first to the litany.
Liverpool vs. Chelsea
How many classic football rivalries pit red against blue? This one. The Manchester Derby. The Derby della Madonnina. Chelsea v Arsenal.
This potential Super Cup tie was fuelled by a pair of Spaniards who tilted windmills for both sides, however. Rafa Benitez managed Liverpool to Champions League glory and Chelsea to the Europa League. The former still love him. The latter will never stop reviling him. When Fernando Torres switched allegiances, Reds supporters burned his shirt in effigy. The Spanish striker wasn’t nearly as prolific in London as he was on Merseyside but he did score the winning goal against Barcelona that put the Blues in the 2012 Champions League final.
Footballers of other nationalities also wore both shirts. Glen Johnson, Yossi Benayoun and Joe Cole, for instance. Steven Gerrard allegedly considered the notion of playing for Chelsea before changing his mind. Still, a player who would feature in this match is the most famous to change sides. Mo Salah turned out for Chelsea 13 times in the Premier League, scoring just twice. Unable to impress, he went to Italy, only to come back to England where he thanks Allah for giving him another chance to rub it in Chelsea's face every time he scores for the Reds.
Liverpool vs. Arsenal
With both clubs touring the US in the pre-season, they should just move the Super Cup stateside. It could presage the 39th Premier League game the powers that be desperately desire. Of course, that would set US/Turkey relations even further back than they are now.
If this match materialises, expect Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to play an important role. The Ox remains the only player to leave Southampton in order not to play for both Arsenal and Liverpool. At the Emirates, that was down to Arsene Wenger. Unfortunately, a serious injury sidelined the midfielder just as he was breaking through at Anfield. Will he get the chance to prove he still belongs in Jurgen Klopp's plans by making Unai Emery wish his predecessor hadn't let the England international go?
Any from the four matchups offer excitement on the pitch and close ties off. Which would you want to see?