Man Utd strike an early blow
At Wembley Stadium
Drawing cast-iron conclusions from the result of the Community Shield is a foolhardy business - and Ryan Giggs suggested as much when he denied that Manchester United's 3-1 victory over Chelsea would give them any psychological advantage going into the new Premier League season.
Indeed, the rather half-hearted manner in which the United squad paraded their latest trophy around the (now partly artificial) Wembley pitch suggested that they were treating the win with an appropriate sense of perspective.
Yet there is no question that any advantage to be gained during Sunday's traditional curtain-raiser belonged to Sir Alex Ferguson's team on an afternoon when his side gained their first victory over Ancelotti's Chelsea.
Ferguson recently claimed Chelsea would once again be the biggest threat to his aspirations of silverware this campaign - and so an early and emphatic victory over the team he has identified as his principal rival will surely be most welcome.
Scholes still has the ability to dominate in midfield. Photo: Getty Images
Central to their victory was the performance of Paul Scholes, who won generous praise from Ferguson. The midfielder's virtuoso passing display handed United a measure of control that Chelsea could not negate and gave England manager Fabio Capello, who watched the contest from the stands, a glimpse of what might have been had the 35-year-old accepted his late invitation to join his World Cup squad.
Scholes played several particularly eye-catching cross-field passes that caught left-back Ashley Cole out of position and illuminated the match with a deft through ball that released Wayne Rooney.
It goes almost without saying that there was a rash Scholes challenge, his lunge on Florent Malouda coming within minutes of kick-off. He also skewed an early volleyed chance horribly wide. But the manner in which he found space and the consistency and accuracy of his distribution suggested he could still play a key role for United this season.
He will have to be properly managed to maximise his effectiveness in what could be his final campaign but, as a demonstration of his worth, I thought it was a vintage display. Of course, Scholes himself looked typically underwhelmed as he and his team-mates embarked on a lap of honour.
There was also much to please United supporters from the performance of Rooney, who played up front alongside Michael Owen before both were withdrawn at the break.
Much has been made of Rooney's miserable World Cup but there was little sign of any post-South Africa hangover spilling into the new campaign.
As with Scholes, he too played a sumptuous raking cross-field pass that caught Cole absent without leave. The United striker also played a key role in the creation of Antonio Valencia's goal.
Rooney collected a long-range ball from Scholes and executed a brilliant first-time square pass that ran perfectly for the unmarked Valencia as he charged into the Chelsea penalty box.
But what perhaps raised the loudest cheer from the United supporters - and showed that Rooney has lost none of his hunger - was a piece of defending, the 24-year-old racing 50 yards to win back the ball after he had been caught in possession.
Recent arrival Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov replaced Rooney and Owen at the break, with both substitutes making a positive impact on the contest.
Ferguson had already made it clear that he felt Mexican Hernandez had what is required to succeed in English football despite his relatively diminutive 5ft 9in frame - and there was evidence on Sunday to suggest the Scot might be correct.
John Terry versus Hernandez, who had the nickname Chicharito (little pea) on the back of his shirt, was a physical mismatch. But Fifa statistics suggested Hernandez was the fastest player at the World Cup. He was certainly a lively presence at Wembley, constantly seeking out space and showing the confidence to play a series of feints and flicks as he tried to play in his team-mates.
I don't think we can read anything into his goal on Sunday as it was a remarkably fortunate finish, with his shot hitting him in the face before flying into the net.
But I saw him play against Argentina in South Africa as he cruelly exposed the frailties of defender Martin Demichelis with a deft spin before firing a left-foot strike into the net from a tight angle for Mexico's consolation goal in a 3-1 defeat. He struck me as being as player with impressive finishing ability.
Berbatov showed sublime skill to score Man Utd's third. Photo: Getty Images
Finishing has not always been Berbatov's strong suit since his move to Old Trafford for a fee north of £30m on 1 September 2008.
It was the Bulgarian's sensational form for Tottenham that persuaded Ferguson to pay such a hefty sum but he has laboured under the weight of expectation, scoring 12 goals in 43 appearances last season, none of them against United's principal domestic rivals.
If Berbatov needed a goal to generate a sense of momentum going into the new season then it arrived in injury time when he finished a precise move with an effortless lob from just outside the area. It was the sort of chance that you sense would have floated agonisingly wide during the closing months of the previous campaign.
Berbatov described it as "a goal like any other" but the celebrations of his team-mates told another story. His strike clinched victory and most United players made a visible effort to mob their team-mate - none more so than skipper Nemanja Vidic.
"It was important for him," said Vidic. "He had a lot of pressure on him last year and I hope he will score more goals this season."
Of course, any analysis of United needs to be tempered by the claim of Chelsea striker Didier Drobga that many of his team-mates are lacking sharpness after joining pre-season at a late stage following their World Cup exertions.
"We saw in the match that we are not ready," said the Ivorian, who came on as a second-half substitute. "We have a lot of players who have not been training for very long."
That would explain what seemed to me to be a slightly sluggish performance. But it will undoubtedly be a much improved Chelsea that take on United when they meet in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge on 18 December.
Ancelotti's side open their season with games against West Brom, Wigan and Stoke - three matches that the Blues may well regard as winnable as they move towards peak fitness. United start with a home fixture against newly-promoted Newcastle.
"We know the real business starts next week," said Giggs.
It will be a lot longer than that before we know whether United's victory over Chelsea has any real significance but the first blow of what is sure to be a long battle has been landed by United.