The new Premier League season has not even begun yet and we're already enjoying some enthralling narratives.

Beyond the mundane matter of who might win the league, who will beat the drop and how thick the VAR lines will be, there are some tantalising stories we'll be following closely in the coming weeks.

Below, Stats Perform takes a look at some of the big talking points...

 

Blue Benitez

Predicting football is often a fool's game – especially in an era when Lionel Messi no longer plays for Barcelona – but Rafael Benitez at Everton? Who saw that coming?

The Spaniard is back in the Premier League, two years after walking away from Newcastle United, having been tempted by the same project that won over Carlo Ancelotti before the lure of a Real Madrid return became too great.

Benitez was a fans' favourite at Newcastle, arguably as much as he was at Liverpool, where he reached two Champions League finals including the unforgettable triumph in Istanbul. His connection to the red half of Merseyside meant his decision to head to Goodison Park raised the eyebrows of some and the blood pressure of others. In fact, only one man has ever managed both clubs: William Edward Barclay, Everton's first boss in 1888 and Liverpool's manager from 1892. We'll forgive you if you don't remember.

The scrutiny on Benitez, who has recorded 11 wins against Everton in his coaching career, will be severe. He has the credentials, but if he cannot quickly prove he is the man to realise the dreams of owner Farhad Moshiri and challenge the 'big six', the pressure could become pretty uncomfortable.

 

Virgil return lifts Reds

For a while, it seemed everything would be okay. In the first 11 games after Virgil van Dijk was injured against Everton last October, Liverpool conceded just six goals and kept as many clean sheets. Perhaps the loss of the Netherlands colossus would not be quite so damaging.

Of course, as injuries in defence piled up and confidence in their title chances waned, Liverpool's season ended up being one of major disappointment even though a strong final few weeks saw them snatch a Champions League spot.

Van Dijk's impact cannot really be disputed: since his move to Anfield in January 2018, Liverpool have won 75.8 per cent of matches with the centre-back in the side and only 54.3 per cent without him. They average 2.4 points per game with him (compared with 1.9 without), and even score more goals on average (2.3 compared with 1.8) when he's playing. No wonder fans began to count down the days to his return.

On Saturday, we can finally expect to watch Van Dijk in competitive action again, with Jurgen Klopp confirming he is fit to start the season. He could even begin his partnership with new signing Ibrahima Konate against Norwich City at Carrow Road. How Liverpool's campaign progresses over the opening few weeks, and how Van Dijk's return goes, might just tell us whether another title tilt is on the cards.

 

Rom-ember us?

Two of the biggest transfers in this pre-season have seen stars returning to England: Jadon Sancho, who finally got his Manchester United move for £72.9million a year after Borussia Dortmund had demanded a sizeably bigger sum; and Romelu Lukaku, who is heading to Chelsea for roughly £93m.

Sancho left Manchester City for the Bundesliga as a teenager and promptly became one of Europe's standout attacking players, with 50 goals and 57 assists in 137 appearances. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wanted a player to get fans on their feet, and he's almost certainly found it: Sancho completed 48 multi take-ons (beating more than one player with a dribble) in the Bundesliga, at least 14 more than any other player in his time in Germany.

For Lukaku, it's a case of unfinished business at Chelsea, the club he left back in 2014. The standout performer for Inter last season, with 30 goals and 11 assists in all competitions, he propelled his side to their first Serie A title since 2010 before taking up the chance to return to Stamford Bridge, where a consistent goalscorer could be decisive to their Premier League title hopes.

Sancho and Lukaku initially struggled to convince managers to give them a shot as youngsters in the Premier League. They return as elite players determined to prove a point. Given the costs involved, the pressure will be on both to perform – and quickly.

 

Did Jack hammer Harry's City hopes?

Manchester City are not exactly frugal in the transfer market, but rarely will they willingly pay over the odds for an individual. That's what made their willingness to spend £100million on Jack Grealish, a player with 12 senior international caps and zero Champions League experience, a touch surprising.

This is not to suggest Grealish is not a good player, of course. This is a man who was involved in a remarkable 376 open-play attacking sequences over the past two seasons for Aston Villa, a team who finished 17th and 11th in those campaigns. It's just notable that Pep Guardiola felt it was warranted to smash City's transfer record by nearly £40m to sign yet another midfielder, especially given what's going on – or not going on – with Harry Kane.

Kane was expected to be City's marquee signing in this window but, as of now, his future is unclear. He is finally due to return to Tottenham training this week but whether he is involved against City in their opening game is harder to know. And if City were willing to spend nine figures on Grealish, you can expect Spurs chairman Daniel Levy to demand top dollar for last term's golden boot winner, who has three years left on his contract.

Will City stump up the cash? Will Kane try his best to force Spurs' hand? Will he be staying in north London for at least a few months more, his form undimmed, the goals flowing as normal? It will be fascinating to watch.

 

Phil Foden could miss the opening month of Manchester City's Premier League title defence with the foot injury that ruled him out of the Euro 2020 final and left him in tears.

England playmaker Foden was laid low during the build-up to the Wembley showdown with Italy, having impressed in an extra-time cameo against Denmark in the semi-finals.

Roberto Mancini's Azzurri prevailed on penalties as the 21-year-old was restricted to a watching brief and, with City beginning their top-flight campaign at Tottenham on Sunday, he will be out of action once more.

Back-to-back home games against newly promoted Norwich City and Arsenal will also come too soon, with a September 11 trip to Leicester City after the international break or the following weekend's game against Southampton representing possible return dates.

"It's still a little bit sore. It was such a shame to do it just before the Euro final, it was really unfortunate," Foden told Sky Sports News.

"I'm working hard in the gym. Hopefully I can get back as soon as possible. I would say around three to four weeks more.

"Hopefully it flies by and I can get back on the pitch."

Foden was named PFA Young Player of the Year, scoring 16 goals and laying on 10 assists across all competitions as Pep Guardiola's side won a fourth consecutive EFL Cup and their third league title in four seasons.

Nevertheless, there were also moments of bitter disappointment, as Chelsea claimed a 1-0 win over their Premier League counterparts in the Champions League final before a crestfallen Foden discussed being ruled out of the Euros showpiece with England boss Gareth Southgate.

"I remember speaking to the manager when I got injured and I just burst out crying with tears, with devastation that I was injured,” he revealed.

"I was just praying on that day that the team won and unfortunately we didn't. But we're proud of what we did, we created history in getting to the final and I think next time we go into a major tournament it's going to help us.

"It was so good to see in the changing room how together everyone was. It was a special moment to share with the team.

"Come the [2022] World Cup, I feel like those experiences can only help us."

Alongside Raheem Sterling, Kyle Walker and John Stones, another member of that England dressing room is now a club colleague.

Jack Grealish joined City for a British record £100million from Aston Villa last week and Foden is relishing lining up alongside him.

"We're close. When I first went to England we got on really well on and off the pitch," he said of Grealish.

"I'm really glad he's signed here and hopefully I can get back playing with him and enjoy my football.

"He's fearless on the ball, he can change a game on his own. I believe he's a really special player for us this year and he's going to be key for us."

John Stones has backed "fearless" Jack Grealish to make an immediate impact at Manchester City following his arrival from Aston Villa for a British-record £100million fee.

England international Grealish was confirmed as a City player last week and made his debut as a second-half substitute in Sunday's 1-0 Community Shield defeat to Leicester City.

The 25-year-old played 25 minutes in that annual curtain-raising fixture, managing 25 touches of the ball and completing 15 of his 16 passes during his time on the pitch.

He is in contention to start City's opening Premier League fixture against Tottenham next Sunday and Stones is excited by what his international team-mate will bring to the side.

"Jack's an incredible footballer. A raw talent. I think you can see he is a bit fearless in how he plays and very direct," Stones told City's official website.

"We only saw a little bit of him in the Euros, but when he came on everyone was excited to see him and he came on and gave some vital assists at key moments.

"He is a big game player. An incredible person as well. He is coming into one of the best dressing rooms in the world non-football wise, with the characters we have here and he will fit in straight away.

"I am sure he will be looking forward to more success here and hopefully winning some silverware."

Stones was speaking after signing a new long-term contract at the Etihad Stadium that keeps him tied down to City until June 2026.

Former Everton defender Stones has spent the past five seasons with City and played an integral part in last term's Premier League and EFL Cup double.

City kept 19 clean sheets across the centre-back's 35 appearances in 2020-21 and conceded only 16 times with him on the field.

The 27-year-old's 24 blocks in 2020-21 were his most in a single season at City, while 32 tackles and 146 recoveries were above his average numbers over the past five seasons.

It marked quite the turnaround for Stones, who struggled for form and fitness during 2019-20 and came close to leaving the club.

And the Barnsley academy product has thanked Pep Guardiola and City's coaching staff for the faith shown in him.

"I think everyone, coaching staff, all the other staff that are here, from day one made me feel so welcome," Stones said.

"Everyone plays a major part in our success as players. I appreciate what everyone does for me here as a person.

"It is hard to say, but they have had a big impact on me and it was an easy decision for me to put pen to paper again. I feel like this is home and I absolutely love the place."

England defender John Stones has signed a new five-year contract at Manchester City, committing him to the Premier League champions until June 2026.

Stones joined City from Everton in 2016 for £47.5million, becoming one of Pep Guardiola's first major signings at the Etihad Stadium.

It has not always been plain sailing for the 27-year-old, however, and struggles for form and fitness during 2019-20 saw him fall out of the reckoning at international level, while Guardiola conceded he could leave the club.

Had Eric Garcia not opted to run his contract down in order to join Barcelona on a free transfer, that might well have been the case, but Stones stayed to forge an impressive partnership with new arrival Ruben Dias in central defence as City claimed their third Premier League title in four seasons.

Guardiola's men also lifted a fourth consecutive EFL Cup – the Wembley winner against Tottenham scored by Aymeric Laporte, who was dislodged as a first-choice selection by Stones during the 2020-21 campaign – and the Barnsley-born centre-back has won eight major honours overall during his five seasons in Manchester.

Stones' form earned a recall from England boss Gareth Southgate and he was an ever-present as the Three Lions plotted a path to the final of Euro 2020.

"I couldn't be happier. I love being part of this squad. There are so many quality players here and I know we can continue winning trophies, which is my main focus," Stones said, before hailing Guardiola's influence upon his development.

"Working with the manager is a dream. He has taught me so much about the game and I feel like I learn something new every single day.

"The success we've had in the last four years has been incredible. To be a part of it has been a dream come true and I just want to continue winning.

"This is the best place for me to play my football and fulfil my ambitions."

City's director of football Txiki Begiristain paid tribute to "an exceptional footballer and a fantastic defender".

"We knew when we signed him that we were getting a talented centre-back, but he has really matured in his five years here and, as we saw last season, is at the top of his game right now," he said.

"John has been an important part of our recent success and we believe he can continue to help us achieve our goals, so for him to commit his best years to us is a major boost for the club."

England defender John Stones has signed a new five-year contract at Manchester City, committing him to the Premier League champions until June 2026.

Jack Grealish felt the same as a tearful Lionel Messi did when announcing his Barcelona exit as he made the switch from boyhood club Aston Villa to Manchester City.

Grealish joined City for a British-record £100million fee on Thursday, the Premier League champions meeting the England midfielder's release clause to take him to the Etihad Stadium.

Confirmation of Grealish's transfer came on the same day Barcelona announced they would be unable to sign Messi to a new contract due to "financial and structural obstacles".

Messi, who is widely reported to be nearing a deal to join Paris Saint-Germain, then held an emotional media conference on Sunday as he confirmed the end of his 21-year stay at Camp Nou, with the Argentina superstar crying on stage before and after his remarks.

Grealish had been at Villa since the age of six and told reporters on Monday that he empathised with Messi.

"Everyone has seen the way Messi was at his final press conference," said Grealish.

"That is the exact way I felt myself.

"Before I left the hotel I spoke to the team, the staff and the players and I teared up a bit myself."

When Villa re-signed Grealish to a new contract last season, they did so while accepting his proviso that they would not stand in his way if a club playing Champions League football made an approach for him.

And he is relishing the chance to play in European club football's top competition, with City aiming to go one better in 2021-22 having lost the final to Chelsea last season.

"I felt like it was time for me to move on," Grealish added.

"I've always said how much I wanted to play Champions League football – I couldn't do that at Villa this year.

"I have come here to win silverware and play in the Champions League, so that is my only focus now."

Pep Guardiola revealed prior to Grealish's City debut in the Community Shield that he and Txiki Begiristain have long been admirers of the England international.

That admiration is mutual, Grealish insisting he is unburdened by his price tag and excited to work under the former Barca and Bayern Munich boss.

"I'm going to be learning from him every day and I genuinely cannot wait to work with him," Grealish explained.

"The way he is in training is unbelievable. The stuff he has certain players doing in certain positions – it is something I would never think of and it just works.

"Everyone here is so desperate to play under him. Pep was a massive factor in me coming here.

"When you see a football club paying that sort of money for a player, it means they trust you and value you highly and see so much potential there.

"I see it as a good thing and now I hope I can repay this football club by winning as many titles as possible and winning that [Champions League] trophy we all want."

Harry Kane will be available for Tottenham against Manchester City in their Premier League opener on Sunday, coach Nuno Espirito Santo has suggested.

Kane is quarantining at the club's training ground following his return at the weekend, despite initial reports he had boycotted pre-season amid growing speculation of a move away.

City, Spurs' Sunday opponents, were reported to have tabled a £100million bid for the forward that was rejected, though the reigning Premier League champions remain interested.

Nuno was on Monday due to hold talks with the England captain, whose 23 goals last term secured his third top-flight Golden Boot award, before he suggested Kane could play a part against Pep Guardiola's men.

Asked about players' availability for the City game, Nuno told Sky Sports: "All the players in the squad that work on a daily basis will be options for us, then it is up to us to decide."

Pushed further for an update on Kane, the former Wolves manager repeated his answer almost word for word, adding that Spurs would consider the "best options" from the squad.

After playing an integral role in England's Euro 2020 final run, Kane will be able to train from Thursday with the Tottenham squad – though that time scale may leave his fitness in doubt for Sunday's opener.

Guardiola has been unrelenting in his pursuit of Kane, reiterating his interest in the forward last Friday despite already signing Jack Grealish for a record-breaking £100m fee.

Whether Kane will join Grealish as a City player by the end of the transfer window remains unseen, but Nuno will hope his talisman can kick-start his side's campaign with a win.

Lionel Messi has officially left Barcelona following Sunday's press conference and farewell.

Paris Saint-Germain have been widely linked with a move for the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

The Argentina international admitted that a move to PSG was a possibility but said nothing was confirmed.

TOP STORY - MONDAY PSG MEDICAL FOR MESSI

Messi is scheduled to have a medical with PSG on Monday before he completes his free transfer move from Barcelona, according to L'Equipe.

The Argentina international bid farewell to Barcelona on Sunday and the Parisians appear the frontrunners to sign him.

The report says PSG and Messi have almost agreed to all the final details of the contract, with ESPN claiming he will be unveiled at a special ceremony at the Eiffel Tower this week.

 

ROUND-UP

- Inter are targeting Anthony Martial as they look to replace Romelu Lukaku, who is expected to join Chelsea, reports The Sun. Manchester United are believed to be ready to sell him for £50million. Inter want Martial initially on a season-long loan.

- Gazzetta dello Sport reports that Jose Mourinho's Roma are plotting a move to sign French striker Alexandre Lacazette from Arsenal. The stumbling block may be that Lacazette wants to play Champions League football, which Roma cannot offer this season.

- Arsenal are lining up a move for Fiorentina forward Dusan Vlahovic if they cannot land Tammy Abraham from Chelsea, reports Gianluca Di Marzio. The Serbian scored 21 league goals for Fiorentina last term.

- Arsenal and Newcastle have agreed to a fee of £25m for English midfielder Joe Willock, claims Sky Sports. Willock spent the second half of last season on loan with the Magpies.

- The Sun claims that Southampton are trying to lure Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain back to the club on loan from Liverpool.

 

Pep Guardiola will take the mental health of his international stars into consideration as Manchester City prepare for a quick turnaround into the new season.

The Premier League champions went down to a 1-0 Community Shield defeat against Leicester City on Saturday, their former striker Kelechi Iheanacho coming off the bench to win and convert a late penalty at Wembley.

Guardiola remained without Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Ederson and Gabriel Jesus after their respective runs to the finals of Euro 2020 and the Copa America with England and Brazil.

The sextet will return to training on Monday, while Kevin De Bruyne is still on the mend after an ankle injury sustained during Belgium's progress to the quarter-finals of the European Championship.

Aymeric Laporte – a Euros semi-finalist with Spain – must self-isolate until the middle of next week because a passenger on his flight back to the United Kingdom after a vacation tested positive for COVID-19. The defender has tested negative.

It adds up to a far-from-ideal preparation for next weekend's league opener at Tottenham, a fixture likely to be lent a tempestuous edge by City's pursuit of Harry Kane.

Nevertheless, Guardiola knows a return to peak physical fitness will come in time, even though he again took aim at scheduling arrangements by UEFA and FIFA in his post-match comments at Wembley.

The former Barcelona boss is more concerned about the mental strain endured by players who have been on a near non-stop schedule since returning to action from the coronavirus lockdown last June.

Asked whether his England players would benefit from being afforded an extra week of rest, he replied: "It depends on their heads. They have to rest and now they can be ready, but it depends on here [the head].

On whether his returning internationals would be ready to play at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Guardiola replied: "A few players get the condition so quick, others need a little more time. We will see the weight, the body fat, how they arrive. And especially their heads.

"There are players who play three, four or five days and their mentality is positive and they are ready to fight and suffer in the bad conditions. Some of them take a little more time.

"We will try to discover which ones are ready immediately."

Foden is unlikely to be among that group, given he must still recover from the foot injury that ruled him out of England's penalty shoot-out loss to Italy.

Stones was an ever-present at centre-back for Gareth Southgate's side, while Sterling and Walker were each named in the UEFA Team of the Tournament.

"All of them, they played really well. I'm glad and happy for them. They have had many years together," Guardiola said.

"They made an incredible achievement. When you achieve a final in the Euro it's a big, big thing.

"They have to be so proud of what they have done with the national team. The benefits to the confidence will be there.

"But the past is the past. What you have done with the national team is for the memories. The challenge is ahead of us to do a good season."

England international Kieran Trippier has expressed his desire to return from Spain this off-season.

The Atletico Madrid full-back has spent two seasons in Spain, helping Diego Simeone's side win LaLiga in 2020-21.

A former Burnley and Tottenham defender, Trippier has been pursued by Manchester United who are yet to agree a fee with Atletico.

TOP STORY – ARSENAL ENTER TRIPPIER RACE

Arsenal have joined United in targeting Kieran Trippier, reports The Sun.

The Gunners see Trippier as Hector Bellerin's replacement, with the Spaniard having been linked with Inter as he aims to make a move away from north Lonndon.

Atletico are demanding €40million (£34million) for 30-year-old Trippier.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Sunday Mirror are reporting that Harry Kane will need to force through his transfer from Tottenham to Manchester City, after Spurs chairman Daniel Levy's claim the England captain is not for sale. City are reportedly prepared to wait and start the new season without a recognised striker.

- Inter are closing in on a deal for Atalanta's Colombian forward Duvan Zapata, with an offer of €30m on the table, reports Cesar Luis Merlo. Zapata is seen as a replacement for Romelu Lukaku, with the Belgium striker set to exit for Chelsea.

- Atalanta are ramping up their move to sign Chelsea forward Tammy Abraham as part of the three-club shuffle. Fabrizio Romano claims the Atalanta board will meet Chelsea in the next 48 hours, with a price tag of around €40m to be discussed.

- Paris Saint-Germain have held advanced talks with the agent of Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly about a move, reports Foot Mercato.

- Burnley are struggling to complete a move to sign RB Leipzig's Ademola Lookman on loan, according to The Sun.

Brendan Rodgers has announced Wesley Fofana will not play again until 2022 after sustaining a medial ligament injury in a pre-season friendly against Villarreal.

Fofana was carried off on a stretcher on Wednesday after a tackle from Fer Nino injured his left leg, with the centre-back later revealing on Instagram he had fractured his fibula.

The France Under-21 international is expected to undergo surgery on Monday, though the extent of the damage is worse than initially feared.

Following Leicester City's 1-0 Community Shield triumph against Manchester City at Wembley Stadium, Rodgers provided a further update on Fofana.

"He has his operation on Monday and he won't play until 2022," the Leicester boss said in his post-match news conference. "At what point that will be we'll have to assess over the next six months or so.

"He's an incredible talent. He's in really good spirits. He'll be back in the training ground on Thursday or Friday next week and will begin his rehab then.”

Fofana became an integral part of Rodgers' team following his arrival from Saint-Etienne.

Out of all Premier League defenders, Fofana was just one of two to attempt at least 50 tackles, complete 50 interceptions and produce 50 headed clearances – Aston Villa's Matt Targett being the other.

"It's such a shame for the Premier League not to have a talent like that and certainly for us as well," Rodgers continued after Kelechi Iheanacho's late penalty had defeated the reigning Premier League champions.

Asked for clarification as to whether the defender had broken his leg, Rodgers responded: "In and around his medial ligament there was a lot more damage than we had hoped, quite substantial damage unfortunately."

While Leicester will be without Fofana for the remainder of the year, they will be buoyed on by the return of Harvey Barnes.

Barnes, who scored nine goals and provided four assists in 25 top-flight fixtures last term, suffered a setback in April with a knee injury ruling him out of the remainder of the season and subsequently contention for England's Euro 2020 squad.

"Unfortunately, I had to watch the amazing scenes [in the FA Cup final]," the 23-year-old told ITV after Saturday's win. "This time, to be on the pitch and be a part of it was amazing.

"I don’t think we approached it as a friendly. It’s a chance to win some more silverware – and something we’ve not won before. We knew it was a great opportunity to win something before the season started, so we’re over the moon with it.

"It’s obviously been a tough few months for me. It’s amazing to be back out there now. This is the first competitive game I’ve played in and for the fans to be back in at Wembley was special. I’m feeling really good and looking forward to the season now."

Jack Grealish's Wembley cameo impressed Pep Guardiola and the Manchester City manager is in bullish mood for the new season despite a 1-0 Community Shield defeat to Leicester City.

British record signing Grealish appeared as a second-half substitute in the traditional English curtain raiser, but Kelechi Iheanacho came off the bench to win and convert a late penalty against his former club.

Back at the stadium where he was the focus of adoration during England's Euro 2020 campaign, £100million man Grealish was rapturously received by the Manchester contingent, but the Leicester fans jeered his every involvement.

That amounted to a tidy 15 of 16 passes completed, including one chance created for fellow substitute Ben Knight, with 25 touches overall and seven duels contested in 25 minutes on the field.

"I saw many incredibly good things today. I don’t feel we played badly. I said to all the guys how proud I am," Guardiola told a post-match news conference.

"But in this business, you must win. And when you don't, congratulate the opponent.

"Jack was really good – aggressive, going against full-backs. Every time he had the ball he had three players [drawn towards him].

"We will find the tempo, he will know his mates, we will know him and, step by step, we will find our best.

"I know he is a lovely guy so he will adapt quickly.

"He didn't come to play 25 minutes, he came to play five or six years, that's why we will be incredibly patient like we will be for all new players every time they come."

 

Guardiola reserved praise for teenagers Cole Palmer and Sam Edozie, who were rewarded with starts after impressive pre-season showings in the absence of a host of international stars including Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden and Gabriel Jesus.

Winger Edozie scored three goals in three friendlies, only to shank a clear first-half opening against Leicester. However, Guardiola felt the 18-year-old's response spoke volumes.

"What I like from them is they lost one or two balls and then the next one, try again and try again," he said.

"Cole was exceptional all game. In the first half [Ricardo] Pereira won the duels with Sam but second half he was incredibly aggressive.

"Since minute one in the second half, Sam took the ball and was aggressive

"Unfortunately, we missed some chances and did not create much up front, but the game was there."

Guardiola again bemoaned a schedule that has denied him much time on the training ground with key stars, but he is confident City can deliver as they pursue a fourth Premier League in five seasons.

"Mentally, yeah, of course I'm ready. But how can we be ready when some of the players have three or four training sessions?" he added.

"We have to adapt, adapt and adapt. We did last season when we started a little bit flat. After a while we were there and started to win.

"After what I saw today, I am incredibly confident that many good things are going to happen this season."

A tight game at Wembley in the English summer of 2021 and a spot of clock-watching and bench-watching to see whether Jack Grealish might come on. It's basically become a national past time.

Of course, this was the more sedate setting of the Community Shield between Leicester City and Manchester City, whose freshly minted £100million man was among the substitutes, and not the febrile passion pit of a push for Euro 2020 glory. More the sort of occasion that might cause you to happily wave a sparkler around rather than stick a flare somewhere unmentionable.

Not that the men on the touchline were taking this lightly. Pep Guardiola, fairly remarkably, managed to get booked as he did during the 2019 version of this fixture. He disagreed volubly after referee Paul Tierney penalised Cole Palmer for an aerial challenge on Leicester full-back Ryan Bertrand.

Shortly afterwards, Brendan Rodgers responded to a botched Kasper Schmeichel clearance by booting a water bottle towards the grey London sky.

Grealish had been merrily volleying balls around with his new team-mates during the warm-up, which he closed by thundering a 40-yard strike just over the top corner before being the last player off with an arm around City youth-team captain Tommy Doyle.

The price-tag certainly isn't weighing too heavily right now for a man who looks as if he lacks a single care in the world, even if his public approval ratings have taken a hit.

 

Wembley laid on universal adoration for Grealish and his velvet touches while playing for Gareth Southgate's England. Here, the booing from the Leicester end felt a little more edgy than pantomime when the ex-Aston Villa captain appeared on the big screen before kick-off and again when he sauntered into a gentle jog and some stretches early in the second period.

By that stage, a Leicester side close to full-strength – although lacking Wesley Fofana after the broken leg he suffered on the end of an awful tackle from Villarreal's Fer Nino in midweek – had enjoyed the edge in terms of clear chances. Zack Steffen made two close-range saves, the second particularly excellent, to deny Jamie Vardy, who played with his typical verve.

As the hour passed, it was certainly a contest worthy of Guardiola and Rodgers' investment. Teenage winger Sam Edozie grew into the match for the Premier League champions, buoyed by three goals in three pre-season outings. Ilkay Gundogan slashed off target inside a crowded penalty area, as did Riyad Mahrez when through on goal, naturally to much brouhaha in the Leicester end.

Then, in the 64th minute, some activity on the bench. Grealish thumbed through a tactics clipboard far less weighty than any encyclopaedia, threw on his white match shirt and joined Rodri on the touchline. The Manchester contingent roared and further barracking followed from the other end of the stadium.

 

With his first involvement, English football's former unity candidate dribbled easily past Ayoze Perez and laid off to Rodri. A few seconds later he was down the left flank and won a throw in a dangerous position, before a Palmer pass allowed him to advance into the Leicester area, where he was crowded out.

In the 70th minute, Grealish returned the favour with a delicious outside-of-the-foot pass, although Youri Tielemans was back to thwart the youngster. It demonstrated the space that was being opened up by two opposition players going towards the British record signing every time he collected the ball. The damage the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden might do in such conditions when they return is a chilling prospect for the rest of the league.

Bernardo Silva was rapturously welcomed for potentially a farewell City appearance and the midfielder's introduction allowed Grealish to rove – a pirouetting dribble in-field ended with him tumbling to the turf and left Tierney unimpressed.

The official had a simple call when he pointed to the spot in the 87th minute. Nathan Ake blotted a solid afternoon's work by bundling Kelechi Iheanacho over and the former City striker thumped his spot-kick past the impressive Steffen.

Wembley fate sealed from 12 yards as you watch on. The more things change, eh Jack?

Substitute Kelechi Iheanacho was the hero as his late penalty gave Leicester City a 1-0 victory over Manchester City in the Community Shield.

The former City striker, who departed the Etihad Stadium four years ago, settled a generally lacklustre curtain-raiser to the new domestic season at Wembley.

Iheanacho came off the bench in the 79th minute and was brought down by Nathan Ake in the closing minutes.

The Nigerian international, who scored 19 goals for the Foxes last term, calmly slotted the ball beyond goalkeeper Zack Steffen from 12 yards out to give the FA Cup winners the spoils.

Jack Grealish and Aston Villa provided a perfect model of how to sell a star player "in the best possible way", Stiliyan Petrov says.

And former Villa captain Petrov feels it is an example Harry Kane and Tottenham should heed as the England captain attempts to join Grealish at Manchester City.

Grealish left Villa Park for £100million this week, having wanted to join a Champions League club.

For Kane, who has already played in Europe's elite club competition, the intention appears to be to join a genuine title contender.

Spurs have fallen away, while City appear well set for their Premier League title defence.

It was reported Kane skipped pre-season training in a bid to force a transfer, although the striker said on Friday he "would never, and have never, refused to train" and was due to return "as planned".

City remain interested, as Pep Guardiola confirmed earlier the same day, but Tottenham are not willing sellers in the same way Villa were, having agreed Grealish's £100m release clause last year.

Luka Modric and Gareth Bale were each at odds with Spurs previously as they sought moves to Real Madrid, and Petrov suggests the "communication" between players and board at the London club is not as effective as at Villa.

"Everybody is blaming Harry Kane, [but] the way Aston Villa has handled Jack Grealish's situation was the prime example," Petrov, one of the founders of Player 4 Player, told Stats Perform.

"They sat down, they negotiated, they have talked about it. They managed to send Jack in the best possible way. Some fans will be unhappy, but many will be happy.

"Don't forget that they will get a really great price tag: £100million for Jack.

"He has given great years as a player for Aston Villa, they sat down, they have done it nicely, the player left in the best possible way, he was back for training, but that comes from the manager, from the coach of the club.

"And sometimes, you know, people blame the players, but don't blame just the players. You know what? It is always conversations, communication and the way of doing it.

"It seems like Tottenham haven't managed to do it for many years, because I can give you a lot of prime examples of a lot of players that ended in the same way. Probably that is the way they have decided to work."

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