After two almost mind-numbing, football-deprived months, the annual curtain raiser of English football returns this weekend in the form of the Community Shield, contested between the same sides that did battle at Wembley in the same final two years ago – FA Cup winners Arsenal and Premier League title holders Chelsea.
Whether the Community Shield is anything more than a glorified friendly symbolised by a gigantic 50 pence coin is a debate for another day, but Arsenal and Chelsea will both be looking for a win on Sunday primarily to take momentum into the new season but also to boast some bragging rights in one of London’s bigger rivalries.
Instrumental to the final scoreline will be referee Robert Madley, a young official who has worked in the Premier League since 2013 and in that time developed a real penchant for dishing out yellow cards. In fact, no referee handed out more than his 125 yellow cards in the Premier League last season, although his red card return was comparatively much lower – just two from 30 games.
Clearly though, Madley likes to be a proactive, authoritative presence within the match. Throughout the Premier League’s 19 referees last term, he ranked fifth for fouls per tackle, fourth for penalties per game and first four fouls per game – suggesting a whistle-blow filled afternoon at Wembley this Sunday.
Based on last season, that approach suits Chelsea more. They were fouled the second-most times of any Premier League team en route to the title – Arsenal in comparison ranked 16th – and also scored nine goals from free kicks, including the joint-most goals from direct free kicks.
The Gunners, meanwhile, scored just three times from free kicks and also committed more fouls than the Blues last season, albeit by a difference of just 0.1 per game. Those statistics suggest Madley’s style more naturally benefits Chelsea and rather tellingly, the west Londoners won two of their three matches with the 31-year-old in charge last season, whereas Arsene Wenger’s boys won one and drew one of two.