Manchester United vs Barcelona | Saturday 25 July | Levi’s Stadium, San Francisco | 02:00
European giants Manchester United and Barcelona will clash in a titanic International Champions Cup match at the Levi’s Stadium in USA, home of American Football’s San Francisco 49ers. Of course this is just a pre-season friendly for these sides, but with the players on show we can expect a fiery encounter.
To Win (90mins)
Manchester United 23/10
Morgan Schneiderlin scored five minutes into his debut as Manchester United beat Club America 1-0 in their opening International Champions Cup game. Louis van Gaal gave run-outs to all four of his major summer signings as United kicked off their pre-season with a victory over the Mexicans in Seattle. Memphis Depay, Matteo Darmian and Schneiderlin all played in the first 45 minutes and the latter headed home a Juan Mata cross to score the only goal of the game. Van Gaal made eleven changes to his team at half-time with Bastian Schweinsteiger making his first appearance in United colours in central midfield. However, Antonio Valencia and David De Gea were left out entirely due to minor injuries picked up in training while Marouane Fellaini was rested. Prior to this match, Van Gaal's side will play San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday and also have a meeting with French champions Paris Saint-Germain on July 30. A win against the European champions will definitely boost United's confidence and show their intentions ahead of the new season. A lot is expected from new man Depay and last season’s Eredivisie top scorer had a promising non-official debut. Operating just off Wayne Rooney as a number ten in a 4-2-3-1 formation, the 21-year-old linked up well with the English striker playing a number of incisive and intelligent balls forward.
Replicating the astounding achievements of the 2014/15 season will be an almighty ask for Barcelona, but working toward another possible treble triumph will begin with some glamorous pre-season fixtures. Star players Lionel Messi and Neymar won’t be available for the Champions Cup after competing in the Copa America, but games against LA Galaxy, Manchester United, Chelsea and Fiorentina should make for intriguing encounters, as will the Joan Gamper Trophy against AS Roma in the beginning of August. With Messi and Neymar still recuperating, we are likely to see Munir El Haddadi feature in the Barca forward line. The 19-year-old was a key component in the early stages of last season, notching a goal on opening day. But the forging of Barca’s stunning attacking triumvirate left the La Masia starlet struggling for minutes.
Holding midfielder Sergi Samper will also be looking take his opportunity to shine. The holding midfielder is seen by many in Catalonia as the most natural heir to Sergio Busquets at the base of the Barcelona midfield and it’s important the 20-year-old shows in these games that he has the talent to step into the Spaniard’s shoes in the event of injury or suspension. While those in Barcelona will be itching to see some of the club’s revered academy prospects in action, the rest of the world will be eager to see what some of the superstar talents that spearheaded the team's treble glory last season can do against Manchester United. Luis Suarez is definitely a man who falls into that category. The striker’s ban from international football means he will have had a chance to fully replenish in the summer and unlike last season, Suarez will be available from the first day of the domestic campaign. Barca’s touring squad also includes big names in Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Andres Iniesta, Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Manchester United target Pedro. New Barcelona signings Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal are both in the 24-man squad. Joining Messi and Neymar in the list of players still on break are fellow South Americans Claudio Bravo, Javier Mascherano and Dani Alves.
VERDICT: Barcelona 11/10
Pre-season tournaments are always difficult to predict. Barcelona would normally be overwhelming favourites but they will be without some big players, including superhuman Messi. Manchester United won the ICC last season, beating Liverpool in the final. This year’s edition isn’t in a tournament format but these teams will base their pre-season performances around this result. Barcelona have had the better of Manchester United in their most recent meetings with the Catalans winning the 2008/09 UEFA Champions League final against the Red Devils and the 2010/11 final, 2-0 and 3-1 respectively. Back Barca to once again triumph over their foes.