The planet's premier pre-season tournament gets underway this week and we'll be taking a look at three of the biggest games.
The International Champions Cup is a set of friendly club football tournaments taking place across three separate countries. Australia and China welcome an assortment of the world’s top clubs, yet the American version will feature both the most expansive programme and the cream on the European football crop. Let’s focus on three matches bound to pique your interest.
To Win Match
Real Madrid 1/1 | Draw 24/10 | Paris Saint-Germain 25/10
International Champions Cup | Mapfre Stadium | Thursday 28 July | 01:30
Reigning holders of the Champions League and possessing what - in all likelihood - will be a four-time winner of the FIFA Ballon d’Or in Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid take their place as the pre-season frontrunners to win the International Champions Cup. Of course, pre-season football can be deceiving, with managers looking to get the most from the time available and test out new signings, combinations and youth talent. Ronaldo will be sidelined for the entire duration of Madrid’s pre-season as a result of the ligament injury picked up in Portugal’s triumphant Euro 2016 final. As a result, Alvaro Morata will be the man to watch from Madrid this tournament, with the club activating a buy-back clause in his Juventus contract. Having already rejected a massive offer for the striker, he is clearly in Zinedine Zidane’s plans for the coming season.
PSG have undertaken significant restructuring in the summer and this tournament will be important for the French champions in assessing ways forward for the coming season. In a truly odd decision, Patrick Kluivert has been appointed director of football at the club with little to no prior experience in a role of such magnitude. After PSG decided to part company with Laurent Blanc during the off-season, Unai Emery was appointed as manager last month after leading Sevilla to three consecutive Europa League trophies. With talisman Zlatan Ibrahimović released from Paris and snapped up by Manchester United, PSG are still to truly fill the Swede’s position despite signing attacking players Hatem Ben Arfa and Giovani Lo Celso. Keep a key eye on both as well as Edinson Cavani as the battle begins to replace Ibrahimović.
Verdict: Real Madrid 1/1
It always difficult to pick winners in pre-season games but on the balance of probability, Real Madrid have to be backed against a side who will likely experience teething issues in this tournament.
To Win Match
Bayern Munich 11/20 | Draw 31/10 | AC Milan 4/1
International Champions Cup | Soldier Field | Thursday 28 July | 03:30
Bayern Munich began their pre-season by going 4-0 up against fifth-tier Lippstadt in Carlo Ancelotti’s first match in charge of the German giants. Arjen Robben scored and was then promptly injured, continuing a woeful fitness record for the Dutchman in recent years. As Ancelotti rang the changes, so the minnows fought back with Munich eventually winning by a single goal, 4-3. It will worth keeping an eye on Renato Sanches during the International Champions Cup, as Bayern’s marquee summer signing looks to bed in with the squad. Sanches was very impressive during Portugal’s winning Euro 2016 campaign and could prove an imposing figure in the centre of the park.
AC Milan also have a new boss, with Vincenzo Montella overseeing a 2-1 friendly win over Bordeaux to open up the pre-season. Montella became AC Milan’s seventh coach since 2014 when he was appointed with the aim of improving the club’s eighth, tenth and seventh place finishes over the past three seasons. Suso scored both of Milan’s goals in the friendly win and perhaps they may be forced to search for goalscorers with Carlos Bacca on the radar of quite a number of clubs this summer. Milan do not lack talent, particularly Italian youngsters that have been touted for greatness. This tournament will be another excellent opportunity to assess who has the quality to make it at the highest level against quality opposition.
Verdict: Bayern Munich 11/20
The German champions have the obviously better side and should the fringe players introduced gel with Ancelotti’s playing style, Bayern should have no trouble racking up the victory.
To Win Match
Chelsea 13/10 | Draw 47/20 | Liverpool 19/10
International Champions Cup | Rose Bowl | Thursday 28 July | 05:35
Antonio Conte’s era at Chelsea began in underwhelming fashion with a 2-0 friendly loss to Rapid Vienna. As already mentioned, pre-season fixtures can be so difficult to judge and new managers attempt to impose their playing style on the team. There is always a period of adjustment. Personally, I believe Chelsea will return to a top-four club this season but there is still an awful lot of work to be done to win a championship. To be fair to the new boss, the players available to Conte for the match were not the most ideal for the system he attempted to employ. The arrival of N’Golo Kante from Leicester will provide greater energy and positioning to what looks to be a two-man midfield. Signing a top quality centre-back will surely be on the manager’s agenda, while a decision must be made regarding Branislav Ivanovic. This tournament will also be a good opportunity to see what Michy Batshuayi has to offer.
Liverpool will, as usual, have a challenging season ahead of them. Expectations are always high for the Merseysiders and with manager Jurgen Klopp having impressed in cup competitions last term with Liverpool twice losing finalists, the Reds faithful will be hopeful of silverware. Liverpool have let Jordon Ibe go to Bournemouth for a fairly large fee given the winger’s uncertain performances last season. Liverpool have invested in likes of Sadio Mane, Joel Matip and Loris Karius during this transfer window but one feels there is still more squad shedding to come, with failures and passengers still present in the setup. This tournament is good opportunity for the Reds to prove that they can still mix it up with the best - yet I believe it is a competition that Klopp will leave with more questions than answers.
Verdict: Draw 47/20
This one seems likely to be a loose encounter lacking the traditional intensity that this fixture may usually command. It will likely end in a stalemate that will work fairly well for both bosses.