The highlight of the pre-season for Man Utd fans is definitely set to be the club’s appearance in this year’s International Champions Cup during July. This tournament was originally launched five years ago although it has gone through quite a few format changes. Having been based in the US and involving Western and Eastern groups playing out a confusing group-stage system, it was then changed to a simpler format with the teams in the two groups simply playing each other to determine the winners. It has also been expanded from just US and European sides to include ones from Singapore China and Australia. Last year, Man Utd enjoyed a memorable win over local rivals City in their first game, but ended up fourth in their group – so can they do better this time around?
This season Utd will be taking on the likes of Real Madrid, AC Milan and the ‘old enemy’ Liverpool in the tournament, with AC Milan set to be their first opponents – on July 25th. Of the three games, this one seems likely to be the easiest for Utd to negotiate, as Milan are a long way from the force they used to be. Last season they finished a lowly sixth in Serie A – more than 30 points behind champions Juventus – and even a Utd side playing at half of its full capacity should be too strong. Manager Jose Mourinho will be pleased at the form Romelu Lukaku is showing in the World Cup and a Lukaku on that sort of form would terrorise the Milan defence. A comfortable 3-1 win for Utd is the prediction for this game, with the next one being against Liverpool on July 28th. Annoying though it is for all Utd fans, Liverpool represent a tougher test these days than they used to – as the Scousers show all the indications of getting their act together after years of being made fun of by their old rivals. With players like Salah and Firmino, they are one of the league’s most potent forces up front, although Mourinho did blunt their attack in the Premier League fixtures last season. Given that their tactic is always to try to blitz teams during the first half of games, withstanding that inevitable early onslaught will be crucial for Utd, as they can then look to exploit potential tiredness in the heat of Ann Arbor and hit them on the break. Liverpool may also experience a hangover from their Champions League final defeat that could impact on their performance. This is a much trickier game to call the result of, as both teams have a great deal of quality in their ranks, but if Utd’s defence holds firm in the early stages they could sneak a 2-1 win – and let’s face it: no Man Utd fan is going to bet on his team to lose to Liverpool! Although it is only a friendly, it could leave one of the sides with a psychological edge over the other when it comes to next seasons Premier League. Liverpool are a slightly shorter price for the Premier League at the moment. The final game comes on July 31st and is against the might of Real Madrid – who beat Liverpool in that Champions League final. Given that win and the presence of players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Sergio Ramos in Madrid’s squad, it would seem like a tall order on the surface for Utd to win this one. However, it could be argued that Madrid’s Champions League win covered up cracks in the side: they were never seriously competitive with Barcelona in the league and were arguably struggling in the final until Salah went off injured. They have also lost manager Zidane and may still lose Bale. Of course, Utd’s season was not without its flaws as well, not least in terms of the frequently uninspiring tactics and play, but Mourinho has a point to prove after watching Guardiola win the title last year and he will start proving it with a win over Madrid.
Despite Champions League qualification, last season felt like a let down for Utd fans, but that will make them eager to win this time and there is no better way to start than by claiming this trophy.