It may only be the preseason, but the International Champions Cup promises to be a fun couple of weeks of football.
Seeing the top European football clubs descend upon the United States has become a bit commonplace. The game is growing in the U.S., so tours to the country provide a hefty payday for clubs. They also give managers top facilities where players can train, while they enjoy an amount of privacy not allowed in some other countries.
Since 2009, the World Football Challenge has helped to bring some of the best clubs in the world to the United States. Now, it's out with the old and in with the new, as the International Champions Cup has replaced the World Football Challenge.
Although it's only a preseason tournament, this event gives clubs a nice feather in the cap this summer if they can win it or at the very least put in a good showing.
Here is a quick preview for this star-studded preseason tournament.
|AC Milan||Serie A|
|Inter Milan||Serie A|
|Los Angeles Galaxy||Major League Soccer|
|Real Madrid||La Liga|
Bracket and Schedule (courtesy of International Champions Cup website)
|Match 1||AC Milan vs. Valencia||Saturday, July 27||2 p.m. ET|
7 p.m. BST
|Match 2||Juventus vs. Everton||Wednesday, July 31||11 p.m. ET|
4 a.m. BST
|Match 3||Chelsea vs. Inter Milan||Thursday, August 1||8 p.m. ET|
1 a.m. BST
|Match 4||Real Madrid vs. LA Galaxy||Thursday, August 1||9:30 p.m. ET|
2:30 a.m. BST
|Match 5||Match 2 Loser vs. Match 4 Loser||Saturday, August 3||8 p.m. ET|
1 a.m. BST
|Match 6||Match 2 Winner vs. Match 4 Winner||Saturday, August 3||10:30 p.m. ET|
3:30 a.m. BST
|Match 7||Match 1 Loser vs. Match 3 Loser||Sunday, August 4||4 p.m. ET|
9 p.m. BST
|Match 8||Match 1 Winner vs. Match 3 Winner||Sunday, August 4||6:30 p.m. ET|
11:30 p.m. BST
|Match 5 Loser vs. Match 7 Loser||Tuesday, August 6||6:30 p.m. ET|
11:30 p.m. BST
|Match 5 Winner vs. Match 7 Winner||Tuesday, August 6||9 p.m. ET|
2 a.m. BST
|Match 6 Loser vs. Match 8 Loser||Wednesday, August 7||6:30 p.m. ET|
11:30 p.m. BST
|Match 6 Winner vs. Match 8 Winner||Wednesday, August 7||9 p.m. ET |
2 p.m. BST
Teams to Watch
Everton have had a good summer so far. Although David Moyes will be a big loss, the arrival of Roberto Martinez means the Toffees should be playing some entertaining football while not suffering on the pitch. He brought an open, attacking style to Wigan yet kept them up much longer than many other managers would have.
With Everton bringing in Gerard Deulofeu and Arouna Kone, they have made what was a good team last season even better. All the while, the club has been able to hold onto all of its best players.
The International Champions Cup is a great opportunity for the Toffees to build positive momentum going into the coming season. Given their standing relative to some of the other clubs taking part in the tournament, Martinez should have his side extra motivated to put in a great showing.
Much like Everton, Valencia have become nothing more than a feeder club for Real Madrid, Barcelona and Europe's other top clubs. Under Unai Emery, Los Che hit a glass ceiling where they could finish third in La Liga but never come close to Madrid or Barca.
Now Miroslav Djukic is taking over a Valencia side that went through two managers last season and finished fifth in La Liga.
As is the case with every summer, Valencia look primed to lose their best player, with Jack De Menezes of The Independent reporting Tottenham Hotspur are interested in Roberto Soldado.
Should Soldado be gone by the time the International Champions Cup gets going, Valencia still have talented players like Ever Banega, Adil Rami and Francisco Alcacer. This is a great chance for American fans to get a look at these players before they call a newer, bigger club home.
Wherever Mario Balotelli goes, there's sure to be entertainment. The relative meaninglessness of the World Football Challenge didn't stop Balotelli from earning the derision of many, Roberto Mancini included, when he went for a backheel goal against Los Angeles Galaxy. Preseason or not, Balotelli can put himself in the headlines.
When you throw him in with M'Baye Niang and Stephan El Shaarawy, you've got one of the best emerging attacks in Italy. The trio probably won't see a ton of minutes, but when they're on the pitch, the three will always be a threat to score.
Things didn't go according to plan for Milan last season, as they waited until the last day to qualify for the Champions League. Max Allegri will have a short leash. If Milan start the season poorly, he could be out of a job.
With so much on the line, he won't want to start by having a poor showing at this tournament.
Players to Watch
Gerard Deulofeu, Everton
The Liverpool Echo's Phil Kirkbride reported the first time Deulofeu will suit up for Everton could be in the United States. It couldn't come a moment sooner for the Toffees' supporters, as Deulofeu looks to be one of the best young players in the world.
The 19-year-old took part in the 2013 Under-20 World Cup, so Roberto Martinez has chosen to give the player an extended break.
On loan from Barcelona, Deulofeu should be a great addition for Everton. He's advanced for his age, and it's only a matter of time before he follows in the footsteps of La Masia's best graduates.
The International Champions Cup will offer a great glimpse of his talent.
Andrea Pirlo, Juventus
At 34 years old, Andrea Pirlo doesn't have much left in his storied career. The International Champions Cup is a great opportunity for American fans to watch one of the most gifted midfielders of his era.
With his involvement in the Confederations Cup and his age, Pirlo is unlikely to get a featured role for Juventus. He'll get just enough time on the pitch to return to match fitness.
Pirlo doesn't have to be on long to make an impact. He's still deadly from set pieces and can pick apart an opposition defense with his pinpoint passing.
Asier Illarramendi, Real Madrid
Although he cost €34 million, there are probably many football fans who are unaware of how talented a player Asier Illarramendi is.
The 23-year-old midfielder was impressive at the Under-21 European Championship this past summer. That tournament pales in comparison to the effort he gave when he helped Real Sociedad get to fourth place in La Liga. He was a force in midfield, and although his transfer fee is a bit high, it's a great sign of the faith Madrid have in him.
The Madrid midfield was packed enough as it was. Then they went out and bought Isco and Casemiro.
Illarramendi will be looking to make a big impression on Carlo Ancelotti this summer, so he'll be motivated to make the most of the International Champions Cup.
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