The fancy pants, glamour cats of Real Madrid will be certain of top billing in Thursday’s clash between the Galaxy and the Galacticos in the International Champions Cup. However, it's the MLS side who are going into the game living up to the meaning of the name of the competition.
LA Galaxy are just one of two teams in the eight participants of the tournament, who are bona fide reigning champions of their league. Juventus are the other. Real Madrid, for one, would like to see that situation changed in 12 months time for what has now become a habitual transatlantic trip.
If that ambition is to be fulfilled, though, then Real Madrid need to have a strong few weeks in the New World to build the foundations for what they hope will be a season of domestic and European glory. The previous three warm-up games for Madrid against Bournemouth, Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain were mere ways to pass the time.
They were opportunities to see how some of the club’s youngsters got on as starters, as well as tinker with the line-up in attack. Now that the club’s Spanish internationals and Marcelo have returned from extended holidays after the Confederations Cup, the real work for Carlo Ancelotti will be taking place. It is only now that the full squad is available to begin to absorb the new manager’s rule and requirements.
The International Champions Cup will be an interesting way of monitoring how those preparations are getting on, with three matches being played over a week. However, only an inkling of an indication of the tactical future of Real Madrid will be possible during these contests.
Real Madrid will be playing sides of varying quality and at different stages of their footballing year. The first opponents, LA Galaxy, have been a little in and out of form of late, but are bang in the middle of a challenging MLS campaign. Should Everton overcome Juventus in the partnering clash, then Madrid will face an English side that is robust, physically strong and almost ready for the start of the Premier League campaign. If the Italian champions prevail, then Madrid will be even more spooked.
Ideally, the best approach for the club’s Italian coach is to ignore the format of the contest and see the upcoming games as a series of one-off friendlies. The results of the games should be ignored with the performances being of mere consequence. However, that is pie-in-the-sky dreaming for Real Madrid.
Thursday’s test against LA Galaxy, in what could be a sweltering Phoenix, is a chance to experiment with formations up front in a continuation from the work done in Europe. With footballers such as Sergio Ramos only just returning to duty, 90 minutes in the desert after a couple of days training and a long-haul flight might not be the brightest of ideas.
The problem with this approach is that even a stable, seasoned coach at Real Madrid does not have the luxury of tinkering due to the pressures of the Spanish football press. If experiments are to be made, Ancelotti will have to make sure they pay off in dominating fashion. This is especially the case against the MLS outfit, who hail from a league still looked down upon in Spain.
With no patience for long-term projects from the press and most supporters, the side’s new Italian manager will have to do the footballing equivalent of changing the tire whilst the car is still in motion. Real Madrid will need to simultaneously show that new additions are bedding down well and improvements have been made to the playing style. New tactics will have to be unveiled and at least six goals scored against the American opposition.
The summer is about to get very serious, indeed, for Real Madrid.