Manchester City vs. AC Milan: What to Expect from City's ICC Opener

Alex GruberCorrespondent IMarch 30, 2017

KANSAS CITY, KS - JULY 23: Dedryck Boyata #11 of Manchester City scores a goal past Jon Kempin #21 of Sporting KC during a penalty kick early in the second half on July 23rd at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

Manchester City continue their trek across the United States, taking on AC Milan at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field on Sunday. This marks City's first match of the Guinness International Champions Cup, which started on Thursday with Milan losing 3-0 to Olympiacos in Toronto.

This tournament features two groups of four teams facing each other once, and the winner of each group plays in the final on August 4 in Miami. Liverpool join City, Milan and Olympiacos in one group, with Manchester United, Real Madrid, Inter and Roma in the other.

At the heart of it, these matches are no more than the usual allotment of preseason friendlies for Europe's best in the general form of a competitive tournament. Real Madrid were the inaugural winners of the competition last summer.

There's a good bit to take into account when looking forward to this match. First off is the form of each team entering the match.

City kicked off their American adventure with a 4-1 thrashing of Major League Soccer champs Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday. Goals from Bruno Zuculini, Dedryck Boyata, Aleks Kolarov and Kelechi Iheanacho saw the visitors reign supreme.

Milan, on the other hand, come into Pittsburgh on the heels of that atrocious result at the hands of the Greek giants. The Rossoneri were missing key World Cup figures like Riccardo Montolivo and Mario Balotelli, but their still-strong squad capitulated nonetheless.

City have welcomed back the first part of their own World Cup contingent: Yaya Toure, James Milner, Joe Hart, David Silva and Edin Dzeko. However, manager Manuel Pellegrini told Paul Handler of the Manchester Evening News after the SKC match that these five will not figure into his plans in Pittsburgh due to lack of preparation.

Additionally, the status of Samir Nasri, who missed the SKC match with a knee injury sustained in a friendly against Hearts, is up in the air. Pellegrini told Chris Wheeler of the Daily Mail that "we'll see during the week when he starts kicking the ball if he can play against Milan."

But as we've already seen from these lads, they're capable of putting together a superb performance regardless of who's out there on the pitch.

AC Milan were soundly beaten by Olympiacos.
AC Milan were soundly beaten by Olympiacos.Abelimages/Getty Images

Here in this match, they should be put to a somewhat sterner test than they were on Wednesday. Granted, this Milan side is far from the Scudetto-winning setup of a few years ago, but manager Pippo Inzaghi still has a load of top-class talent at his disposal.

Then again, so do City.

Even with all the players missing through injury or World Cup-induced rest, a squad of the quality they put out at Sporting Park can topple most teams on their day. They've got the right mix of youth and experience available to get them through until the full squad is ready to go.

The likes of Kolarov, Willy Caballero and Jesus Navas will lead the way for now. The Serbian is the acting captain in the absence of Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta, Caballero is holding down the fort in goal, and Navas' energetic show in Kansas City was beyond encouraging.

And of course, the likes of Zuculini and Iheanacho alongside Karim Rekik, Emyr Huws—who has been loaned to Wigan for six months—and Matija Nastasic showed what they are capable of despite their tender ages.

In this match, this bunch of City youngsters may face off against one of the most hyped young footballers in recent memory: Hachim Mastour.

Milan's 16-year-old dynamo made the senior squad for their final Serie A match in May and has already gone toe-to-toe with Neymar.

Should Mastour take the pitch in this match, it would surely upstage even the reunion of Balotelli and his former club.

The enigmatic striker has had an up-and-down time since his return to Italy in 2013. When he arrived at Milan, he started scoring goals like crazy. But as the club's success took a nosedive last season, Balotelli could not help inspire a turnaround.

Balotelli could be partnered here by fellow Italian attacker Stephan El Shaarawy, who has endured a rough stretch in recent months. After firing on all cylinders in the first half of 2012-13, he struggled for form upon Balotelli's arrival and spent most of last season injured.

The pair certainly have the potential to form one of the world's best attacking tandems, so it's worth watching if they can get things going here.

There's a lot to look forward to in this match as two European giants collide in Pittsburgh. In the end, City seem to be in a better moment right now, and they should be favored to take the three points and move into a good position as the International Champions Cup progresses.


How will this match play out? Make your predictions in the comment section and feel free to drop me a line on Twitter.