The Guinness International Champions Cup is little more than a collection of meaningless pre-season friendlies, but when Liverpool and Manchester City take to the pitch on Wednesday, the atmosphere will be completely different.
These two clubs traded punches in the battle for the Premier League title all of last season, with the Citizens emerging as the victors in the final weeks of the 2013-14 season.
Both clubs will have the same goal on their minds going into the 2014-15 campaign and setting the tone with a decisive win over a rival can be the catalyst to a strong start to the season.
Date: Wednesday, 30 July (31 July in the United Kingdom)
Time: 7 p.m. ET, midnight BST
Venue: Yankee Stadium, New York
Form Guide, Preview
It's hard to read too much into the performances of both clubs so far during pre-season—the primary objective of these tournaments is to incorporate new signings and tinker with formations.
Both clubs won their opening fixtures, but at this stage of the season, things can change on a game-by-game basis. The Citizens sure looked like the more impressive team during their demolition of AC Milan, but Liverpool have gone through a much bigger transition and are still gelling as a team.
The Premier League champions have the advantage and should be favourites going into the match, but the final score isn't what fans should keep an eye on. Rather, the performances of some of the new signings against top-caliber competition is what will make or break this match.
One of those players is Lazar Markovic, who received praise from team-mate Jordan Henderson after his performance against Olympiacos, via the club's official website:
I thought he was brilliant. It's his first game and he gelled really well. He kept getting the ball, taking players on; he looked really lively so I think he'll be delighted with his game. He's very creative; he's great with the ball, playing one-twos and [making] runs in behind all the time so he's a great threat for us going forward, especially on the counter-attack. He's a great signing and a great plus for us.
Stevan Jovetic has looked great for the Citizens during the pre-season so far, netting twice against Milan, and he'll be looking to build on that performance against the Reds.
The Montenegrin is eager to make his mark on the club in the 2014-15 season after a difficult start to life in England, as he told Sky Sports:
I never said it was better to leave England. I know I’m good, I know I can play here. In the last few months of the season, when I was fit, I played well, every game. I have the manager’s confidence and I feel stronger. I hope now the City fans will see the real Jovetic. My injury problems are all okay now. I had a three-week rest and after that I started doing the programme that City set for me.
Manchester City's offensive output wasn't an issue in 2013-14, and if Jovetic is able to make good on his potential, the team's chances of repeating as Premier League champions will only improve.
Both clubs are clearly headed in the same direction and have bright futures ahead of them, but the Citizens may be better placed for success in the short term, according to Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe:
Last season was a phenomenal campaign for the Reds, but the loss of Luis Suarez will be felt at Anfield. A similar performance should be considered a rousing success, but even if the club has to allow the likes of Chelsea to pass them in the Premier League's hierarchy next season, fans shouldn't despair.
Younger players joining from foreign leagues take time to adapt to the pace and physicality of English football, and Wednesday's friendly could be the perfect illustration of that. Don't be surprised if the Reds look a step slower than they did against Olympiacos—at this stage of the season, that's only to be expected.
City are further along their preparations for the upcoming season, courtesy of not having to make as many changes to their starting XI. And that's alright—Brendan Rodgers knows that for his team, the mistakes of today are only the lessons of tomorrow.
During pre-season, the result hardly matters. If the Reds are close to their best and can hang with the current Premier League champions on Wednesday, that momentum will be far more valuable than what the scoreboard says after 90 minutes.