Manchester City's final match in the International Champions Cup group stage comes Saturday against Greek giants Olympiacos. The match is slated for a 2 p.m. ET kickoff from TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, home of the University of Minnesota football team.
At stake is a possible place in the Monday final of the tournament, depending on the result of Liverpool vs. AC Milan later Saturday. City need to pick up two more points than Liverpool, as the Reds hold the tiebreaker after Wednesday's shootout win over the Blues in New York.
Essentially, they need a win and hope that AC Milan magically escape from their massive rut and steal a result.
Olympiacos do have an outside shot of reaching the final themselves, needing a win in regulation and a Liverpool loss in regulation. They too would lose a tiebreaker to the Reds, having fallen 1-0 in Chicago on Sunday.
One early point of concern for City has already appeared in the form of the condition of the pitch.
TCF Bank Stadium uses an artificial surface for its football games, meaning the grounds crew have had to lay a temporary grass surface on top of the turf. City boss Manuel Pellegrini has already expressed his displeasure with the "grass" in a pre-match presser:
I think the pitch is not in a normal condition and I think it has a high risk for the players to get injured.
I have the safety of all my players in mind regarding the possibility of injury so this will not affect my team selection. The condition also means it will be difficult to play good football.
We played at Yankee Stadium against Liverpool and though the pitch wasn’t perfect, it was better and we had a good match. I’m sure there will be efforts to improve the pitch over the next 24 hours and I’m sure it will be watered, but there isn’t much time left.
We did see a number of players slip up on the grass laid over Yankee Stadium's infield dirt, but that only accounted for a small portion of the playing field. The chance of slipping occurring and leading to various leg injuries is far too high, so let's hope the crew can fix things up as much as possible before kickoff.
On a more positive note, City will be welcoming back yet more players who have missed out on the earlier preseason matches. David Silva is slated to return for his first post-World Cup action, while Samir Nasri looks to be fit enough to go as well.
The side already welcomed back Edin Dzeko, James Milner, Joe Hart and Yaya Toure on Wednesday, so the club is closing in on a return to full strength. This won't be achieved for a while, but it will be good to have as many options as possible available to help get people match fit but rotate as much as needed.
Toure was not quite at his best in his cameo, which included a poor penalty being easily saved by Simon Mignolet. But it will all come in time for the Ivorian, who ought to be in line for increased duties in this match to get him back into tip-top shape.
Dzeko's return finally gives Stevan Jovetic a true strike partner up top. The Montenegrin is the tournament's leading scorer on four goals, but he can't do it all on his own. Having his Bosnian mate around will give him an outlet and provide a different sort of threat to the Greek defense.
Hart will surely have seen the stellar play of Willy Caballero and taken note that his place in the first team is well under threat. The two will probably split minutes here and there across City's four competitions, but mistakes could lead to a situation like last season when Costel Pantilimon took the reins.
If this is to be City's last preseason match before the Community Shield on August 10, then it's certainly not a bad matchup to finish up the tour with.
Olympiacos, Greece's most successful club team, have stood their ground against more high-profile European teams in the last year or so. In last year's Champions League, they beat out Portuguese champs Benfica for second place in their group, behind only Paris Saint-Germain.
They then beat a sorry Manchester United in the first leg of their round-of-16 tie before crashing out, then toppled AC Milan in the first match of the ICC. Their resilience showed well in keeping Liverpool at bay, limiting the scoreline to just the final 1-0.
Olympiacos have a squad lined with solid talent, including veteran defender Eric Abidal, experienced forward Javier Saviola and local products like Avraam Papadopoulos, Jose Holebas and Giannis Maniatis. They also recently bolstered their defense with another former Barcelona player, adding Alberto Botia from Sevilla.
Given their underdog status in this tournament as a whole, they've come in with little to lose and have made a good name for themselves thus far. To expect them to beat City is a stretch, perhaps, but they might be able to capitalize on a bit of negative momentum for their opponents.
This should make for an entertaining clash in Minnesota, where the winner could yet find themselves 90 minutes away from a trophy.
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