Liverpool and Manchester United will meet in the final of the 2014 International Champions Cup. It's the classic rivalry in English football and the ideal way to cap the successful preseason tournament in the USA.
The two Premier League enemies secured their places in the final with impressive wins over heavyweight European opposition. United, under the stewardship of new manager Louis van Gaal, beat 10-time European Cup winners Real Madrid 3-1.
Van Gaal, who has used the tour as an audition for his 3-5-2 tactical structure, hailed the win as ideal preparation and an important confidence booster, per Manchester Evening News reporter Rob Dawson:
It’s preparation time. Also for the opponents it's preparation time.
You’ve seen Ronaldo arriving in the 75th minute. We also miss players like Fellaini, Januzaj, van Persie, so you cannot say: ‘OK, so we'll beat every team’.
It is not like that. But of course it’s a very good result for us and it gives confidence to all the players.
Meanwhile, Liverpool's passage to the final was assured after a comfortable 2-0 win over Serie A side AC Milan. Goals from Joe Allen and Suso were enough to see off the Italian team.
Manager Brendan Rodgers highlighted the aspect of the win that pleased him most, per Liverpool Echo reporter James Pearce:
Rodgers: "Win continues a lot of our good work. I was delighted with the performance. defensively we were very strong and pressed it well."— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) August 3, 2014
Here's all of the relevant schedule information ahead of the final, including date and start time details:
|Liverpool vs. Manchester United||Monday, August 4||8 p.m. ET / 1 a.m. BST (August 5)||Sun Life Stadium, Miami||Fox Sports 1, ESPN Deportes, Sky Sports 1||Fox Sports Go, Sky Go, Now TV|
Of course, any time a match of this calibre is played in the USA, it's a chance to judge the success of ongoing attempts to increase the popularity of the game in that country.
Those attempts are proving to be very successful if attendances during the ICC tournament are any indicator. A record crowd of 109,318 watched United beat Madrid, per Sharon Terlep of The Wall Street Journal. Terlep indicated that figure broke a record that had stood since 1984.
Anticipation for the final is certainly building among a keen domestic fanbase:
Whenever Liverpool and Manchester United meet it's a chance to renew long-standing hostilities. Up until last season, Liverpool had chaffed under United's almost ceaseless rule during the Premier League era.
The Red Devils captured 13 titles to overtake the Anfield team as the most decorated top-flight club in England. However, the retirement of longtime overlord Sir Alex Ferguson brought a downturn in United's fortunes.
The club finished trophyless and seventh last season. By contrast, Liverpool roared to second, narrowly missing out on the title.
Young boss Brendan Rodgers has quickly moulded a dynamic attacking team brimming with pace. One of the highlights of Liverpool's season was doing the double over the Red Devils. The 3-0 away win at Old Trafford in March was especially sweet for Liverpool supporters.
United have tried to restore some swagger by appointing proven winner Van Gaal to succeed the hapless David Moyes. But there's no doubt the events of last season have, temporarily at least, reversed the roles for both of these rivals.
That's a fact succinctly described by Chris Bascombe of The Telegraph:
The Liverpool plane originally scheduled to leave on Saturday evening for John Lennon Airport was instead routed to Miami – Liverpool meeting the Dutch manager who could see easily have been a Fenway Sports Group appointment two years ago.
Back then Liverpool were trying to figure out how to imitate Manchester United. On this occasion, it will be United looking for pointers from Anfield about how to take a team from seventh back into the Champions League.
Bascombe's point is well-taken, although victory in a preseason contest won't represent further evidence of a power shift. However, the interest will come from seeing how ready both of these teams are for the new season.
With the real action set to begin on Saturday, Aug. 16, Van Gaal and Rodgers face a dilemma in Miami. Being this close to the season proper might encourage them to risk even fewer first-team players than is usual for preseason fare.
Their decisions could also be influenced by the fitness status of star strikers Daniel Sturridge and Robin van Persie. Sturridge has been sent home after damaging a hamstring, per Sky Sports. Fortunately, the same report indicated the Liverpool attacker will be available for the start of the season.
United won't be so fortunate. Prolific forward Van Persie will be out for the start of the new campaign, per the London Evening Standard. Apparently Van Gaal is anxious for Van Persie to have an adequate training period after his appearances for the Netherlands at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
With Van Persie scheduled to sit out some league action, Van Gaal may not want to risk Wayne Rooney in Miami.
However, the proximity of the start of the Premier League calendar makes this final a good test for how each squad is shaping up.
Van Gaal has already indicated he is close to making a final decision about a number of his new players, per Dawson:
Van Gaal says he's ready to make judgements on players after the US tour. Says he'll do it soon because 'after August 31 is too late'.— Rob Dawson (@RobDawsonMEN) August 4, 2014
If he's got one eye on this summer's transfer deadline, Van Gaal should focus closely on how this three-man defence works. United were uncharacteristically weak at the back last season.
A lack of new recruits in the central positions means that area is the most likely to receive attention. A poor showing from the incumbents in Miami could make Van Gaal's mind up about prospective targets.
Even without Sturridge, Liverpool are sure to test out United's lack of quality at the back.
Meanwhile, Rodgers will have another opportunity to acclimate his many new signings. New faces such as striker Rickie Lambert and Emre Can have another game to impress.
It's a chance Lambert didn't take against Milan. The veteran England striker missed a penalty in that game.
But there's little doubt Can has already won over his new fans. The ex-Bayer 04 Leverkusen star's displays of strength have been wowing supporters during preseason, per Metro reporter Vaishali Bhardwaj.
One new boy who won't be involved is creative and energetic forward Lazar Markovic. The former Benfica playmaker will miss out with a tendon injury, according to another Echo report from Pearce.
The writer noted how Markovic has become just one of many casualties from Liverpool's preseason:
Liverpool's squad has been depleted by injuries during their fortnight-long stay in the States.
Daniel Agger, Adam Lallana, Jon Flanagan, Fabio Borini and Daniel Sturridge have all returned home early.
While the strength of each squad will be a doubt in Miami, the trademark intensity and verve that accompanies any meeting between United and Liverpool is sure to be present.
Bragging rights and proof of each team's legitimacy as challengers in this season's Premier League are at stake.