The International Champions Cup reaches its climax on Monday night, with the greatest rivals in English football facing off for the right to be champions.
Liverpool and Manchester United both breezed through the group stage to make the showpiece final in Miami, and while pre-season matches usually have a friendly air about them, the ICC final is set to be fiercely contested.
Here, we look ahead to the action at the Sun Life Stadium, and assess which team could be lifting the trophy on Monday.
Liverpool Looking Good
While there are some critics out there saying that Liverpool’s 2013/14 Premier League brilliance was a fluke, the way that the Reds have taken to pre-season may well have silenced them.
Though several of the club’s key stars have played very little part in the ICC, Liverpool have looked as dangerous and cohesive as they did last term, summed up by their 2-0 victory over AC Milan on Saturday.
Goals from Joe Allen and Suso saw the Reds heap more misery on the Italian giants, but it was the performances of Liverpool’s young stars that really caught the eye.
Winger Jordon Ibe was one of those that impressed in North Carolina, with his pace and trickery showing that he can be a real nightmare for Premier League defences next season.
Though his squad future is far from concrete with potential loan switches in the offing, Ibe’s performance proved that he’s ready for the first team, and former U.S. star Kyle Martino agreed:
Teenager Jordan Ibe having one of those "don't you dare loan me" halves for LFC.— Kyle Martino (@kylemartino) August 2, 2014
The 18-year-old showed a great deal of game intelligence for someone at such a tender age, and he’ll likely line up in a three-man attack with Raheem Sterling and Ricky Lambert once again against Manchester United.
It’s a new-look Liverpool side this season, but the good news is, their attacking intent has remained, and their football in the ICC has been sublime at times.
Brendan Rodgers believes their good form comes from confidence, as he told Sky Sports after the victory over AC Milan that his side have endless amounts of belief:
I think this year we have greater belief. I think we were a surprise for most people last season, but you can see the level of football we are playing. What pleased me tonight was the level of maturity, even with the young players playing. There is a belief we can win games and even in pre-season, creating that mentality is very important.
Their positive mentality will need to remain intact against United on Monday, as Louis van Gaal’s side will also have their tails up after a fantastic ICC campaign.
Van Gaal Revolution Begins with a Bang
When Dutchman Van Gaal took to the Manchester United hot seat, the question of how long it would take for the 62-year-old to work his magic was on everyone’s lips—the answer: no time at all.
United have looked like, well, United during the ICC, topping Group A with a string of exemplary performances.
Though the stars have been shining all over the pitch for the Red Devils, the hero of the tournament isn’t one many would have predicted before the action began—Ashley Young.
Throughout the tournament, Young has rekindled the form that evaded him last season, most notably against Real Madrid on Saturday— when he scored twice and grabbed an assist in the 3-1 victory.
His first goal was a smart finish after some world-class build-up play, as Squawka Football revealed:
Such style is what was missing for United under David Moyes last term, but with Van Gaal now at the helm, it’s safe to say that the club’s liquid football has returned.
Van Gaal has also succeeded in bringing the best out of Young, who spoke to Manchester United’s official website after the Liverpool final was confirmed, saying that he’s determined to orchestrate another victory for his side:
There is no better game to finish the tour with. We all know the rivalry with the two teams—it’ll be a great occasion and everyone can’t wait. People may look at it as pre-season but it’s Liverpool and we want to go out and win the game and the trophy.
The winger also took to Twitter to reflect on the upcoming clash with Liverpool, questioning just how “friendly” the encounter will be:
Another good win and performance in front of an incredible crowd of 109k. Looking forward to our "Friendly" against Liverpool!!!— Ashley Young (@youngy18) August 3, 2014
With Van Gaal likely to name the same eleven that disposed of Real Madrid, Young will once again be instrumental behind the action going forward, and it would be far from a surprise to see him find the net once again.
Though it’s set to be a tight encounter and both sides will come into the match all guns blazing, United have shown during the ICC so far that they have enough to work their way past even the most daunting of opponents, and will use their new-found tactical nous to good effect once again.
Prediction: Liverpool 1-2 Manchester United