One of the best rivalries in football is set to resume on Monday night (or Tuesday morning, if you're somewhere in Europe), as Manchester United and Liverpool get set to star in the final of the 2014 Guinness International Champions Cup in Miami.
Both teams finished the group stages with eight points, six goals scored and three conceded. Both field relatively new starting XIs with several changes compared to last season, but neither seems to have struggled too much adapting to new squads.
Pre-season friendlies traditionally mean very little, but with the first trophy of the campaign and bragging rights on the line, the International Champions Cup final should be anything but friendly.
Here are the latest odds, courtesy of Oddschecker:
|2014 International Champions Cup Final: Odds|
|Manchester United Win||11-10|
|Draw (After 90)||5-2|
The 2013-14 Premier League season played out in very different ways for these two clubs. While the Reds enjoyed a phenomenal campaign that re-established them as one of the top clubs in English football, the Red Devils suffered through one of their worst seasons in recent history.
Louis van Gaal replaced the much-maligned David Moyes during the summer, and he immediately has his team in position to grab some silverware. The implications for morale of such an immediate impact cannot be overstated, putting more pressure on this final than one would expect.
The fact the match will be played against bitter rivals Liverpool only enhances the stakes, as Darren Fletcher told reporters, according to the club's official website:
It’s Manchester United versus Liverpool, it doesn't matter if it's pre-season. That game takes care of itself and we want to go on and win. It's disappointing where we finished in the league last season and, as a result of that, Liverpool, City and Chelsea all finished above us. It was disappointing and, this season, we all want to show what we are capable of. Hopefully we can do that.
Much has been made of United's 3-5-2 system, but according to the Daily Mirror's David McDonnell, the squad could be without Danny Welbeck for the final:
The forward looked excellent playing in the new formation but was forced to leave the match against Real Madrid with an injury. The England international was able to cover a lot of ground in Van Gaal's system, something his replacements may not be able to do.
That 3-5-2 has its supporters and doubters, and Squawka's Sam Long belongs to the second group:
If their opposition leans towards a 4-4-2 system, or a variation of the tradition, their natural wingers could potentially draw the right and left sided defenders out of position, leaving plenty of space to attack in the centre of the field. The tactical nous of Van Gaal’s charges will need to be nigh on perfect, but as they old saying goes, there is no substitute for pace. Teams built around penetrating runs such as Everton could theoretically punish the Red Devils on the break.
Of course, the wing backs are designated to assist the defenders and are the crux of the system. Yet, as Luke Shaw has found out already, the role is the most physically demanding that a professional footballer can face.
We'll find out soon enough whether Long is right or wrong, but the match against Liverpool will give us a first indication.
The Reds field a squad with plenty of pace, and in Raheem Sterling, they have exactly the kind of player whose constant movement could take advantage of the space the 3-5-2 can leave.
Lazar Markovic would have been another player capable of simply running by defenders, but as reported by the Liverpool Echo's James Pearce, the Serb won't be risked in the final after suffering a tendon problem.
Injuries have been an issue for Liverpool during pre-season, with Daniel Agger, Adam Lallana, Jon Flanagan, Fabio Borini and Daniel Sturridge joining Markovic on the disabled list, per Pearce.
Brendan Rodgers told the reporter he still considered their International Champions Cup campaign a success, regardless of the result against United:
We've got a lot of great work in on a football front, and I've been really happy with the trip and the organisation of it.
The games out here have all been competitive and Liverpool-Manchester United will be no different. All professional players at this level want to compete and it's a big rivalry.
It won't have any bearing on how the season pans out. But we have come all this way and I'm sure we all want to finish it off with a really good game. We want to win the game, but if we don't pre-season has still been successful for us.
For all of Rodgers' downplaying the importance of the final, he'd still love nothing more than to stick it to his club's old rivals.
Liverpool's injuries give the advantage to the Mancunians, but the Reds could be aided by the fact that this is still, in essence, a pre-season match.
Yes, both teams would love to get their hands on their first trophy of the season, but learning more about your respective squads is still just as important.
Punters seem to favour the Red Devils, and given the Reds' rash of injuries, we can't blame them.
Prediction: Manchester United 2-1 Liverpool