INTERNATIONAL CHAMPIONS CUP

FOX Soccer Exclusive

Europe's best take bite from Big Apple

RAISING THE STAKES
Milan, Chelsea, Inter and Valencia will takeover Giants Stadium on Sunday night.
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Leander Schaerlaeckens

Leander Schaerlaeckens has written about soccer for The New York Times, The Guardian, ESPN The Magazine and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter.

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The inaugural International Champions Cup ventures into the Big Apple on Sunday, when both the second semifinal in the winners’ and the losers’ bracket are scheduled for Giants Stadium. Valencia will play Inter Milan (live, FOX Soccer, Sunday, 4 p.m. ET) with a spot in the fifth-place game to play for. Two and a half hours later, Chelsea will take on AC Milan (live, FOX Soccer, Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET), with the winner advancing to the ICC championship game against the victor of Real Madrid (live, FOX, Saturday, 5 p.m. ET).

The finals and placement games will all take place next Tuesday and Wednesday in Miami and shall, like all of the above games, be live on either FOX Soccer or FOX.

In the first game, Valencia will hope to rebound from a lackluster performance against AC Milan in the opening round. Without creating much by way of chances for themselves, they were down 2-0 by halftime, as splendid takes from Robinho and Nigel de Jong underscored the sizable gap in performance. A Daniel Parejo goal in the second half made the score respectable. But the truth of the matter is that Valencia is once again rebuilding.

Groaning under the heft of perennial and crippling debt, Valencia hasn’t the funds to hold on to its better players. As ever, some foundational pillars were sold to help pay off debt this summer. Roberto Soldado, scorer of 59 league goals in the last three La Liga campaigns, is heading to Tottenham Hotspur for some $40 million. Several others, including Fernando Gago, Nelson Valdez and Tino Costa were sold for another $15 million. All Los Che have gotten to reinvest is the measly half million dollars they dropped on bringing back midfielder Michel, who previously hadn’t been good enough to stick at the club.

But some years, Valencia is competitive regardless of these heavy burdens. And now head coach Miroslav Djukic, the club's former sweeper, has the chance to show what his players can do against a proper opponent.

All eyes will be focused on Jose Mourinho's Chelsea side next season. (Photo: Thananuwat Srirasant/Getty Images).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Who you should be keeping an eye on during this summer's International Champions Cup? Find out here.

Inter will be hell-bent on redeeming itself from a dishevelingly weak outing against Chelsea in their tournament opener. Certainly, the Nerazzurri were scarcely accountable for Chelsea’s goals in the 2-0 affair one round ago. Oscar’s curling shot from some way out was unstoppable. And the foul called on Victor Moses that let Eden Hazard double the score from the penalty spot was committed well outside the area.

Inter’s rough play in the second half – which quite rightly saw Hugo Campagnaro sent off for a savage tackle on John Terry – suggested that these are games the entrants want to win and confirmed the Italians’ frustration with their own inability to recapture the glory of the last decade. They won five Serie A titles and the UEFA Champions League during that period. But ever since Jose Mourinho left for Real Madrid in the summer of 2010, they have declined rapidly, an effect accelerated by the club’s recent financial austerity regime. They are, in fact, on their sixth manager since Mourinho’s departure three seasons ago.

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Speaking of Mourinho, he will be in the following game. He has re-joined Chelsea, the club that employed him before Inter did until his ego and owner Roman Abramovich’s could no longer be reconciled. His last tenure was marked – or defaced, depending on your ideological stance on the matter – by dour and defensive tactics. He was quite happy to win all his games 1-0. And while this was true at Inter as well, it was anathema to the way his Real Madrid and, before all of those, FC Porto sides operated. Now in his second spell, he has inherited a squad of fabulously gifted technicians – Hazard, Oscar, Juan Mata – to which he has expensively added the similarly inclined Andre Schurrle. The question, then, is how Mourinho deploys them collectively, and in what spirit.

Their affair with Milan should be elucidating on that front. While Milan has equally had to downsize its ambitions on the transfer front in recent years, they nevertheless sport their own dazzling collective of forwards in Mario Balotelli, Stephan El Shaarawy and Mbaye Niang – ages 22, 20 and 18, respectively. They will try to run at Chelsea, quarterbacked by the influential Kevin-Prince Boateng. And that should force Chelsea into making a decision – run with them or sit back and absorb – that could reveal a lot about Mourinho’s intentions for the season.

Not to mention the chance to play for the first International Champions Cup.
 

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