The 2014 International Champions Cup rolls on as Manchester United face AS Roma (live, Saturday, FOX, 4 p.m. ET) in Denver, Colo. and Real Madrid take on Inter Milan (live, Saturday, FOX Sports 2, 6 p.m. ET) in Berkeley, Cali. as Group A kicks off.
United and Roma each play in their second Stateside games of the preseason after beating the Los Angeles Galaxy and Liverpool, respectively, on Wednesday night. United, in Louis van Gaal’s debut in charge, had the easiest of nights, crisply and clinically running up a 7-0 score at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena against the diluted Major League Soccer power house, who were playing a slew of reserves. In a rather more sluggish match, Roma eked past Liverpool at Fenway Park in Boston on a soft and late Marco Borriello goal.
Both teams come into this season with a point to prove. United had a disastrous season last year and are desperate to show that they are putting things right. Confirming that the monster win over the Galaxy was no fluke would go some way in helping to establish that. Big summer signings Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw, meanwhile, thrived in their debuts and will want to show off more of the same. Forwards Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney functioned well up top in the 3-5-2-ish system van Gaal rolled out and would like to cement those places.
"We introduced a new system that we have only played two times on the training pitch 11 vs 11," said van Gaal after the victory. "It is fantastic how they have performed. When you want to change a system, you must start at once. We don’t have time to prepare for other things. The other system they can play is 4-3-3 and they have played it for many years. I can change back if the system doesn’t work. With the quality of the players we have, I can play 4-3-3 with three strikers on the bench, but I want to play with two strikers."
Roma made a surprising run at the Serie A title last year, before fading late. Now under American ownership, they have invested further by landing big names in Juan Iturbe, Seydou Keita and Ashley Cole. With a new stadium and thus more income on the way, this is the year that they want to make their breakthrough. In one another, these two sides face a steep test.
Real will play in their first game of the year. But before they have even kicked a ball, they are making the usual headlines. World Cup winner Toni Kroos has been signed from Bayern Munich and they made James Rodriguez one of the most expensive players in the world when they bought him off AS Monaco for $107 million — and superstar striker Radamel Falcao might yet follow from there. The pair of trophy acquisitions reinforces an already talent-sodden midfield to the point where even the second string can hardly be matched by any other side. On paper, that is. There’s no telling how these things will work out on the field. And sometimes, talent-hoarding backfires.
"The club is doing very well on the transfer market and I think will continue until the last available day," Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti told Corriere dello Sport earlier in the week. "The two new arrivals will certainly be of help. I think the current squad is already more competitive than last season."
Inter Milan’s primary accomplishment this offseason was probably holding onto midfielder Fredy Guarin, but in signing United defender and captain Nemanja Vidic on a free transfer and midfielder Yann M’Vila from Rubin Kazan in a loan-to-buy deal, they have nevertheless made shrewd acquisitions. It’s been a few years since Inter could hang with the game’s big boys like Real financially, but they have quietly rebuilt a world-class team on the cheap.
"The most important thing for me is to try to make Inter more competitive, not just on the pitch but off it too," Inter president Erick Thohir admitted earlier in the summer. "Obviously, to make the team competitive we need the players, the Coach and the technical staff. As far as the economic side goes, the non-sporting side, I want to make sure Inter’s revenue increases in order to make us competitive in the transfer market."
Thohir added: "I’m giving it two to three years of transition for our revenue to increase. However, we have also signed Hernanes, D’Ambrosio and Vidic. Other reinforcements? Definitely, but we cannot be reckless and incur problems with financial fair play."
Under Walter Mazzarri, Inter made strides last year. Both Real Madrid and Inter will be eager to learn how their new pieces fit into the puzzle, and how much progress has really been made.