In the wake of the International Champions Cup showdown between Manchester United and Liverpool, the casual American sports fan may be at a loss as to what to look for. As familiar as the venue might be —Michigan Stadium — the unfolding events may not be as welcoming. To make you seem like you know what you’re talking about on Saturday, the Daily breaks down what to expect on the pitch and how to appreciate the intricacies of the other football.
New Look Midfield:
On paper, last season’s starting midfield of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jordan Henderson and James Milner wasn’t one that necessarily looked on par with that of title rivals like the two Manchester clubs and European giants like Real Madrid.
With Milner turning 33 next season, Emre Can having left for Juventus and Chamberlain succumbing to an ACL injury that ruled him out for part of the new season, manager Jurgen Klopp desperately needed to find reinforcements.
The signing of Naby Keita from Red Bull Leipzig was tied up last year. The dynamic box-to-box midfielder and Klopp’s style of football appear a match made in football heaven. With an impressive range of vision, a tireless work ethic and an eye for goals, the Guinea captain will provide a spark from the heart of the midfield that Liverpool desperately needed since Chamberlain’s injury.
Fabinho was signed from Monaco this transfer window. The all-action defensive midfielder played an integral role in guiding Monaco to the 2016-17 Ligue 1 title over PSG. He will provide much needed defensive cover in front of the Liverpool backline which was the Merseyside club’s Achilles heel last season, Keeper included.
Both new signings should be on display Saturday, playing in their first derby against Manchester United.
Defenders across Europe shook in their expensive cleats at the thought of playing against Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino. Only Cristiano Ronaldo had more goals than the three in the Champions League, and it took Lionel Messi to keep the European Golden Boot away from Salah. Not bad company to sit behind.
But when Salah got subbed off in the Champions League Final with a shoulder injury, Liverpool’s ferociousness left the pitch with him. No substitute looked close to giving Liverpool the extra gear they needed that night in Kiev.
Daniel Sturridge was once Liverpool’s second best striker in the days of Luis Suarez. A plague of injuries and bad form had all but threatened to end his Anfield career. Three goals thus far in pre-season have Sturridge looking sharper than he has in months, as he looks to fight for his place in the squad.
Backups Dominic Solanke and Divok Origi haven’t inspired confidence during pre-season. As such, Liverpool signed Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland’s standout performer over the last two World Cups. They signed him for £13.5 million following Stoke City’s relegation. Should his World Cup form carry over, he could give Klopp a welcomed selection headache.
Shaqiri, Sturridge, Solanke and Origi will all be looking to make a case for themselves before the start of next season. What better way to impress your manager than by scoring against your club’s eternal rivals?
Liverpool played in a free-flowing 4-3-3 formation for most of last year. Following the injury to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, however, Klopp occasionally played a 4-2-3-1, with Solanke sitting ahead of Firmino who played in a deeper, more traditional No.10 role.
Klopp has tinkered with this formation throughout the pre-season as well, especially given Naby Keita and Fabinhio’s proficiency in the two midfield roles. Teenage forward Ben Woodburn has looked promising as well and could be given more game time to develop.
Expect more tactical changes this weekend as Klopp tinkers with Liverpool’s formation and personnel, looking to get his squad ready for the start of the Premier League season.
Manchester United orchestrated a coup with the signing of Arsenal’s star forward, Alexis Sanchez, getting him in exchange for want-away midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Fast forward six months, and it seems Arsenal got the better deal.
Sanchez’s talent and work ethic are beyond question, but for some reason he never quite fit in to Jose Mourinho’s tactical setup. Flashes of brilliance were overshadowed by subdued appearances. Relentless inconsistencies perfectly embody Sanchez’s career.
However, following a full preseason with his new team, Sanchez looks more comfortable in his new surroundings. His first two games have been promising, and playing against club rival Liverpool could see a big game out of the Chilean.
United fans should be licking their lips at the prospect of seeing Sanchez linkup with Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku next season.
New signing: Frederico Rodrigues de Paula Santos (Fred):
With a midfield compromised of Paul Pogba, Marouane Fellaini and Nemanja Matic, Mourinho has a contingent of physically strong midfield enforcers. Standing at 5 feet and 7 inches, Fred provides a different kind of player.
Quick and agile off his feet with a sharp passing range, Fred provides a more creative outlet to Manchester United, one that it sorely lacked last season, often looking bereft of creativity. Adept at starting counter-attacks and unlocking defenses, the Brazilian should make Manchester United a more exciting outfit next season.
Fred is also versatile in that, despite being labeled an offensive conductor, he was also FC Shakhtar Donetsk’s top tackler last season. He can easily fit alongside Matic in a defensive midfield position allowing Pogba the freedom to venture further up-field where the Frenchman thrives.
Having been an unused part of Brazil’s World Cup squad, Fred should be looking to stretch his legs and impress during any game time he sees this summer, especially against Liverpool.
The curious case of Anthony Martial:
Since sending Old Trafford into raptures on his debut with a goal against Liverpool, Anthony Martial’s career has seen vertigo inducing highs and damning lows.
A stellar first season with the club saw him labeled as the future of the club. An indifferent second year saw him left out of France’s world cup winning squad and overlooked in favor of younger, more promising talent.
Just 22 and unhappy with not being guaranteed a starting spot, Martial could be looking for new pastures. With Bayern Munich and Chelsea reportedly interested, he could soon be leaving Manchester United.
Jose Mourinho, however, would rather not lose a player of his caliber, especially considering fellow forwards Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku may not be fully fit following long World Cup campaigns.
Martial could be playing for his Manchester United future on Saturday, or auditioning for a new club that would more than welcome his signing.
On Saturday, whether or not you know how to pronounce the players’ names or the storied past of Manchester United and Liverpool, the matchup will surely be something to behold. But as with all sporting events, the more you know heading in, the richer the experience. And as soccer slowly gains popularity in the states, there’s no doubt a spectacle of this size will create some new fans of the most popular sport in the world.