In August of 2014, Michigan Stadium set the U.S. soccer attendance record when a crowd totalling 109,318 people showed up to watch Real Madrid take on Manchester United.
International stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Wayne Rooney roamed the grass — Michigan Stadium underwent a temporary change from turf to a grass playing field, one that then-United manager Louis Van Gaal found sub-optimal — in what was a pivotal match-up of the International Champions Cup.
Now, close to two years later, the International Champions Cup is back in Ann Arbor — with some familiar faces and some new.
This time around, Real Madrid will play Chelsea Saturday at 3 p.m. in a long-anticipated contest that was first announced in March of this year.
Less star power this time around?
Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane was frank when it came to injuries his team has suffered, saying his team is not ‘100 percent’ when it comes to health. Two players are definitively unavailable for Saturday’s game — Ronaldo and forward Karim Benzema. Ronaldo — widely regarded as one of the top players in the world — made an appearance in the 2014 game at the Big House, playing 16 minutes after being ruled out due to injury, but there will be no chance of another surprise this time around as the forward did not travel with his team.
Additionally, according to Zidane, the statuses of James Rodríguez, Luka Modrić and Sergio Ramos have yet to be determined.
“Right now what (Rodriguez, Modric and Ramos are) doing is exactly the same as the other players, the same type of training, and they’ll follow the same type of plan,” Zidane said through a translator at a press conference Friday. “Tomorrow, in the morning, they’ll train again, and in the afternoon, we’ll see if they’re able to play.”
Zidane sees game as necessary warm-up
Earlier this year, Real Madrid captured its eleventh UEFA Champions League title with a shoot-out victory over Atlético Madrid. But though he’s currently pleased with the progression and training of his players, Zidane still sees room for improvement for his team — a team that he also feels has the best roster in the world.
“What I want from the actual game is for the team to play better,” Zidane said. “We’re in preseason, but we want to see a team that’s a little bit stronger. We saw some good things last game, that’s what we want to improve on, we want to show that we’re better physically even though we’re not 100 percent.”
While the game may be treated as a tuneup for future contests, Zidane hopes the fans will enjoy the contest.
“Overall, it’s important for us to recognize that we have fans all over the world,” Zidane said. “For us, it’s enjoyable to play here in the U.S. in front of those fans knowing that they enjoy being able to see their team in person.”
Michigan coaches hang out with Zidane, Real Madrid
For what was perhaps a rarity, Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh was not the most famous coach at Michigan Stadium — a designation perhaps better reserved for Zidane, who heads perhaps the most famous sports team in the world. The two, however, share a similarity in that each had a long and successful career at the professional level before transitioning into coaching. Before Zidane’s press conference, he and Harbaugh posed for photos and exchanged Michigan and Real Madrid jerseys.
But Harbaugh wasn’t the only Michigan coach partaking in the festivities — Michigan soccer coach Chaka Daley was seen as well. Daley interacted with several Real Madrid players in the bowels of the stadium before walking onto the field to observe the team participate in a training session.