Real Madrid play their first friendly of the pre-season tonight, taking on Mourinho’s Manchester United in Santa Clara. The game is part of the International Champions Cup tournament, a kind of American version of our Carranza tournament which is played over two or three continents; it keeps us entertained in the summer months and with progressively less under-handedness, continues to popularize the conspiracy of a future European super league. Every year since it started in 2013, it has been bringing together the best teams from the best leagues. Barça played Juventus last night, and a few hours before that game, Bayern Munich took on AC Milan - that match being played in China. And just a few days ago Mourinho’s United and Guardiola’s City took part in the first Manchester derby to be played on foreign soil. So you can see the calibre of club we are talking about.
Notable absentees in California
At this stage of the pre-season, none of the teams are near full strength or in peak form. Madrid’s Under-21 internationals have only just joined up with the squad and Cristiano is still on leave - presumably not as angry now; Sergio Ramos who only returned quite recently, is still not fit to play and will likely be rested . We still don’t know if there will be more new signings (Mbappé maybe?) or players moving on, although those who were expected to depart already have: Danilo, Pepe, Coentrão, James, Mariano and Morata – half of Zidane’s second string who contributed to the team winning the league. Despite all of that, Madrid are still left with a very recognizable team and a very good one at that. I presume the idea is to gradually incorporate the youth team players into the first team as time goes by.
United were keen to sign James and Morata, who ended up at Bayern and Chelsea, respectively. That doesn’t surprise me. Madrid and United will face each other again this summer - in Macedonia, to contest the UEFA Super Cup, and it would have been too risky to allow the possibility of the game being decided by a James pass, turned in by Morata for a United victory. Tonight, Madrid’s back four will be trying to contain Lukaku, who has had a great start with his new club, and Marcus Rashford, a star in the making. It’s not the first time that Madrid have crossed paths with Mourinho since he left the club. They met in the first edition of this tournament in 2013. On that occasion, Cristiano got even with Mourinho. It’s a real shame that he won’t be involved tonight.