Game to watch – Liverpool vs Dortmund
Look, I’ll level with you: It’s not a massive weekend of football. There are two empty weekends between the World Cup final and the Football League season getting underway, and this is one of them. I’ve scratched around for live offerings and have done the best I can.
The quality might be questionable, but you cannot doubt the quantity. Premier Sports might not Sky Sports, but over the next couple of weeks they will bring you around 30 games from the International Champions Cup. Of course it’s friendly football and so lacking in some real oomph, but it’s still live football.
The action starts this weekend, and Sunday night’s offering comes from the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Jurgen Klopp takes on former club Borussia Dortmund.
If plenty of Premier League managers have had their preparations for the new season marred by World Cup fatigue, Klopp will be very happy with life. Joe Gomez, Nathaniel Clyne and Adam Lallana missed out on England’s World Cup squad, while none of Virgil van Dijk, Andrew Robertson, Naby Keita, Fabinho or Georginio Wijnaldum even qualified. That’s a massive bonus.
It also means that Liverpool’s ICC matches should be worth watching as they will both contain a clutch of first-team players and new signings Keita and Fabinho. Add in Rhian Brewster – who is staying – and a smattering of other youngsters, and there is plenty to enjoy even for neutrals. Come on, don’t pretend you aren’t missing football.
Player to watch – Phil Foden
It has been a big week for Foden. Following England’s semi-final World Cup exit, discussion inevitably moved to which young players could fill the obvious holes within Gareth Southgate’s squad. Ryan Sessegnon can be the left-footed answer, Mason Mount might be the goalscoring midfielder, Ademola Lookman can challenge Raheem Sterling and Foden can be the creative midfielder England crave.
But Foden is the odd one out here. Sessegnon has played 78 league games. Mount has played 32 league games. Lookman has played 71 league games. Foden has played five. He is younger than two of those players, but this is a crucially important season for his development. He needs regular minutes, and the signing of Riyad Mahrez doesn’t really help.
With many of Manchester City’s first team absent after World Cup exertions, these are not meaningless friendlies for Foden. Pep Guardiola is all too aware of Foden’s qualities, but playing well in the ICC will undoubtedly push him higher in his manager’s estimation. Disappoint, and it becomes harder to believe that Foden’s development isn’t being hampered.
Manager to watch – Jose Mourinho
You know football is back when Mourinho starts bleating. You may remember Manchester United’s manager remarking last season that he was not the type of person to moan about injuries. You may also be surprised to learn that Mourinho has already bemoaned United’s injuries this summer.
All might not be well in Mourinho’s world. He is wholly aware of the need for a meaningful title challenge – and perhaps even title victory – if he is to reasonably sell his first three seasons in charge as a success, but also insistent that he needs more signings in order to compete with Manchester City. An already-injured full-back and central midfielder who he says is still in need of rest will not do. And still he waits.
Mourinho has also expressed concerns about United’s preseason, saying that he is worried about missing players and how that may hamper the club’s form at the start of the campaign. He took on Club America without Alexis Sanchez, left at home thanks to visa issues.
It is hard to not to source meaning from Mourinho’s mood. When he is happy, his club is happy. When he is griping about various things, it demonstrates that all is not well behind the scenes. His accusation is that the club is not meeting him halfway, which makes every preseason match and press conference worth watching.
Team to watch – England Under-19s
You might not even be aware that the England Under-19 team is currently defending their European Championship crown. UEFA’s farcical decision to hold the tournament in preseason following a World Cup, the time when youth players are most likely to be needed by their clubs, has unsurprisingly resulted in a raft of absentees. Why would you not host it at the same time as the World Cup, or in early June?
Anyway, England won their opening match against Turkey and can virtually secure qualification for the semi-finals with victory over Ukraine on Friday afternoon. In doing so, they would also guarantee entry to the 2019 Under-20 World Cup where they could defend their title.
It will not be easy. Ukraine beat a talented France team 2-1 in their first match, and England’s depleted team will be pushed to its limits. Still, this is the chance to watch England’s next generation. Ben Brereton of Nottingham Forest is the goalscorer, while Sunderland’s Elliot Embleton was excellent in the victory over Turkey. Ten of the squad are aged 17 or 18.
Worldwide game to watch – Hebei China Fortune v Jiangsu Suning
I know it’s optimistic to suggest you watch the Chinese Super League on Sunday lunchtime, but there is some interest here. Hebei China Fortune are likely to be without Javier Mascherano following his World Cup exploits, but they do have Ezequiel Lavezzi up front and Chris Coleman as their manager. Something something Chinese Fortune Cookie Coleman.
Coleman drew his first competitive match in charge 0-0 at Dalian Yifang, a decent result given that they had previously conceded seven in their last four matches. On Sunday they face Jiangsu Suning, a team only five points from the top of the table. Few players are in better form than Alex Teixeira.
Are you convinced yet?