Purely Subjective Reaction to International Champions Cup Draw
Class of 2014
2nd Annual International Champions Cup
Considering almost half a million fans showed up to the inaugural installment of the International Champions Cup (or ICC) it is advisable that this talent-rich mini-tourney can improve upon last season's results.
Here we will give a general overview of each squad's primary strengths and weaknesses and offer at least minor insight to which team or teams will be most successful. As with any major soccer tournament, the unexpected should be expected; these concise previews should allow even the casual soccer fan a platform for basing their own opinions and predictions. Before getting too involved you should be made aware of a statistics-based football website known as Whoscored.com. Most, if not all, statistics listed below are borrowed from their fantastic website that is a must for any football fan.
In the name of fun, let us begin.
Like last season, this season's tournament will be replete with the heavyweights of European club football. Unlike last season, this tournament will feature eight rather than seven European clubs (sorry, Galaxy).
From England we will be watching Liverpool, Manchester City, and Manchester United.
Italy will also send three clubs: AC Milan, AS Roma, and Inter Milan.
Greece and Spain will send one club each, Olympiakos and Real Madrid, respectively.
The casual sports fan will likely recognize most of these. Heck, even a fan completely oblivious to sports will likely have heard of at least a club or two considering they perennially show up on Forbes' Most Valuable Franchises list.
Returning from last season are AC Milan, Inter Milan, and Real Madrid, with whom we will begin this subjective overview.
Real Madrid - It has become near sacrilege to mention even the holy name of Real Madrid without first mentioning the football Hercules himself, Cristiano Ronaldo. His accolades speak for themselves and there are really no words that can describe the beauty of his playing style. When it comes to international soccer there is not a more perfect example of the perfect player. But what do Real Madrid have besides the headaches Ronaldo can create? At the time of writing, Real Madrid are tied for second position in an exceptionally top-heavy Spanish La Liga. They lead La Liga in shots per game (19.6), shots on-target per game (8.1), and aerial duels won (59.3%). They are second only to Barcelona in passing accuracy (86%) and are third in overall possession (59.6%). By reading these stats alone you can probably guess that Real Madrid are heavily attack-minded and shoot often and accurately. Aside from Ronaldo, the supporting cast list is vast and only limited by FIFA regulations. Sharing the midfield with Ronaldo are numerous other weapons primarily lead by Gareth Bale, Isco, Luka Modric, and Xabi Alonso. Bale and Isco play a more forward role while Modric and Alonso do most of the legwork and possession-creation. The backline is typically manned by Marcelo, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, and Daniel Carvajal, the most dynamic of the group being Marcelo who is an avid attacker and provides pace behind Ronaldo. The primary weakness of the group is what tends to hamper all attack-minded teams: transitions. Like Bayern Munich, Real Madrid occasionally get caught with too many attackers on the opponents half of the field, leaving a vulnerable backline. In La Liga this vulnerability largely goes unnoticed but against the better defensive or quick-break teams it could lead to players being out of place and ultimately to goals.
Olympiakos - The only Greek squad to play in the tournament will probably be seen as the tournament's outcast. They typically dominate the Super League and rarely have competition for the top spot, although there are usually a couple nice squads further down the table. At the time of writing, Olympiakos are dominating once again. They are comfortably in first position by 14 points and have yet to lose a match in league play this season (they have only drawn twice). The two top scorers in the Super League belong to Olympiakos who have a total of three in the top 10 goal scorers. The fantastic Greek International player, Kostas Mitroglou, heads the attacking with 16 goals (13 Super League, 3 UEFA Champions League). Defensively the squad has allowed only 7 goals in 22 games played while netting 63 of their own. Unfortunately for Olympiakos, their domestic league does not carry the talent or class of the larger European leagues. They are at a natural disadvantage for they only run across the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ronaldo, Neymar, or Lionel Messi in the Champions League tournament and not in everyday league play. In this regard, with the level of opposition decidedly inferior, it could lead to early misfortune in the ICC depending upon draws.
AC Milan - Strangely, Milan has not played their best football these last couple seasons. In both, Milan have begun the season in poor form and hovered around mid-table. Big name signing such as Ibrahimovic and Mario Balotelli have not helped the Rossoneri reach the pinnacle of Serie A. To their credit, they do have a knack for performing well on the biggest stages. This season they finished in second position in a formidable Champions League group and even held Barcelona to a 1-1 draw. Similarly, in 2013 they also finished in second position in another fairly talented group. Although far from greatness, they could easily advance into the second round of matches based on experience alone. Starting slowly, Milan have improved form in Serie A as of late, only losing twice in their last 11 matches, compared to five in their first 11. The aforementioned Balotelli, although a diva in his own right, is the backbone of the Milan attack. He has collected 9 goals and 3 assists in only 15 appearances this campaign. Beyond Balotelli, scoring is at a premium and the next highest goal-scorers are spread between the aging Kaka and Robinho who are shadows of their former selves. The squad in general are older with their other talents in Philippe Mexes and Nigel de Jong both hovering around 30 years of age. Overall Serie A seems to be performing better than normal with Juventus, Roma and Napoli all poised to make a run at qualifying for the Champions League while Fiorentina, Parma, and Torino are coming on strong. Although not their normal selves, Milan have the experience and talent to catch lightning in a bottle and can go on a healthy scoring tear. At the same time it can be argued that no team is poised to fail more and in embarrassing, arrogant fashion.
AS Roma - Outside of an eight-game stretch in which it only won two games, Roma have been the surprise of Seria A. Although they have been overtaken by Juventus - which is an inevitablity in any season - they have rediscovered their form and have reignited their success. The key to their success has been defense. Roma have conceded only 11 goals through 21 league matches (which leads Serie A) and are conceding only 9.9 shots per game, second only to Juventus. They lead in passing accuracy (86.8%), are second in posession (59.3), and third in shots per game (16.4) while also ranking second in shots on-target per game (6.1). Roma have scored 19 of their goals from open play and an incredible 12 from set pieces. They are capable at spreading the ball around and work well as a unit which is proven by the fact that six players have netted 5 or more goals. Accurate passing from midfielders like Kevin Strootman, Gervinho, and Miralem Pjanic help aid in this unselfish attack. By dominating the midfield with excellent passing Roma have a lower susceptibility to counter attacks, which matches up well with teams who play high, quick strikers. As with many Italian squads, Roma are no exception to the rule of consistent defense, accurate, creative passing, and keen shots on goal. Of the Italian teams in the tournament they posess the most balance and level-headedness and are primed to succeed.
Inter Milan - Struggling once again to achieve greater results, Inter, like AC Milan, have been straining to rise beyond fifth position in Serie A. Although five losses are not exactly a cause for concern, 9 draws are shameful to say the least, considering many of the draws are against clubs in bottom table purgatory. They have collected only two points in their last five matches and if the ICC began today, this would likely be the team finishing at the bottom of the group. However, there are some bright spots worth mentioning, one of which is Ricardo Alvarez. Alvarez is key in Inter’s attack and has contributed four goals along with seven assists, which is tied for the Serie A lead. Also worth mentioning is the play of an aging Rodrigo Palacio who has netted 10 goals of his own. Solidifying the backline are the likes of Juan Jesus (4.3 tackles per game) and Hugo Campagnaro (3.4 interceptions per game). Like AC Milan, Inter have no identity this season. They have talent along the backline and toward the front but seem to have a hiccup somewhere in between. Shaky passing leads to fewer shots on goal than the premier teams of Serie A and pace is a concern as they have scored only one goal on the counter attack. Also like AC Milan, Inter have fallen back in the group as the league around them has improved its quality of play. *Here is some interesting trivia to offer your friends: Of the 26 Inter players who have entered a match this season, only two hail from Italy.
Liverpool - Enjoying arguably its most impressive season of the past 10 years, Liverpool have been able to keep failure at a minimum while displaying one of the best attacking displays in all of football. They are led by the brilliant yet childish Luis Suarez who is enjoying the best form of his career. In only 19 matches he leads all of football with 23 league goals at the time of writing and has also contributed seven assists. Impressive yet distant behind Suarez in goals is the always in-form Daniel Sturridge who has netted 14 of his own and was paramount to have while Suarez served his suspension. The Suarez-Sturridge combo is aided by a plethora of midfield weapons stapled together by Steven Gerrard and future superstar Philippe Coutinho. Liverpool are solidified by a nice backline made up of rare depth headed by Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho, Daniel Agger and Kolo Toure. However, Liverpool still have not been able to show dominance against the elite teams of Barclay’s Premier League, having lost to Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City, and Chelsea. Liverpool, like most teams, do struggle against faster midfields and dominant strikers. One more note to make is about the Liverpool goalkeeper, Simon Mignolet. Although having a mildly down year on his new stage, Mignolet is a force to be reckoned with for years to come and should prove to be a buy of quality on par with Suarez. Outside of Petr Cech, he is likely the most sound keeper in the Premier League. Overall they are very dangerous especially in attacking mode and should fair well in the tournament. Even with their weaknesses Liverpool can compete with any team in Europe as long as Suarez can stay upright.
Manchester City - Minus their recent match against Chelsea, it will be difficult to find a team with better home advantage than City. However, traveling outside of the Etihad turns this lion into a kitten faster than you can say “sloppy goalkeeping.” Another flaw that could eventual prove fatal for City is how they play in the absence of star striker Sergio Aguero. Second only to Suarez in scoring, Aguero is a full level above the rest of the EPL strikers. He has scored 15 goals and offered 5 assists in only 15 matches played. When healthy, Aguero singlehandedly makes City an elite team. But City are not a one-horse team. Every position has quality at the height of its prime and for the best example one should look no further than Yaya Toure. Yaya is known for taking over midfield with accurate short and long passing, tackling, dribbling and anything else you can imagine. This season he has even contributed 12 goals of his own which is one reason why City lead the EPL in goals scored (68). Paired with the increasingly dangerous Fernandinho, City offer the most profitable defensive midfield in England. Between Aguero and the defensive mids come even more quality in assist-machine David Silva, Jesus Navas, Samir Nasri, and occasionally Edin Dzeko. The group as a whole control the tempo of the game, win the ball, keep possession, and work quickly to move the ball forward onto Aguero’s foot. The backline is formidable in its own right but his anchored by the Belgian Vincent Kompany. Kompany displays an unmatched intensity and love of the game and although he can lose his cool he is one of the most physically dominant centerbacks in the world. On paper one would be hard pressed to find a more quality club which are expected to win each match by large margins and even harder pressed to find a club who so routinely do.
Manchester United - There is not a more enigmatic club in England than United are this year. The first since the departure of long-tenured manager Alex Ferguson, United are going through some growing pains under new manager David Moyes. Moyes has been given talented players but has not yet found a niche in which they can be consistently effective. But, what United lack in consistency they make up for in experience and quality on a man-by-man level. They display one of the most effective attacking duos in Wayne Rooney (nine goals, 9 assists) and Robin van Persie (nine goals in 12 matches), and have recently added a new element of Juan Mata which should pay dividends in the very near future. United also feature unpolished, but very promising young midfielders and attackers such as Danny Welback and Adnan Januzaj. The backline is consistent and experience…well, very experienced, to the point that age is beginning to catch up with the squad that could use a talent face lift anyway. United have also been slightly stung by the injury bug with van Persie and Marouane Fellaini spending time away from the club. Also lacking in cohesiveness, United still keep a very deep bench and are usually a threat even late in games. By the time the tournament nears the club could easily have turned it around and are playing up to expectations, but for now it is a difficult club to assign high odds of winning.
In closing, football is a typically unpredictable game and the tournament is still some months away so anything can happen. It’s even possible that one or more of these clubs cannot participate due to their possible involvements in other tournaments.
But for now we are judging them subjectively and in their current conditions. At the moment Real Madrid are poised to repeat as they are the most talented team in the tournament. Below you will find the "Gut Reaction" prediction.
- Real Madrid
- Manchester City
- AS Roma
- Manchester United
- Inter Milan
- AC Milan