International Champions Cup United States

Barcelona head the field as International Champions Cup kicks off the season

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It began with a Marquinhos goal for PSG, against Roma, in Detroit’s Comerica Park. And it ended with Roma too, as Douglas Costa smashed home the decisive penalty kick for Juventus, in Gillette Stadium.

In between, the 2017 International Champions Cup saw eight of Europe’s elite teams crisscrossing the USA, delighting crowds, and, not for nothing, putting down some markers for how this year’s top domestic and European competitions are going to play out.

They say keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. Well this year’s ICC was about showcasing some of the most intimately felt rivalries in world football, and the outcome of the competition itself hinged on perhaps the most iconic rivalry in the game.

Barcelona claimed the International Champions Cup by beating Real Madrid 3-2 in Miami, in the first El Clasico to take place outside of Spain in 32 years.

It capped a strong first tournament for new head coach Ernesto Valverde, as his team saw off Manchester United 1-0 at Fedex Field, and Juventus 2-1 in front of over 80,000 fans at MetLife Stadium, for the tournament’s only 100% record.

As for Real Madrid, they were feeling the heat of being the target for the rest of Europe. With three Champions League wins in the last four years, they are the team to beat, and with the loss to Barcelona in Miami, Manchester United getting past them on penalties at Levis Stadium, and an ebullient Manchester City putting four goals past them in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, coach Zinedine Zidane has been given plenty to think about, as he ponders how to see off this year’s chasing pack.

Both Manchester teams will be prominently placed in that pack. City’s summer spending under Pep Guardiola has already threatened to eclipse the spending record Real Madrid set in 2009, and some of that new talent was on display in this year’s ICC, as were new Manchester United signings Romelu Lukaku and Victor Lindelof.

Lukaku in particular made a big impression when the two teams met in the Manchester derby in Houston — scoring the first goal in a 2-0 victory for the Reds.

The two Manchester teams may be the sides to beat in the Premier League this year, but let’s not forget that both finished behind Tottenham last season, and Mauricio Pocchetino’s team have no intention of giving up hard won ground.

Spurs were one of the most entertaining teams in this year’s tournament — their high energy style and commitment to attack saw them sweep past PSG 4-2 in their opener in Orlando, push Roma all the way with a late comeback in a thrilling 3-2 loss at New York’s Red Bull Arena, before finally coming up against a reality check in Nashville, as Manchester City scored three unanswered goals.

Still, regardless of the scores, this was a tournament to study rivals, and get first looks at how new faces are integrating. On that note Manchester City may have been aggressive in the market, but no elite team stays that way by standing still, and no top team becomes elite without adding proven personnel.

On that note a big storyline running through the tournament was the possibility of Barcelona’s Neymar making a world record move to PSG — the Paris team collapsed in dramatic fashion against a Neymar-inspired Barcelona in last year’s Champions League and are impatient to take the next step. Losses to Tottenham, Juventus and a narrow penalty win over Roma suggest that the sometime ICC specialists (they have won this tournament twice) still have work to do this summer.

But time is running out to do that work before the season officially starts. As Roma and Juve played out that final game to a 1-1 finish, decided on penalties, it was with the air of two teams who know that the domestic season is right upon them, and that the team across the field from them was likely to be their principal domestic rivals.

Of course you could say the same during the Clasico in Miami and the Manchester derby in Houston. If there was ever a time that teams could surprise each other on opening day, it’s long past. Top teams are known quantities these days, from the opening kick. And the ICC is where we get to know them.