A total of 80,162 fans descended on FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland to witness Barcelona take on Manchester United in the International Champions Cup. As expected, both teams had thousands of supporters show up to cheer them on, and the lineups at kickoff did not disappoint. Ernesto Valverde deployed Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar in their familiar trident, while José Mourinho opted to start Romelu Lukaku, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford in an unconventional 4–4–2.
Unsurprisingly, much of the chatter around in the parking lot tailgates ahead of kickoff were centered around transfer speculation. Neymar’s ‘imminent’ move to Paris Saint-Germain was eagerly discussed, while United fans assured me they’d have ‘at least one or two’ more signings arriving before August 31. There was also an extremely committed Liverpool fan who proudly carried a sign warning Barcelona that, “Coutinho was not for sale,” as “Liverpool are not a selling club.”
With the exception of the Liverpool fan, more than 80,000 supporters definitely got their money’s worth during the first 45 minutes alone. Paul Pogba came close to breaking the deadlock for United, while Neymar and Messi linked up early and often with the latter hitting the base of the post after a sweeping move. Suárez was next to test De Gea, who had to be at the ready to stop the Uruguayan’s inventive overhead kick.
It was Neymar who broke the deadlock, capitalizing on United’s defensive blunder to side-foot home for the decisive goal of the game. As has become typical, the Barcelona press contingent cheered loudly, clapping and patting each other on the back as if trying to emulate the Blaugrana fans who were thoroughly enjoying themselves. Not to be outdone, the Manchester supporters were soon cheering in full voice, willing their side to equalize.
The immense support was not lost on José Mourinho, who hit the nail on the head when describing the ultimate objective of the International Champions Cup. “For the crowd, the performance was good. I think in preseason it’s important also to play for that. When you come to the United States and you have a stadium with thousands of very enthusiastic fans, this is what they want. They want Messi, they want Neymar, they want Pogba — for the best players to show what they are — and I think it happened.”
Valverde’s assessment of the match was a bit different, and it seemed his mind was on other matters, namely El Clasico Miami this coming weekend, where his side will face Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid. “It’s normal in these games to have a lot of substitutions. Things need to be regulated and we don’t want to have any injuries. But against Real Madrid it’s possible that some players will get more game time [than others].”
For Mourinho and United, the International Champions Cup has offered them a great opportunity to judge their level heading into the season. Despite winning two cups in 2016–17, they finished outside of the Champions League places during what could be considered a rebuilding year for the team. “For us to play against both Real Madrid and Barcelona without any kind of pressure, without worrying about a result, to play the best we can, was very good for us. Both of them played us with their best team. It’s very good for us to measure ourselves against them,” the Portuguese tactician asserted.
Valverde went so far as to suggest that, based on what he’d seen, the Red Devils are primed for a successful season. “I see United as a really difficult team. [Last season] wasn’t their best, but they won the Europa League and they’ll be a really hard team to beat [in Champions League]. For me, they’re a contender to win the Champions League and I would imagine they will challenge for the Premier League title.”
Walking out of FedEx Field, it was apparent that the mission of the International Champions Cup had been accomplished as both Manchester United and Barcelona fans left the venue with smiles on their faces. It’s not often that one calls a 1–0 result a fantastic advertisement for the competition in which it’s played, but for Wednesday night’s match we can surely make an exception.