Ashley Young has been in unusually talkative mood here in America, indicative perhaps of increased form and confidence.
It was on Twitter in the early hours of Sunday morning, though, that the Manchester United winger hit the most pertinent note when he described tonight’s meeting with Liverpool in Miami as a ‘friendly’.
The quotation marks said everything about the way both teams will approach the International Champions Cup final in Florida. A friendly it is not.
When these two clubs meet it is never anything other than deadly serious and as such the game represents the start of the competitive English club season. Forget Sunday’s Community Shield at Wembley, it is here in America that the first markers of the season will be made. Both United and Liverpool have things to prove this season and it begins tonight.
Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore — architect of the doomed plan to play a 39th Premier League game abroad every season — will perhaps close his eyes and wonder about what might have been. For the two teams involved though, the motivation will be rather more traditional, certainly more fundamental.
United midfielder Darren Fletcher said: ‘It’s Man United versus Liverpool. I know it’s only pre-season and it’s just a summer competition, but when United play Liverpool, it is always a big deal. We want to win every match and it is no different when we play Liverpool. The main thing is winning games and getting that mentality back.’
United have more bad memories of last season than they know what to do with. A 3-0 home defeat to Liverpool in March stands out as one of the low points and a sea change in terms of the power balance between two great clubs.
Since then, though, United have hired a successful World Cup manager and have breezed through pre-season games against LA Galaxy, AS Roma, Inter Milan. They saw off Real Madrid 3-1 on Saturday in front of 109,318 spectators at the Michigan Stadium, with Young scoring two and Javier Hernandez adding the third.
Liverpool have also enjoyed an encouraging pre-season and booked their place in tonight’s final with a 2-0 win over AC Milan in Charlotte with goals from Joe Allen and Suso, although the game was notable for Rickie Lambert missing a penalty — having scored his 34 previous spot-kicks with Southampton.
The game throws up an intriguing clash between the two managers as Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers comes face to face with United’s new boss Louis van Gaal — the man he stopped from becoming a director of football at Anfield two years ago. Van Gaal had talks over a sporting-director role when Liverpool were looking for a new boss but when Rodgers was approached he insisted he would not work with someone in that position.
When asked about whether it would add spice to the game, Rodgers insisted: ‘It was obviously something before I came in and I was always going to work with a team of people rather than a director of football.
‘It will be a great game because both teams will want to win. You will have two committed teams who are at the stage in pre-season where they are starting to step up a bit.’
Liverpool will find a United team highly motivated and confident enough to suggest that a journey from seventh to first in the space of one season may not be beyond them. Fletcher said: ‘I don’t think it’s too much to expect to make the leap back up the table, We will be going out to win the league. Hopefully, we can make amends for what happened last season. We have beaten Real Madrid, the European champions, and we now want to go on and beat Liverpool. That is the sort of thing that gives the squad confidence.’
Liverpool’s failure to close out last season’s title provided United followers with some comfort in their year of austerity. Captain Steven Gerrard may be reminded of his part in that failure by rival fans in Miami tonight, but he will be comforted by the 20-point margin that separated the two teams last May.
Fast forward three months and we are ready to go again. Different competition, different country. Same old rules. – Daily Mail