For each of the last three summers American fans of European soccer have welcomed the International Champions Cup and the opportunity that it has brought for them to see their favorite European clubs and stars in person. Wednesday night, fans of Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain will have a chance to see the clubs as they face off at Soldier Field in Chicago, with both teams near the top of this year’s ICC table. Though the trophy is not the priority for either of these teams in this preseason friendly tournament, both teams have been playing well and will want to continue building momentum heading into the start of their league campaigns.
Perhaps the biggest storyline of the matchup takes place away from the field, where Manchester United’s Angel Di Maria is rumored to be on the verge of being sold to PSG. Just a year after becoming United’s record signing, Di Maria looks set to leave old Trafford, with all signs pointing towards PSG as the destination. While nothing is finalized as of the writing of this article, Di Maria’s transfer saga has been a blight on an otherwise positive summer of moves for United, which has seen them add the likes of Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin, and Matteo Darmian.
Despite all the off field drama of the Di Maria transfer, a game will take place on Wednesday evening, and it will give both clubs and their fans another chance to get prepared for the league season and see which young players might be ready to step into the first team this year.
Going into Wednesday’s matchup, here’s what to watch in Manchester United vs PSG.
1. The Youth
Preseason friendlies are an opportunity for young players to stake their claim to a chance at first team minutes. Both United and PSG have used the ICC as a chance to give the kids some minutes, and a few have shone in the spotlight. The question is how many young players will feature in a game between two European giants. PSG played a mixture of youth and first team players against Fiorentina and Benfica, but played a mostly first team lineup against Chelsea. United have done similar, lining up their stars against Barcelona and mixing things up against Club America and the San Jose Earthquakes.
For PSG, 18 year old attacker Jean-Kevin Augustin has been the highlight of the ICC so far, with three goals in three appearances. Augustin signed his first professional contract with PSG last winter and has exploded onto the scene, including being one of the top performers in the Chelsea match.
For United, Jesse Lingard and Adnan Januzaj have provided the excitement, with both scoring in the win over Barcelona. These young talents have been near the first team for a while now, but neither has been able to break in as a regular.
2. United’s defense
The backline for Manchester United has been a topic of constant speculation this preseason. Matteo Darmian was brought in to help solidify the defense, but has been given no assurances of a starting role and will have to earn minutes ahead of Antonio Valencia. Louis van Gaal has started the back four of Darmian, Phil Jones, Daley Blind, and Luke Shaw in each game so far. Is that a sign that it’s his prefered back four? He’s indicated Valencia may start at right back once he is healthy, but maybe that’s just a mind game to motivate Darmian. Is van Gaal really going to go with Blind as his first choice center back, or is he a placeholder for an incoming transfer target? So many questions remain.
3. Who besides Zlatan Ibrahimovic will score for PSG?
One of PSG’s biggest problems in recent years has been an over-reliance on Zlatan Ibrahimovic. In the biggest games, when it matters most, the Paris team has fallen short because they’ve had nobody else able to step up and carry the load. This is one reason that they’ve been unable to achieve greater Champions League success. As this preseason has gone on, that question has not really been answered. After scoring four against Fiorentina and three against Benfica, PSG could only manage a single goal against Chelsea, and it was scored by, you guessed it, Zlatan. Zlatan is a great player but he needs help if PSG are going to do more than win Ligue 1 and make the Champions League quarterfinals.