I think I might have gotten into handicapping the International Champions Cup in the wrong year.
My first assignment to cover the exhibition of friendlies came in 2018, a men’s FIFA World Cup year in which the season ended with 32 teams’ worth of elite footballers descending on Russia to decide the biggest title in the Beautiful Game.
After France destroyed Croatia in the World Cup finale, various clubs from the Premier League, La Liga and other organizations sent woeful lineups of reserve players to tour the United States in the ICC “tournament”…which is really just a bunch of friendlies.
“All the superstars of the World Cup, coming to Soldier Field in August!” screamed a story in the Chicago Tribune. Cue the “WRONG” buzzer – there were very, very few stars on the pitch of any stripe.
This season, without a FIFA tourney to distract and wear-out the finest footballers of Europe, we’re seeing a few stronger lineups in the International Champions Cup. I dare to say – egads! – there might even be 1 or 2 storied clubs trying to win the darn thing.
Manchester United is having a good go of it. The Red Devils are 2-0 and ready to pass-up Bayern Munich and Arsenal near the top of the standings with a win against Italian side A.C. Milan in Cardiff on Saturday evening.
That’s Saturday evening *UK* time – the fixture will kick off late on Saturday morning at most time zones in America.
Gambling Lines on Manchester United vs Milan on Saturday
I actually intended to look at the lines from BetOnline – we haven’t given that sportsbook as much love as usual over the last 2 weeks.
But maybe they deserve a little harrumphing. There are no odds on the International Champions Cup at BetOnline or its sister site Sportsbetting.ag – at least none readily apparent. The draw-down menu lists club soccer game lines from dozens of countries around the world, but as an international friendly the ICC doesn’t fit into any of those, and only a couple of matches are listed in the “World” category under “Club Friendlies”…neither of them involving the Red Devils or the Red and Blacks.
So, onward to the web’s other soccer betting sites we go.
Bovada is giving United a short (-140) moneyline to win the fixture in 90+ minutes along with making Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s squad a ½ goal favorite against a (-135) payoff with a cover ATS.
That’s no surprise considering that the Italians have lost twice at the 2019 tournament and have not tallied a goal yet.
Bovada Sportsbook’s Over/Under line for Saturday’s contest is just 2 and ½ goals, but again the market is weirdly “juiced” with a (-140) payoff on Over outcomes and (+110) on the clubs scoring only 2 times or less in 2 halves.
The odds at MyBookie are subtly different but nothing crazy. Bettors can receive a (-120) price on a bet for the teams to score 3 times or more, and Milan is only a (+311) underdog as opposed to (+330) at Bovada. If you want to get scientific, the site’s (-133) payoff on Man United to-cover (- ½) is a token less short than the (-135) price at the other identical ATS line…but not that much of a difference.
Will, there be “that much of a difference” in the outcome of the 3rd match, or will the Premier League side continue to win low-scoring fixtures while the Italian team struggles to score?
Man United’s Stubborn Defending
Good skippers want their lineups to be defense-conscious in summer friendlies, and Solskjær is no exception. The Red Devil manager wants to lay a strong foundation in his maiden full season with United, especially given that the club had a topsy-turvy campaign in 2018-19 that ended with disappointment in the Football Association Cup and the UEFA Champions League.
That’s a big reason why heralded keeper David de Gea is playing in friendlies.
The 28-year-old Spaniard appeared in a win over Tottenham last week, but he had help. Sergio Romero replaced the starting GK just 20 minutes into the match, and youngster Joel Castro Pereira manned the posts throughout the 2nd half.
It’s not necessarily common to see “musical chairs” in goal during a club-friendly. Often, if a team doesn’t want to risk injury or fatigue to its star keeper, a veteran backup will be used for the entirety of both halves. Solskjær’s gambit on Thursday was similar to that of National Football League coaches in exhibition games replacing starting QBs with 2nd string and 3rd string passers while Tom Brady looks on in a baseball cap – the bane of preseason NFL gambling since head coaches of The Shield quit taking August results seriously in the 1970s.
Using a revolving trio of keepers against Spurs also had the effect of keeping United’s backline on its toes.
In any case, it worked – MUFC held Tottenham to just 2 on-target shots despite the presence of attackers like Harry Kane and Dele Alli in the opposing lineup.
Anthony Martial began the game at striker in the Red Devils’ 4-2-3-1 formation and netted the only tally of the 1st frame, and teenage midfielder Angel Gomes scored the winner in the 2nd half of a 2-1 triumph.
I wouldn’t expect Man United’s top defenders like Phil Jones and Victor Lindelof to play the entire match on Saturday, even with Eric Bailly’s unfortunate injury knocking the 25-year-old Ivorian out of action for up to 4 months. However, the club is playing with remarkable cohesion given the number of lineup changes skippers are going-in for as the 2019 friendly schedule winds to a close.
Bailly isn’t the only noteworthy absence from the pitch for the sons of Old Trafford.
Pogba Better Leave MUFC Soon So That Pundits Can Change the Subject
I publish an extra-long header for this section to reflect the long, long, long time it has been since Paul Pogba had a harmonious season, month, week, day, or hour with Manchester United.
It feels like the French midfielder has been in “transfer coming soon!” gossip columns and headlines forever now. There was no doubt that former skipper José Mourinho wasn’t getting the most out of his best players in Manchester, and the vinegar with Pogba overflowed after the athlete starred for France in the World Cup without displaying any kind of similar form for United in late 2018.
With a new coach overseeing the club and improved play from all of the Red Devils – not just Mr. Pogba – I had assumed that the Les Bleus superstar might just settle down and enjoy the next Premiership season.
Nope. That’s pretty far from the scenario as the EPL stands less than 2 weeks away from Matchday 1.
Pogba, who is now being hotly pursued by Real Madrid in the transfer market, is doubtful for Saturday’s friendly against A.C. Milan. The official explanation is a “back issue,” but call me crazy for saying the development won’t lead to more speculation and rumors as the Frenchman sits out.
If it was any other key player for either side, I’d say that a lingering transfer negotiation could distract a club from making its best effort at winning the match. However, Pogba has been a tabloid-magnet for so long and has been known to be unhappy at Old Trafford for so long that it would be hard to imagine some of the Red Devils not feeling relief at his absence and potential farewell to United.
MUFC can replace a star footballer with its ample funds and name-brand prestige – let Paul Pogba go and let some other team worry about his state of mind and willingness to go along.
On Saturday, the key to the outcome won’t have anything to do with players not on the pitch, since United is clearly in the best overall form of the warring sides.
Instead, it could come down to exactly how much resistance the Italian club can provide MUFC for 90 minutes and added time.
A.C. is Cool Enough, But the Scoring is Icy
It’s not that there’s a lack of attacking talent in the organization. Striker André Silva is in the perfect mold of a player you want to gamble on in friendlies, in his mid-20s and possessing energy-to-burn after scoring 9 goals in 27 La Liga appearances last season. Spain National Team forward Suso has prospered in Serie A and is also at the right age for maximum friendly/exhibition success.
But ACM manager Marco Giampaolo is being a lot more cautious in his lineup choices for the International Champions Cup than his counterpart at Man United. Neither aforementioned player saw the pitch at all as the club lost to Bayern Munich 1-0 on Matchday 1 of the competition.
Suso played the entire way as a 4-3-1-2 midfielder in the follow-up friendly against Benfica in New England on Sunday, but a discombobulated forward line ran offsides 7 times as the team was shut-out with a clean sheet again after possessing the ball for almost 60% of the match.
In a tactic similar to the musical-keepers of Man United, Giampaolo started 20-year-old sensation Gigi Donnarumma between the posts but removed him later.
Milan’s backline is obviously elite and playing at a high level no matter what the circumstances – you don’t nearly hold Bavarians off the scoreboard if that isn’t the case.
However it appears that the Italian side and the English team have something in common right now – the defenders are in better form than the attackers.
Harry Kane’s epic goal in Singapore is the exception to the rule for a friendly season in which most goals are methodical or scored by young attackers against youthful backlines.
Best Bet Recommendation on Saturday’s ICC Match
The Under, the Under, the Under!
Either skipper would love to see an explosion of offense from his side on Saturday. But they know to take a cold shower on any missed opportunities. Goals will come later whether the legendary clubs push for them this weekend or not – which means “later” is the operative word.
MUFC (and especially Milan) appears to be saving best attacking form for when it really counts – and yet the defenders are in lock-step with each other on more plays than not.
We won’t see Pogba on the pitch even if a genie pops up and declares the victor worthy of 3 wishes. We’ll see quality defending and clearance from both sides…and less than 3 goals.