Preseason continues for Barcelona, as the Blaugrana play their last match in the International Champions Cup at the spectacular and historic Wembley Stadium against Liverpool. After two comfortable wins over Celtic and Leicester City, the Catalans hope to continue their preparation with another good test against a top Premier League side.
This has been a great preseason for the best team in the world. Luis Enrique had a lot of his first team players with him from the start, and he also counted on very good contributions from the youth academy to have a strong training camp, and two very impressive performances in the first couple of preseason matches. While results don't matter in July and August and you are looking for fitness, the two victories from the past week confirmed Barça's status as a dominant force in European football.
Without a major tour in the United States or China, Enrique has time to actually train with his men, establish his philosophy even more and integrate the new signings as they slowly join the side. Year 3 of the Lucho Era is shaping up to be a good one, and the first month of preseason is a great indicator of what's to come. Again, not because of results, but because of the process. Process over results, always, but especially right now.
Liverpool presents a bigger challenge for the Blaugranes. It's a better team than Celtic and Leicester, and Jürgen Klopp is a much brighter tactician and coach. This weekend is the final dress rehearsal for Klopp before Liverpool's debut in the Premier League, which means he and his men will take the game very seriously. Wembley Stadium is a sensational stage, many stars will be in action, and we should be in for a great match.
Apart from the Olympians (Neymar and Rafinha) and the two new signings that played in the EURO 2016 Final (Umtiti and André Gomes), the entire first team was available in training after the Leicester game. Even Lucas Digne, who was only supposed to join the side next week, cut his vacation short to begin his Barça career early. It's a great sign of how commited the young Frenchman is to learn the style and show his talents, and he might even get a chance to play at Wembley being named in the 23-man squad that will travel to London.
Iniesta and Rakitic are also back in training, and the two undisputed starters might have some midfield competition this season. Denis Suárez has impressed in the two friendlies, Arda Turan looks more comfortable with every new game, André Gomes is coming and Sergi Roberto can play everywhere. Not only does that show just how deep the squad is this season, but also forces Andrés and Ivan to play their absolute best football all the time, which only makes things better for the team.
Many Barça B kids have been sent down, but three of them remain with the side until Gomes and Umtiti join: Juan Cámara, who was great at left-back, Rafael Mújica, who scored his first goal with the big boys on Wednesday, and Jesús Alfaro, who can play in the middle or the wings. Preseason sensation Marlon Santos would be in the squad, but he had to travel to Brazil to finish his visa process.
Starting lineups are impossible to predict at this point, but Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez will certainly play from the first whistle. For Suárez, it's an emotional moment as the Uruguayan faces the Reds for the first team since leaving the club two years ago. Hopefully he's not overwhelmed with emotion and scores some goals for his current team.
After a season of transition last term, Jürgen Klopp was able to have a full preseason with a side he picked. Plenty of signings were made, a few players were sold and could still be gone, and Klopp seems to have a team he likes and that suits his style a little better. Georgio Wijnaldum and Sadio Mané are the summer's biggest signings, and there are more interesting additions to the side.
This is a busy weekend for Klopp, as Liverpool face Barça and Mainz 05 in two days. The Reds will not play with their full first team in either game and there will be plenty of substitutions to preserve fitness, but Liverpool will still be a strong and tough team to play against.
This is a much tougher game than the first two, but the first half Barça team is fitter and will probably do the job to secure the result again. I'll go with a 3-2 nail-biter.