Football News

Seven things you might have missed from pre-season club friendlies

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 19:00, 23 July 2023

It’s not long to go before every major European league kicks off meaning another fascinating season of high-level football awaits.

While qualification for the Champions League, Europa League and Conference League group phases are underway teams have already started preparations for their forthcoming campaigns.

Seeing there are friendlies being played on multiple continents, it’s only natural if you miss an important or memorable event. But don’t worry – Squawka is here, with seven things you might have missed.

Heated reunion in the Algarve

Angel Di Maria is part of a select group to have played with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably modern football’s greatest players, while he shared World Cup success with the former he played 166 times alongside Ronaldo at Real Madrid where they combined for 28 goals.

Both had since gone their separate ways, but recently found themselves reunited when Benfica took on Al-Nassr in southern Portugal, this showdown came days after Di Maria re-joined the Eagles where he truly made his name.

There was even a moment when both clashed. Ronaldo, after Di Maria bamboozled him with a piece of skill, fouled the Argentine which pretty much summed up his frustrating outing.

After some choice words about the strength of the Saudi Pro League (and how it will overtake Portugal’s own Primera Liga), the five-time Ballon d’Or recipient was made to eat some humble pie as Benfica ran out 4-1 winners. Ronaldo didn’t find the net but Di Maria sure did.

Goncalo Ramos would register a brace while Andreas Schjelderup rounded off Benfica’s scoring. Khalid Al-Ghannam netted Al Nassr’s consolation goal.

Goal-crazy Bayern

Reports of Harry Kane joining Bayern Munich continues to heat up. England’s record goalscorer enters the final year of his present Tottenham contract and there’s suggestion all options are on the table. Bayern’s interest seems logical with them still looking for a proper Robert Lewandowski replacement. There are very few who can fill the Pole’s shoes and Kane is among that shortlist.

Despite winning last season’s Bundesliga, albeit on the final day in dramatic circumstances, while registering a league-high 92 goals Kane nevertheless offers them a focal point, especially in the deeper end of a Champions League campaign, but it’s also fair to ask if they really need him.

Bayern are still ruthless as anyone we saw that in their first pre-season game this summer when they ran out 27-0 winners over ninth-tier Rottach-Egern (it was 18-0 at half-time). Jamal Musiala, Mathys Tel and Marcel Sabitzer all scored five goals each, while Serge Gnabry netted a hat-trick.

The not-so-friendly friendly

A record crowd for a ‘soccer’ game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey saw Premier League rivals Arsenal and Manchester United lock horns with any notion of this being a pre-season friendly thrown out of the window.

Erik ten Hag’s men ran out 2-0 winners — Bruno Fernandes and Jadon Sancho getting on the scoresheet — before winning a penalty shootout contest (5-3).

However, temperatures were raised following a late challenge by United’s combative Argentine centre-back on Gunners wide-man Bukayo Saka which immediately led to Martin Odegaard squaring up to Martinez — who ended up in the referee’s book — amid a sea of red and green shirts.

The game saw two other yellow cards, with Harry Maguire booked for Man Utd and Gabriel Jesus also picking up a caution.

2-0 is a dangerous lead

After reaching the mountain top it can be hard to be motivated to go again. A key reason behind Manchester United’s continual success under Sir Alex Ferguson was their manager’s willingness to refresh his squad every other 2-3 years. This meant players who played a pivotal role in their championship wins being moved out the door allowing the hunger to remain while cutting off any danger of complacency sneaking in.

Pep Guardiola has that same mindset, the Spaniard rarely stands in anyone’s way if they’ve made the decision to leave for pastures new, this summer European treble winners Manchester City have said goodbye to İlkay Gündoğan with Kyle Walker and Riyad Mahrez expected to leave. City’s squad, though, remains strong with Mateo Kovačić considered to be a smart acquisition. Erling Haaland remains and he was at it again in Japan’s capital as Man City came from two goals down against Yokohama F. Marinos to seal a 5-3 win.

Guardiola, who conceded his team can improve “many things”, warned rivals Haaland was “fitter” than last season after bagging a brace in the friendly. “Compared to last season he is fitter,” Guardiola added. “He is much better than last season when he arrived. “We would love him to be like last season. He is not injured, which is good, but he is still away from it like everyone. He knows what he has to do, we know him and in a few weeks he will be in better condition than he is now.”

Brazilian forward Anderson Lopes put Yokohama ahead before Japanese defender Ken Matsubara quickly doubled their lead. City were back level before half-time following two goals in two minutes from John Stones and Julian Alvarez. Haaland netted just seven minutes after being introduced at the break, and he rounded off the comeback with a back-post tap-in from a Joao Cancelo cross in stoppage time.

BVB survive another scare

The events of last season’s final day remain in the memory of Borussia Dortmund and their supporters, but they’re moving on. So far this summer they’ve seen Mahmoud Dahoud, Raphaël Guerreiro and Jude Bellingham depart with Ramy Bensebaini and the controversial Felix Nmecha arriving.

Edin Terzić’s side will no doubt be among those looking to knock Bayern off their perch, however, it’s fair to say their pre-season hasn’t gone smoothly, there was a 3-2 win over fourth-tier Rot-Weiß Oberhausen with Dortmund’s winner coming in the 90th minute through Samuel Bamba.

That outing was followed by a narrow 2-1 success over FC Rot-Weiß Erfurt, again BVB found themselves behind and needed another late comeback, with Thorgan Hazard and Marius Wolf netting in the final ten minutes.

Mudryk redemption tour

A new manager often spells a new opportunity for players especially those who had been previously struggling. Mauricio Pochettino has been tasked with restoring Chelsea to its former glory, a mission that has been made tricky with the composition of their squad after back-to-back transfer windows under a Todd Boehly-led regime.

Chelsea’s squad is a mish-mash but there’s great potential even if Pochettino knows he doesn’t really have much time before knives are sharpened. He’ll earn a period of grace and so far pre-season is going well. An empathic 5-0 victory over Wrexham was followed by an entertaining 4-3 win against Brighton & Hove Albion in their Premier League Summer Series clash.

A game which saw newcomers Christopher Nkunku and Nicolas Jackson get on the scoresheet but it was the performance of Mykhailo Mudryk which got Chelsea fans salivating. Mudryk, who joined the Blues this past winter for a big fee, has yet to light up Stamford Bridge, but things are looking promising ahead of the new season.

“For Jackson and Mudryk, it’s important to score. Nkunku also. Attacking players need to score to get their confidence and trust themselves. It is important to score goals and then we try to improve,” Pochettino said afterwards.

“Today, we maybe had more capacity to stay calm and create more chances and score more goals. These areas we have to work, we’re going to focus our work. It takes time to believe and trust in the process to arrive in the best condition.”

The last we see Mbappé in a PSG shirt?

There’s never a dull moment with Paris Saint-Germain who could head into their 2023/24 campaign without last season’s top scorers Lionel Messi (20 goals, 35 appearances) and Kylian Mbappé (32 goals, 36 appearances). Messi is now in Miami a move that could ultimately establish soccer as part of American mainstream culture while Mbappé may have kicked his final ball as a PSG player.

In a pre-season meeting with Le Havre, the forward came off the bench to score in the 91st-minute goal, sealing a 2-0 win. He would soon be left out of their pre-season tour of Asia with the club seeking to sell Mbappe (who cost them £165.7m following his 2017 move from Monaco) this summer to get a fee but he plans to stay until the end of his deal which expires in June 2024 leading to chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi saying it is “impossible” that Mbappe will be allowed to leave for free.

The French footballers’ union responded they could take legal action. “These players must enjoy the same working conditions as the rest of the professional workforce,” a statement read.

“The UNFP feels it would be useful to remind managers that putting pressure on an employee – via the deterioration of their working conditions, for example – to force them to leave or accept what the employer wants constitutes moral harassment, which French law firmly condemns.

“The UNFP reserves the right to take civil and criminal action against any club that behaves in this way.”