Dry your eyes at the end of the World Cup as the start of the Premier League is right around the corner. Before that, however, pre-season takes pride of place as teams race to make sure they are fit and ready to get off to the best start possible.
This summer, a selection of Europe’s best clubs will take part in the International Champions Cup as part of their preparations, with the competition kicking off on Saturday.
The Premier League will be represented by Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal, joined by the likes of Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Barcelona.
That sample of the stellar line-up suggests this is not a pre-season competition to be sniffed at, the very idea behind the creation of the tournament five years ago.
How does it work?
Relevent Sports - the company behind the ICC - aimed to change the nature of pre-season tours, as executive chairman Charlie Stillitano explained in an interview with the Guardian.
Previously, friendlies were not taken particularly seriously, though the ICC was intended to be something worth playing for. And there's a strong argument that they have succeeded in creating this.
We know it’s not the Premier League, La Liga, or the Champions League. We’re not trying to pretend differently, but it’s a serious tournament all the big teams want to be in to prepare the proper way - Charlie Stillitano on the ICC.
Aside from the calibre of teams involved, the competition stretches right across the world, with games being played in eight countries across three continents. This might suggest a logistical nightmare, but ICC has a simple single table format, with each team playing three games.
Saturday will feature Manchester City vs Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich vs PSG, with the rest of the fixture list continuing on in the same vein of intriguing contests between European heavyweights.
Pre-season with a difference?
The competition will still be affected by the same issues that pre-season tournaments have always struggled with, with opening fixtures featuring line-ups depleted of stars as they continue to recover from the World Cup.
A lot of managers will choose to start their fringe players regardless of whether they have a full squad, using the competition as an opportunity to try out new tactics and ensure equal playing time.
However, games including Real Madrid vs Juventus and Atletico Madrid vs Inter Milan will be played in August, allowing time for appearances from World Cup players.
Even if fringe players start the majority of the games, it is always a spectacle to see some of Europe’s big guns playing each other. The International Champions Cup is changing pre-season for the better.