Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are getting set to compete in this year’s International Champions Cup, the transnational tournament that has emerged the leading pre-season competition in recent years.
Dortmund are already in the United States to prepare for their opening games again Manchester City and Liverpool this weekend, whilst Bayern will meet Paris Saint-Germain in Austria before crossing the Atlantic early next week.
Their trips mark the start, in earnest, of new eras under new head coaches, with both Lucien Favre and Niko Kovać both getting their teams used to new styles of play, even if they are without some of their stars.
Bayern and Dortmund head west
Both teams are taking part in the competition for the third season in a row, having missed the first three iterations. There are just the two Bundesliga clubs taking part this season – Bayer Leverkusen had also been involved last summer.
Dortmund are making their first trip to the States as part of the competition, having played in China in each of the previous two years. In 2016, they beat Manchester United 3-1 in Shanghai, before losing on penalties to Pep Guardiola’s City in Shenzhen. They played in just one match last year, winning 3-1 in Guangzhou against AC Milan.
Bayern played three games each in of the previous years. Last year, in China and Singapore, they were beaten on penalties by Arsenal, continuing the unlikely theme of English sides beating Germans in shootouts, before a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Inter Milan and a 2-0 loss to AC Milan. Those performances and the resulting discontent set the tone for what prove to be Carlo Ancelotti’s last few months in charge.
This year, Dortmund start with Manchester City in Chicago on Friday night, before reuniting once more with Jürgen Klopp and his Liverpool side on Sunday in Charlotte. They finish on Wednesday in Pittsburgh against Benfica. Bayern play PSG in Klagenfurt, Austria on Saturday afternoon, before moving on to the States for games against Juventus in Philadelphia and Man City in Miami Gardens.
Pulisic excited to play in front of extended family
Having already played one game against Austria Vienna, a lone Alexander Isak goal sealing a 1-0 victory, Dortmund departed Germany on Wednesday on a seven-hour flight to Chicago with plenty of new faces on board.
New coach Favre was joined by the likes of Marwin Hitz, Abdou Diallo and Marius Wolf, with Julian Weigl, injured, the only player not involved in the FIFA World Cup to miss out. Another newcomer, Achraf Hakimi, is expected to join the party on Friday, along with Marco Reus and Lukasz Piszczek after their countries bowed out early in Russia.
The main party were greeted by a couple of hundred supporters on landing in Chicago, but much of the attention would have been on American ‘wonderkid’ Christian Pulisic, fully rested up after the USA missed the World Cup, and he’s eager to really get going with the games in his home country.
“I’m excited to play in Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania,” he has revealed. “A lot of my family will be there. For them to see my club team here will be special, a lot of them don’t get to come to Dortmund.”
Whilst much of the trip is about marketing and engaging with their American fanbase, it is also a further opportunity for Favre to assess his options. “We’re still continuing to learn more about each other as a group and continue to grow with our coach and understand our style,” Pulisic said, confirming that the coach is still “working a lot on our shape and how we want to start the season.”
Of particular interest will be the shape of the attack – they continue to be linked with several strikers, yet at the moment it appears Maximillian Philipp could be their lead frontman, having started up front with Isak against Vienna in a 4-4-2, Favre’s preferred formation. Should he opt to go that way again on the American tour, expect them to play that way once the season gets going.
Kovać to lay down a marker for the season
A new era is also underway for Bayern, with Kovać set to take charge of his first game, of any kind, for Bayern when they play PSG at the Wörthersee Stadion. In an alternate universe, it could have been Thomas Tuchel beginning his reign with the Bundesliga champions, but instead he will be in the PSG dugout for this one.
Kovać will be without all of his World Cup stars for both this game and those in the States. The likes of Manuel Neuer, Jérôme Boateng and Robert Lewandowski will only start training next week, in Munich, under the eye of Peter Herrmann. Jupp Heynckes’s former assistant has agreed to return under Kovać, although he will not start permanently until September.
He does have plenty of senior players available though. Javi Martínez, Arturo Vidal, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry all didn’t go to the World Cup and are likely to play PSG, as will Serge Gnabry, now a part of the Bayern squad after spending last season on loan with TSG 1899 Hoffenheim.
The new boss has been focusing on tactical work with the players he has got to work with in the past few weeks, and at a press conference on Thursday he explained why. “We have a whole season to get through,” he said. “Football has become more varied, and we have to be able to react to that.”
He expanded by adding the importance of being able to switch between a back three and a back four, adding that “we want to be flexible,” something that cannot be said of Bayern sides post-Guardiola. He also wants to “work on patterns in training that can be repeated in games,” including set pieces, as “they can turn a game.” He will get to work more on these when the full squad have a week-long camp at Tegernsee in August.
But the three ICC games will be the first real indication of how Kovać’s new Bayern will shape up, especially with plenty of younger players set to get an opportunity. Whilst it may not be central to his thinking, we would be keen to avoid the disappointing performances and results that emerged out of last summer’s games to avoid early mumblings for the top job at the Allianz Arena.
Quotes via Bundesliga and Bayern Munich.