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Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United and Man City star in some surprisingly not crap friendly action

by Aidan Elder | July 24, 2014

The Premier League pre-season is tricky. You really don’t want to invest a whole lot of attention in it, but at the same time, it’s hard to look away. It’s kind of like Susan Boyle walking down the street in a bikini.

With Premier League teams jetting around the world, there’s a lot to keep track off. The Paddy Power blog has picked out a selection of some of the more eye-catching fixtures coming in the next few days that are probably worth giving a bit of attention to – for better or for worse. And ‘eye-catching’ doesn’t necessarily imply good.

Accrington Stanley v Burnley, Accrington, Saturday 3pm

Meaningless Rating: 9/10
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Having come up from the Championship, you’d think Burnley would be doing all they can to acclimatise to the step up in quality they’ll face in a few weeks time. Yeah, that would make sense. Instead, they’re making the short trip to Accrington. That’s the Accrington from the milk ad and the Accrington who finished 15th in League Two last season. Best of luck handling Diego Costa when you start your season against Chelsea.

This after beating Grossklein – a team so bad that they got relegated from fourth tier of the Austrian league – 8-0. I mean, where to you even go after you’re relegated from the Austrian fourth division? Does someone walk up to you and quietly suggest that football may not be the sport for you? Yes, it’s nice hammering teams of butchers and postmen, but is it really helpful when you’re about to make your return to the Premier League? Really, what is the point of this?

Watch out for:

  • Burnley’s Championship players suddenly looking like world-beaters. They were good in comfortably gaining automatic promotion last year, but they need to improve quickly.
  • New signings Steven Reid, Matthew Taylor, Micheal Kightly. Sean Dyche is clearly trying to consolidate his squad with some Premier League experience that doesn’t break the bank. If Reid and Taylor look like their on the cusp of a career Indian summer, the moves could be inspired. If not, they’ll look like old men still claiming Premier League wages.
  • Sean Dyche’s management. He’s the latest in a long line of overly hyped Championship managerial rising stars. He may be perfectly good, but we thought the same about countless others who have fallen off the radar after being highly praised.

It may not achieve a whole lot, but it’s another run out for The Clarets and a win always boosts the ego. Even if it doesn’t count for much.

Roma v Manchester United, Denver, 9pm Saturday

Meaningless Rating: 2/10

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If you can get over Saturday’s International Champions Cup clash featuring neither the champions of a) England or b) Italy then this looks a good place to start.

High-profile friendlies are normally about as informative as a Roy Hodgson post-match press conference but Louis van Gaal takes charge of United for the second time after Thursday’s regulation thumping of MLS pub team, LA Galaxy – so any summer stroll around the Sports Authority Field can probably be ruled out.

AS Roma finished a distant second (17 points) to Juventus in Serie A last season but it was good enough for French coach Rudi Garcia to get a three-year contract extension. They’ll be a helpful yardstick as United tune up for the new new era. Yes, those two news are intentional.

Watch out for:

  • Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverly and Co. playing for their futures at United. With van Gaal’s decisiveness a good performance here would help given the ‘weak as a Kings of Leon lyric’ opposition on Wednesday night. Jones and Smalling formed two-thirds of a back three while Cleverly got a run out for the second half.
  • LVG confirmed at his Old Trafford press conference that he ‘approved’ the signings of Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera and with a not overly enthusiastic endorsement ringing in their multi-million pound ears. Both started against the Galaxy, but they’ll want to impress against more meaningful opposition.
  • United’s style under van Gaal. The Dutchman certainly favours attack-minded teams, but it was United’s midfield and defence that caused most difficulties last season. Will Louis temper his aggressive instincts to strike a balance?

With so many questions and the lack of a real game against Los Angeles, this game takes on added significance. United should continue King Louis’ winning start.

New York Red Bulls v Arsenal, New Jersey, 10pm Saturday

Meaningless Rating: 5/10

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Arsenal still love Thierry Henry and Thierry Henry still loves Arsenal. That’s the message we’re getting loud and clear from their latest rendezvous. The Gunners – minus their recent World Cup winners Ozil, Mertesacker and Podolski – have headed stateside for a friendly that’s not being packaged as some sort of Premier League International Tournament thingamabob.

Despite having a terrible name, the Red Bulls are well in the race for the MLS playoffs. They even boast the league’s top goalscorer. And it’s not Thierry and it’s not Tim Cahill. Step forward, Bradley Wright-Phillips, the Solange Knowles of this sibling analogy. Without all the kicking JayZ. They’ll be decent opposition but Arsenal should expect a win.

Watch out for:

  • The British contingent. With some Arsenal stars still resting up from the exertions of the World Cup and Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain having not exerted themselves very much at all, it’s a chance to lay down a marker for the season ahead. For Aaron Ramsey too, but there was no shite World Cup performance for him. Competition for midfield places will be huge, particularly if Khedira arrives, so impressing at this stage would be helpful.
  • The Young Ones. With the conveyer belt of young talent still motoring away, it’ll be interesting to see what the latest batch of youngsters can do. Chris Willock, Yaya Sanogo and Gedoin Zelalem look poised to gain greater prominence for the season ahead.

With so many questions and the lack of a real game against Los Angeles, this game takes on added significance. United should continue King Louis’ winning start.

Manchester City v AC Milan, Pittsburgh, Sunday 9pm

Meaningless Rating: 1/10
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It’s one of the glamour ties of the pre-season schedule as the Premier League champions go head to head with one of Italy’s giants. Yes you need to squint a bit and pretend it’s a few years ago to give AC Milan the aura we’re accustomed to, but it’s still a good test.

Things are looking comparatively settled for City. They’ve augmented last season’s title winning squad with Fernando from Porto, Bacary Sagna from Man City feeder club, Arsenal and Willy Caballero from Malaga. The opposition may lack the quality of times gone by, but there’s still enough talent to give a good game. It’s also Pippo Inzaghi’s first steps in senior management. That should be interesting as will a potential reunion with Mario Balotelli.

City gave Sporting Kansas City a sound beating on Thursday morning, but this will be a tougher test.

Watch out for:

  • The fringe players. For a club with so much money, it didn’t always feel like City had masses of talent to step in when the starting XI were finding things tough. Having the likes of Jovetic, Sinclair and Rodwell primed to make a bigger contribution wouldn’t hurt for the season ahead.
  • The strikers. With Negredo ruled out for a couple of months at least and Sergio Aguero never too far from another niggling injury, City need a strikeforce that can deliver goals from the off. Dzeko and Jovetic could do with finding some form in the course of the pre-season campaign.

City should take it, but more important is getting a sterner test than they got on Thursday.

Liverpool v Olympiacos, Chicago, Sunday 11pm

Meaningless Rating: 4/10
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With so much rebuilding currently underway and the sizeable task of replacing Luis Suarez’s considerable attacking threat, no friendly is utterly pointless for Brendan Rodgers. Still though, taking on Olympiacos has the whiff of ‘a hiding to nothing’ about it.

Yes, the players will get another game under their belt but a good performance will be dismissed for ‘only being against the Greek champions’ while a defeat to follow Thursday morning’s loss to Roma will get labelled as some sort of post-Suarez crisis.

The Greek side will provide a good test, but they are without the eye-catching Joel Campbell who is now back at Arsenal after an impressive club season and World Cup run with Costa Rica.

Watch out for:

  • Liverpool’s new boys. Rickie Lambert and Emre Can have made a couple of appearances so far in the pre-season schedule while Adam Lallana is waiting in the wings.
  • Liverpool’s almost new boys. Sebastian Coates, Martin Kelly and Jose Enrique all started in Boston and after suffering long absences due to varying injuries, it’ll feel like an influx of new signings.
  • Liverpool’s attacking prowess was a high point of last season and Brendan Rodgers will doubtless continue with this style. Still though, a tighter defence would help if there are aspirations for a sustained title push. Some evidence of an improvement would welcome.

The pre-season results haven’t been great. Most people treat that as seriously as Nicolas Anelka saying ‘I’ll stay at this club forever’, but another defeat would get spun as a problem. Liverpool could do with a win and should fancy getting it.

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