Real Madrid announced last week that the pre-season schedule for 2016 - 2017 includes another intercontinental competition, this time it's the International Champions Cup in the USA. Madrid are set to face Chelsea, PSG, and Bayern Munich in July and August 2016; and this time the trip has the approval of the manager, Zinedine Zidane. Madrid released the schedule on the club website the other day; with the team due to face PSG in Columbus on the 28th July, followed by Chelsea on the 30th at the Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. The trip ends with the final game against Bayern Munich in New Jersey on the 4th August.
Looking at the geography of the USA, there's going to be a fair amount of plane-hopping ahead although there's a lot less flying time involved this time around. Ann Arbor, where Madrid meet Chelsea in the second fixture, is just over an hour in the air from the opener against PSG in Columbus, Ohio. Moving on to the final game in New Jersey is going to take Real just under two hours from Ann Arbor based on average flying times. That's a big difference between the forthcoming pre-season and the lengthy travelling involved last year when Madrid played three games in ten days between Australia and China.
Real begin this year's trip with the opening fixture against PSG at the Ohio Stadium in Columbus; which used to be the home ground for the Columbus Crew in Major League Soccer. Now used mainly for American Football, the playing surface is made of artificial turf - which is common in the USA and Canada. There was a lot of concern over this during the FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada last year; with few participating countries happy about the surfaces used. With anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries prevalent in the women's game (Dugan, 2005; Renstrom et al, 2008) the artificial surfaces were cited as a major risk for ACL sprains.
Just to digress for a moment, followers of the women's game will remember that Spain didn't make it past the group stages in Canada. Subsequent player protests and a group statement issued on returning home led to a change in management with former Real Madrid and Barca youth player Jorge Vilda assuming the head coaching role. Jorge replaced the long-serving Ignacio Quereda and is in charge of the women's squad for the forthcoming FIFA Euro 17 tournament in the Netherlands; the qualifying games for which have already started.
Getting back on track, readers will no doubt recall that Real Madrid have played in the Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor before. Two years ago Real faced Manchester United the same tournament, losing then to the English Premiership side by three goals to one. Madrid's goal on that occasion was scored by Gareth Bale from the penalty spot. Madrid's opponents this time around will again be from England; with Chelsea lining up against Bale et al this time around.
The third venue for Real Madrid in the International Champions Cup is the Metlife Stadium in New Jersey; which even has it's own website (http://www.metlifestadium.com). Prior to Real's visit, the stadium is hosting three games in this year's Copa America; starting with the final qualifying match in Group B which is Brazil's group. The stadium then hosts one of the quarter finals before holding the final itself on June 26th. It's a big-time venue and should draw a huge crowd for Madrid's last game of the tour against Bayern Munich.
Marcelo was the latest Real player to comment on last year's pre-season, and everyone seems to be in agreement that the arduous schedule which involved acclimatisation on arrival didn't do the team any favours in the long run. Rafa's fitness staff immediately voiced their concerns when the trip was announced if we remember, citing principally the loss of training hours and the effect that crossing the time zones would have on the players' circadian rhythms. Zidane, by all accounts, seems to be perfectly happy with the USA schedule.
With less travelling involved in the American trip, the preparation is going to be less disruptive although it's probably not ideal in training terms to be jumping from one base to another. There's the loss of continuity in facilities to consider together with the different hotel stays and general changes in daily routine. Players still enjoy these trips though provided that they can maintain some kind of regular schedule and the one thing that's always constant is the training. Imaginative coaches can always find a piece of grass to utilise and the fitness people are adept at devising circuits based on the nearby terrain!
There's a lot of football to be played before then, though. There's the Champion League and the Barca game for starters; I wonder where Real's priorities lie.............
Dugan SA (2005). Sports-related knee injuries in female athletes: What gives? American Journal of Physical & Medical Rehabilitation. Vol.84; 122 - 130.
Renstrom P, Ljunngvist A, Arendt E, Benynnon B, Fukubayashi, Garret W, Georgoulis T, Hewett TE, Johnson R, Krosshaug T, Mandelbaum B, Micheli L, Myklebust, Roos E, Roos H, Schamasch P, Shultz S, Werner S, Wojtys E, Engebretsen L (2008). Non-contact ACL injuries in female athletes: an International Olympic Committee current concepts statement. British Journal of Sports Medicine. Vol. 42; 394 - 412.