The inaugural Soccer Champions Tour, a series of five U.S. exhibition matches spread over nine days, concludes on Saturday when European powerhouses Real Madrid and Juventus meet at the Rose Bowl.
Real Madrid, the reigning UEFA Champions League and La Liga winner, joins Serie A stalwart Juventus as the only participating teams, including FC Barcelona and Liga MX sides Chivas Guadalajura and Club America, to play three tour matches.
A preseason El Clasico against Barcelona last weekend in Las Vegas marked Real Madrid’s first appearance with a 1-0 defeat in the latest installment of that renowned Spanish rivalry. The European champions earned a 2-2 draw against America in their next match in San Francisco.
Aging stars Karim Benzema, Luca Modric and Toni Kroos remain focal points of the squad.
Newcomers include young French midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni and strong German center back Antonio Rudiger.
“They are the best that could be found on the market in their positions,” Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti said.
However, Real Madrid’s offseason was defined more by who did not arrive than who did after all-world French attacker Kylian Mbappe rejected a lucrative offer and opted to remain with Paris Saint-Germain.
The Spanish giants, arguably the most popular club team in soccer, completed a final U.S. training session on Friday at UCLA, where Welsh forward Gareth Bale visited with his former teammates following eight years with Los Blancos after departing as a free agent to join the Los Angeles Football Club.
The UEFA Champions League winners will resume competitive matches when they meet Europa League titlists Eintracht Frankfurt in the UEFA Super Cup on Aug. 10 in Helsinki, Finland, four days prior to their La Liga opener.
“This tour, those games that we are going to have, is so important to prepare well,” Real Madrid’s Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois said regarding the event, which was promoted by AEG in Las Vegas, Dallas, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
“It will be a very long year and I personally want to be helping the team like last year,” Courtois continued. “And when they need me they can count on me and hope to continue winning trophies.”
Meanwhile, Juventus, the club with the most Italian league titles, is coming off a down season that ended with a fourth-place finish in Serie A behind Napoli, Inter Milan and scudetto winner AC Milan.
The Italians defeated Chivas, 2-0, at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas to take the Soccer Champion Tour’s opening match, and followed that with a 2-2 draw against Barcelona on Tuesday at the Cotton Bowl stadium in Dallas.
“These are very important tests when you play against Barcelona and Real Madrid,” Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri said prior to the start of the tour. “Of course, these are teams that have a high technical level.”
Integrating new players, building up conditioning and remaining healthy, not the results, are the metrics these preseason exhibitions are measured by.
“The most difficult thing is that 25 different persons, 25 different factories, has to be one group in order to reach our goals,” said Giorgio Chiellini, who represented Juventus prior to joining LAFC in July. “The preseason is more important for this reason.”
Like Bale, Chiellini reconnected with his former teammates as Juventus trained on the Loyola Marymount campus.
“It’s strange because in 20 years with Juventus we stayed one day in Los Angeles,” Chiellini said. “Now they come for two weeks. They decided well before (I signed with LAFC), but it’s fate.”
Chiellini’s departure along with Dutch center back Matthijs de Ligt’s move to Bayern Munich required Juventus to establish a new center back pairing. Leonardo Bonucci, with whom Chiellini is considered among the best set of defenders in Italy’s illustrious soccer history, started against Barcelona alongside recent signing Gleison Bremmer, of Brazil.
While building its roster for the upcoming season, Juventus also swapped one dynamic Argentine attacker, Paulo Dybala, for another, Angel Di Maria. The club also brought back free agent French midfielder Paul Pogba following a six-year stint at Manchester United. Pogba missed the match in Dallas due to pain in his right knee, and tests revealed an injured lateral meniscus that is likely to keep him out of the club’s Serie A opener on Aug. 15.
“We can say, with all these players, Juventus will be more competitive,” Allegri said. “It’s not as easy to win, as usual, but nonetheless we’ll have to do our best in order to possibly win the Italian championship and also to do our best in the Champions League.”
REAL MADRID VS. JUVENTUS
What: Soccer Champions Tour
When: Saturday, 7 p.m. PT
Where: Rose Bowl
TV: FS2, FOX Deportes