Most of the soccer hype in South Florida has surrounded Saturday’s El Clasico Miami clash between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, but that is not the only marquee game at Hard Rock Stadium this week.
On Wednesday night at 8:30, Italian power Juventus, the 2017 Champions League finalist, plays Paris Saint-Germain, the deep-pocketed French team that spent the past few weeks trying to woo Brazilian star Neymar from Barcelona and Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal.
Both Juve and PSG have been besieged by questions about player transfers since they arrived on U.S. soil last week for the International Champions Cup.
For PSG, the Neymar trade rumors were swirling into cyclone levels with talk of an astronomical, world-record transfer fee approaching $250 million.
Neymar scored two goals for Barcelona in the first half of Saturday’s 2-1 win over Juventus, and if it turns out that was his last game with the Spanish club, the sellout crowd of 82,104 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey got its money’s worth.
Transfer talk was also a common theme at Juventus camp, where manager Massimiliano Allegri had to address the departure of defender Leonardo Bonucci to archrival A.C. Milan.
But the coaches and players have more on their minds than player transactions during their American tour.
They are using these ICC games as important preseason training, and both Juventus and PSG enter the 2017-18 season with unfinished business.
Juve won its sixth Serie A title (the “Scudetto,” as the championship shield is known) and the Coppa Italia, but fell short 4-1 to Real Madrid in the Champions League Final. PSG, despite its strong roster, finished second in Ligue 1 behind Monaco.
Those disappointments are the driving force Wednesday night at Hard Rock Stadium and in the coming weeks as the teams prepare for their season openers.
“Two exceptionally talented teams, in the case of PSG a team that has not been shy about spending money and buying talent from around the world to make sure they are a major player in Champions League and Ligue 1, but it’s a team that has failed to deliver on big moments and big stages and has yet to make the statement they want to make with the investment they’ve made in this team,” said ESPN FC analyst Alejandro Moreno, a former player with the Venezuelan national team and Major League Soccer.
“As far as Juventus, traditionally powerful, very successful in Italy, won six straight years, they had a unique opportunity against Real Madrid and were favored by many to win that match because of the balance of that team, talent level and yet, when it came down to that second half, unable to deliver a solid performance, and Real Madrid goes home with the trophy.’’
Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Angel Di Maria, a veteran of the Argentine national team, said the these preseason games will test the team and help integrate the new players, such as Brazilian Dani Alves.
“Juventus has very well-respected players, they are coming of a Champions League final, so it will be very beneficial for our team to face them here and see where we are,” Di Maria said. “As far as our team heading into this season, it’s always good to have teammates who have won championships, played in important games, and that raises the quality of all the other players on the team. Dani Alves is one of those players for us.”
Juventus trotted out its new signings Saturday, including Douglas Costa, Juan Cuadrado and Wojciech Szczesny. The addition of those players, along with the veteran leadership of 39-year-old five-time Italian World Cup goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon should make Juve a trophy contender once again this season.
“It feels like the window may just be closing on this generation of Juventus players, and this may be the last go-around for this group to make sure they achieve winning Italy, but the goal for them continues to be the elusive Champions League,” Moreno said.
Allegri, the Juve manager, laments that his team’s many successes were overshadowed by the Champions League final loss.
“At the end of the day, this team should have celebrated the fantastic successes that it had, winning the Scudetto, winning the Coppa Italia,” Allegri said. “I’m pretty disappointed that we did not celebrate those the way that they deserve to be celebrated because we always point to Cardiff.
“The preparation for this season started in Cardiff. Our club has strengthened itself with the acquisition of very important players — the likes of Douglas Costa, of Szczesny, of Mattia De Sciglio. We look forward to implementing the same attitude and mentality of winning, and winning another Scudetto and going into the season with a little bit more drive to pick up where we left off in Cardiff.”