While the matchup serves as a rare treat for American spectators, Chelsea and Barcelona’s duel serves a much greater purpose for each side as they prepare to defend their league titles.
Chelsea and Barcelona will battle in International Champions Cup play Tuesday at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C., as arguably the two best squads in the world start to wrap up their preseason. The Blues clinched a Premier League title only two months ago, and are heavy favorites as the new campaign begins in less than two weeks. Meanwhile, the Catalans put their treble of the La Liga, Copa Del Rey, and Champions League titles on the line in 2015-2016.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho will use the match to fine tune lineups before next weekend’s Community Shield against London rival Arsenal, while the Catalans continue to chart a course as perhaps Europe’s most dominant club.
The Blues began the short tournament with a harrowing and unexpected 4-2 defeat at the hands of MLS’s New York Red Bulls, but returned to form with a 1-1 (6-5) penalty shootout victory over Ligue 1’s Paris Saint-Germain.
Luis Enrique’s side have proven just as uneven as Chelsea. Last week, Barcelona defeated the LA Galaxy 2-1, only to fall to Manchester United, 3-1, three days later.
But as Mourinho puts it, now is the time to work out the kinks and tinker with the lineup rather than worry about a string of meaningless victories.
"This is a match in which you are not obsessed with the result," Mourinho said to AFP. "You want to train. You make changes in the team because you have a plan for a certain amount of minutes, but all the people make it a big atmosphere."
The amount of minutes Mourinho gives to newly acquired forward Radamel Falcao will certainly be a subplot to the rare match. Currently on loan from Monaco after a disastrous Premier League debut with United last term, Falcao subbed in for talisman Diego Costa at the 70-minute mark against PSG to register a single shot and a penalty goal.
It was an encouraging sign of faith from Mourinho in Falcao, who might be in need of a confidence boost. The Colombian star never looked completely healed from the debilitating knee injury that kept him out of last year’s World Cup and plagued his form throughout his time at Old Trafford. Falcao also got some time in with Colombia during the Copa America last month.
"He was not so tired as the others. He trained two days and the others 10 days and they are accumulating fatigue," Mourinho said. "Falcao, Willian and Juan Cuadrado are with the sharpness but without the fatigue so they looked good. It was good for them to play this 20 minutes. And it was good for Falcao from the penalty spot to put the ball in the net."
Barcelona and Enrique have breezed through the offseason without the likes of Lionel Messi and Neymar, their two top strikers who respectively served Argentina and Brazil during the Copa America like Falcao. Enrique has wisely held both star forwards back to keep them fresh before any serious tournaments begin towards the middle of August, and as a result Luis Suarez has served as the squad’s leader.
The extra time manning the attack should only serve Suarez and Barcelona for the better. It’s the Uruguayan’s first full summer with the Catalans after they acquired him last year from Liverpool. Last year, Suarez netted 25 goals over 43 appearances in all competitions for Barcelona, and he could be poised for another big year with a far more familiar sense of Enrique’s tactics.
Thanks to a complicated ban on all transfers and signings until the winter, the Catalans don’t have any new players to really work into the lineup but they have received encouraging signs from 23-year-old midfielder Sergi Roberto. The Spaniard buried what would be the winning goal against the Galaxy, and assisted Rafinha on the only goal against United.
However, Enrique’s plans for Roberto involve the backline more than the attack.
“Sergi Roberto at right back is another option,” Enrique said. “The more options we have the better. He looked good playing at full back.”
Prediction: Chelsea over Barcelona, 2-1