BANGKOK: Liverpool and Manchester United will meet in a high-profile friendly in Bangkok in July, the clubs said on Thursday, as Premier League teams resume lucrative pre-season tours which stopped when COVID hit. After the July 12 clash in the Thai capital, Cristiano Ronaldo and his United team-mates will fly to Australia for two more friendlies, including a clash with Crystal Palace, at the 100,000-capacity Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Before the pandemic shut down overseas tours, usually to Asia and the United States, they were a regular money-spinner for Premier League sides – even if managers don’t like the travel, hot weather and sometimes questionable pitches. “It will be the same players as you see now with a few additions if transfer deals happen,” said legendary United striker Andy Cole, predicting the two sides’ historic rivalry would continue in Bangkok. “I’m not sure it will be played like a pre-season friendly,” he said.
The clash between United and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, currently nipping at the heels of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League, at the Rajamangala National Stadium has been dubbed the “Red War” by Thai media and fans. Both clubs have a strong following in Thailand, with Liverpool shirts and logos especially visible – the Anfield outfit’s official Thai language Facebook page has more than 38 million followers. Former Liverpool defender Phil Babb said he expected Klopp to bring a full-strength squad.
But with tickets ranging from 5,000 to 25,000 baht ($150 to $750) many ordinary Thai fans have complained of being priced out of seeing their heroes play in the flesh. Earlier this month senior officials from the two clubs visited Bangkok to check the facilities at the 51,000-seat ground. Premier League teams touring Asia in the past have complained about substandard pitches, and photos released by the organizers showed Liverpool general manager Ray Haughan on his knees making a detailed inspection of the turf.
Vinij Lertratanachai, chief executive officer of Fresh Air Festival, which is organizing the match, said the stadium would get a “makeover” to meet the clubs’ standards. Organizers hope to recreate an English matchday atmosphere on Thai soil, though with likely temperatures in the low 30s Celsius and humidity around 70 percent, the chilly damp of northwest England will feel a long way away.
As well as Patrick Vieira’s Crystal Palace, United’s tour in Australia will also see them take on A-League club Melbourne Victory at the MCG. When Liverpool played Victory there in 2013, 95,000 fans streamed through the turnstiles and organizers are tipping similar crowds when United visit Melbourne for the first time since 1999. The tour will come after a miserable season for United, who will likely have a new manager in charge by then following the interim appointment of Ralf Rangnick. Reports say that United have held talks with Ajax coach Erik ten Hag, with Paris Saint-Germain boss Mauricio Pochettino and Spain’s Luis Enrique also in the frame. – AFP