8 big pre-season friendly results that proved absolutely meaningless
Pre-season is almost over and the 2022-23 campaign is nearly upon us.
Barcelona beating Real Madrid 1-0, Manchester United beating Liverpool 4-0 and Arsenal beating Chelsea 4-0 in this summer’s friendlies have made us all sit up and take notice. However, it’s worth taking any such results with a massive heap of salt.
Here are eight results that show we can read far too much into pre-season friendlies.
Real Madrid 1-0 Plymouth Argyle (2006)
We’re mostly including this one for the weirdness factor.
The story goes that Plymouth booked the Schloss Pichlarn hotel. Fabio Capello was desperate for Madrid to stay at his venue of choice, so he arranged a friendly with the second-tier outfit to get the booking.
“Who are they to move us? I don’t like it myself. We’re Argyle, get out of our way!” joked Holloway before the friendly.
“We’ll leave something on a few of them and I don’t think they’ll like that too much! It’ll be something my lads will never forget.
“Whatever side they put out, they will have some great players. It’s a fantastic opportunity for us – a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Madrid did actually win, but they weren’t especially convincing in Capello’s first match in charge, only scoring via a dubiously-awarded penalty late on. A creditable and competitive performance against European royalty might have suggested Argyle were on the cusp of a special season.
Capello’s Los Blancos swiftly improved and went on to reclaim the La Liga title back off European champions Barcelona, while Plymouth finished 11th in the Championship.
— David Norris (@DMNorris19) July 23, 2018
Tottenham 5-0 Roma (2008)
The result itself is striking but it also capped off a superb and unbeaten pre-season for Spurs, who won seven of their eight friendlies and appeared to have real momentum after lifting the League Cup earlier that year.
Darren Bent and David Bentley scored two apiece, with Aaron Lennon adding another, as Tottenham demolished an excellent Roma side that featured the likes of Philippe Mexes, John Arne Riise and Daniele De Rossi.
“Juande Ramos’s Spurs side sent out a clear warning to the rest of the Premier League today with a convincing five-goal win against Serie A runners-up, and Italian Cup-winners Roma,” began the match report on the Spurs Odyssey fansite.
What happened next? They took two points from their first eight Premier League games and Ramos was promptly sacked with Spurs sitting in the relegation zone in October. Harry Redknapp took over and steered the ship to eighth place in the end.
Leyton Orient 6-1 Newcastle (2009)
Newcastle had just been relegated for the first time in the Premier League era and the mood at the club was absolutely toxic. A shocking 6-1 friendly defeat to Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road didn’t help matters.
“Newcastle United put up a shameful display against League One side Leyton Orient as Toon fans who dared to venture to the capital saw their team stoop to a fresh low,” fumed journalist Lee Ryder in local paper The Chronicle.
“Lacking leadership, discipline, belief, organisation, team spirit and the all-round clout to see off the Londoners, United have never required their leader-in-waiting Alan Shearer more than now. How much longer can Mike Ashley allow the Magpies to rot in hell?
“Even if Newcastle cannot be sold for the price the Toon tycoon requires, the right and honourable decision should be to appoint Shearer now to get this mad house in order – before it is too late.
“Never mind getting promotion at the first attempt – this ship is sinking quickly towards third-flight football unless somebody gets a grip.”
There was to be no sale – not for another 12 years, in fact – and Shearer proved no more a leader-in-waiting than Jimmy Nail or Sting, with caretaker Chris Hughton eventually getting the gig on a full-time basis after doing a superb job to get the Magpies back on track.
Newcastle ended up getting promoted at the first attempt, and in style, with a 102-point tally. What was all the worrying about?
Orient, meanwhile, finished 17th in League One.
Man City 1-0 Barcelona (2009)
Manchester City were still in the early stages of the Sheikh Mansour era in the summer of 2009 when they went to the Camp Nou and beat Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona in the Joan Gamper trophy, only one of three sides to beat the hosts in their traditional curtain-raising friendly since 1995.
“The world’s richest club beat the Catalan giants to announce their arrival on the big stage,” led Goal.
Did this result signal a glorious new dawn for City? Not really. Mark Hughes was sacked five months later after a run of just one win in 10 Premier League outings.
Did it prompt a wobble for Guardiola’s men? No, not really. They lost just one league game in the 2009-10 campaign, scoring 98 goals and notching 98 points, on their way to retaining the La Liga title. Debutant Zlatan Ibrahimovic didn’t really work out though.
Remember this one-off Barcelona shirt?
It was worn in the 2009 Joan Gamper trophy against Manchester City. Ibrahimovic was making his Barca debut, but a Martin Petrov goal gave City the win.
Ahh well, it's all about the kit really. What a beauty! pic.twitter.com/PDPF14yd6L
— COPA90 (@Copa90) March 13, 2022
Arsenal 5-1 Benfica (2014)
Remember when Alexis Sanchez’s Gunners debut was overshadowed by Yaya Sanogo scoring four goals?
Remember when Sanogo turned out to be an absolute world-beater?
It's #EmiratesCup day – so let's throw it back to the 2014 edition ⏪
When Yaya Sanogo scored FOUR against Benfica 😱 pic.twitter.com/dU3Fi9ekpS
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) July 28, 2019
Man Utd 2-0 Man City (2017)
Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku were on the scoresheet in the first-ever Manchester derby to be played on foreign soil in the 2017 International Champions Cup in Houston.
Some giddy pundits suggested it meant they were challengers, but Mourinho struck a more cautious tone.
“We need a bit more and when you see the other teams in the Premier League, the way they get players and good players and you see the Champions buy three fantastic experienced players,” Mourinho said after the match.
“City go to the market and Liverpool and West Ham gets Joe Hart, Chicharito and Arnautovic, West Ham – wow – they play to win the Premier League too.”
It turned out that Mourinho was spot on about the shortcomings in his squad. They did finish that season as runners-up, but 19 points behind City, who smashed the Premier League record with a tally of 100 points. He was less right about West Ham, who finished 13th.
Liverpool 0-3 Napoli (2019)
Liverpool went into the 2019-20 campaign on a winless run of four friendlies, looking particularly poor in a 3-0 defeat to Napoli.
‘Should Liverpool be worried?‘ asked Sky Sports. The answer, in hindsight, was a quite emphatic no. They dropped just two points from their first 27 games and breezed their way to a first league title in 30 years.
Man Utd 4-0 Everton (2021)
Okay, fair enough, in hindsight this result perhaps foreshadowed the struggles Rafael Benitez would endure at Goodison Park, and ultimately Everton’s knife-edge battle against the drop in 2021-22. Sorry to any Everton fans looking for a silver lining after their recent 4-0 defeat to Minnesota United. Gulp.
As for United, everything was looking good as they blitzed Benitez’s Toffees with a commanding 4-0 victory in their final pre-season friendly at Old Trafford.
They even carried that momentum into a brutal 5-1 thrashing of Leeds United on the opening weekend. Then Ronaldo arrived, and things swiftly started to fall apart, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sacked mid-season and the Red Devils ultimately succumbing to their worst points tally of the Premier League era.