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Liverpool vs. AC Milan

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Liverpool and AC Milan have something to play for in Charlotte ‘friendly’

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/31/21/58/ju182.Em.138.jpeg|247
    TIMOTHY A. CLARY - AFP/GETTY
    Philippe Coutinho, right, and the rest of Liverpool’s squad will take on AC Milan Saturday in an exhibition at Bank of America Stadium as part of the eight-team International Champions Cup.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/31/09/50/EBgRJ.Em.138.JPG|473
    Gene J. Puskar - AP
    Milan forward Mario Balotelli (45) takes a pass in front of Manchester City defender Matija Nastasic, rear, during the second half of a soccer match in the first round of the Guinness International Champions Cup, at Heinz Field on Sunday, July 27, 2014, in Pittsburgh. Manchester City won 5-1. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/31/09/50/1s7MWy.Em.138.JPG|235
    Mike Stobe - Getty Images
    NEW YORK, NY - JULY 30: Steven Gerrard #8 of Liverpool carries the ball against Manchester City during the International Champions Cup 2014 at Yankee Stadium on July 30, 2014 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

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Robbie Fowler has this advice for soccer fans at Saturday’s Liverpool-AC Milan exhibition at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium: Keep an eye on Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho and Ricky Lambert.

“Coutinho is just a wonderful young talent who is a creator in midfield,” said Fowler, a former Liverpool star who is serving as an ambassador for the team during its summer tour of the United States. “Lambert is a great player who has played for a lot of clubs. He’s a local lad who is back playing for Liverpool now.”

Fowler warned that it’s not guaranteed that either Coutinho or Lambert will play Saturday. That’s the nature of these “friendlies,” which are essentially glorified preseason warm-ups in which coaches are free to test any number of player combinations.

But, as the seasons for England’s Premier League and Italy’s Serie A draw near, there is a good chance Liverpool coach Brendan Rodgers will find time for stars such as midfielders Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson, and strikers Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling against AC Milan, which has its own set of standouts in striker Mario Ballotelli and midfielder Keisuke Honda.

The teams actually do have something to play for. The game is part of the eight-team International Champions Cup. Liverpool leads the tournament’s Group B with a 2-0 record, while AC Milan has lost both its games to Greece’s Olympiacos and England’s Manchester City by a combined 8-1.

Liverpool would clinch a spot in Monday’s championship game in Miami with a victory. Manchester City and Olympiacos, who play Saturday in Minneapolis, could win the group if Liverpool loses or ties AC Milan (ties are broken by penalty-kick shootouts).

The tournament has been a success so far, with large crowds watching games in venues such as New York’s Yankee Stadium and NFL stadiums such as Chicago’s Soldier Field and Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. Saturday’s match between Manchester United and Real Madrid in 110,000-seat Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., has been sold out for months. Ticket sales for the Liverpool-AC Milan game have hit the 66,000 mark.

“We came two years ago and there was a buzz about (soccer) in the U.S.,” said Fowler, who scored 162 career goals over a 16-year career in England and is the Premier League’s sixth all-time leading scorer. “It seems much different now. (Soccer) here is thriving, it’s pretty obvious. We can feel the passion from the people. Playing in Chicago was special and a place like Yankee Stadium is wonderful. But people keep telling me to wait until we get to Charlotte. It’s probably the best of the lot.”

Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
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