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Daley Blind: Manchester Derby in Houston not a friendly

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Daley Blind and Manchester United are enjoying the high life close to Tinseltown, but it’s all work and a little play for the Dutchman and his teammates at their Beverly Hills base for preseason.

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With the 2017-18 Premier League trophy on their mind and an eagerly anticipated return to the UEFA Champions League this season, that’s just the way they like it.

Keen to stress the importance of training sessions and matches in the Californian sun, Blind’s focus was clear as Man United prepare to face Manchester City on Thursday in Houston, Texas in what will be the first-ever Manchester Derby played on foreign soil.

Speaking exclusively to Pro Soccer Talk ahead of the historic match, the versatile Dutch international sees the International Champions Cup preseason friendly as a perfect way to put down a marker for the season.

“It will be a friendly, it will be preseason… but from the inside everyone feels like it is a derby and it will always be that way,” Blind said. “It is always special to play games like that. The derby always brings something extra and it will definitely be like that in Houston.”

[ MORE: Full 2017-18 PL preseason schedule

Having United and City lock horns in the Lone Star State, nearly 5,000 miles from Manchester, is quite something when you think about it, and Blind, 27, believes both teams are ready to soak in the occasion.

“It’s something different, that’s for sure. I think it’s great. No doubt there will be lots of people coming to watch the game and it will give a great experience to every player,” Blind said. “These are the games you want to play in with these teams. The derby always brings something extra, personally, and for everyone, so I think it will be a great game, experience and preparation for the season.”

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These preseason tours are all about preparation, with Jose Mourinho playing down the two wins against LA Galaxy (5-2) on Saturday and Real Salt Lake (2-1) on Monday as little more than training exercises.

But with Man City, Real Madrid and Barcelona coming up in the next 10 days for United before they head back to Europe and prepare for the Premier League season with the UEFA Super Cup final against Real Madrid on Aug. 8, getting the hard work in now counts.

Even if grabbing a coffee and hanging out in LA is easier than any other place in the world for Blind and his superstars teammates to evaporate into normality. At least for a few hours a day.

“We are here to prepare ourselves for the season. The training sessions and games are coming first, but of course it is nice to bond with the team and when you have an hour off we can go for a coffee or something. It’s not a big deal in LA because there are so many famous people here,” Blind laughed. “You can go for a quiet coffee and you can do it all the time, but when the time is there and we are allowed, it is nice to go and do something like that with a few teammates. The preseason and training sessions, and matches, are obviously coming first and that’s the most important thing.”

The Ajax product praised the facilities at UCLA and said this preseason was “a bit easier” than last summer when Mourinho and his team were troubled with bad weather on their tour of China and their preseason friendly with Man City in Beijing had to be canceled due to heavy rain.

Like his manager, he was also complimentary of Major League Soccer.

“The stadiums are full. The atmosphere is nice. The pitches are good and where we train as well. If you see the American teams, I think they are growing each year and it helps to have the highlights on TV in Europe,” Blind explained. “It is difficult to compare it to Europe. I have to say soccer here… right? Well, soccer is growing. I think.”

Confidence around United’s prospects this season are also growing with Blind hailing Romelu Lukaku‘s $96.5 million arrival from Everton after the Belgian striker scored his first goal for the club against RSL on Monday.

“He is a great signing, a great player and a great person as well, now that I have met him for a while,” Blind said. “He works very hard, he is very eager to score goals and very eager to help his teammates and create chances, so I am very happy he scored his first goal and I think there are many more to come.”

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With Lukaku off the mark and Mourinho failing to rule out a return to United for Zlatan Ibrahimovic as he continues to rehabilitate his injured knee at their training ground, Blind was asked if the thought of having Zlatan around again next season would give them a further lift.

“Yeah, of course. No doubt he would again be another big signing and last year he gave a big boost for the team,” Blind said. “He is still a great player and great person and he makes everything better.”

Blind’s own United career has continued to get better after he arrived in the summer of 2014 as one of the first signings of the Louis Van Gaal era. Many believed Blind may have found minutes hard to come by last season after LVG was replaced by Mourinho, but he played in 39 games in all competitions and appeared in the Europa League final win over his old club Ajax.

He is happy to stay at United for as long as possible and is willing to extend his current contract, which runs out in the summer of 2019.

“I have one more year left [on his contract] after this one and I am very happy at United. I play a lot of games and I am looking forward to the new season,” Blind said. “About my contract, I can’t really say anything. You have to ask the directors and the club, but of course, which player wouldn’t want to stay at United? I am very happy, that’s the only thing I can say.”

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Blind’s flexibility was key for United last season as he played at left back and center back and even central midfield as Mourinho utilized his utility status to the max.

‘Where is Blind’s best position?’ is often a question which comes up in the stadium and pubs when United play, so, what does he think?

“I just want to play and where the manager needs me I do my utmost best and give everything I have. I think the people know that I have a little bit of a preference to play left center back,” Blind revealed. “If I play left back all season, I would be happy there too, but for me it is just important that I am close to the team. I want to play. I want to start. That’s the thing I work hard for and that’s what makes me happy. For me it’s simple I want to play and be on the pitch and want to do everything for that.”

He also revealed the experiment of playing in a 3-4-3 formation is going well in preseason and is something which could be needed as teams make it hard for United to break them down. Yet one thing, above all else, is on his mind: trophies, and plenty of them.

Hungry for more silverware, Blind believes United can achieve anything they want next season. If they achieve what he hopes they can, it’s safe to say Mourinho will be taking United back to Beverly Hills and LA next summer. They could even be allowed a few more team coffee breaks…

“It was very exciting that we won three trophies last year, so we are very happy with that. The aim for this season is well is to win trophies and of course, we want to be first in the league,” Blind said. “We have to aim high because we have a big and strong squad. We will go for everything we want and we will play every game to win, and then we will see game by game.”

PL Sunday preview: Wayward Watford welcome woeful West Ham

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In a reversal of roles, based on preseason projections at least, Watford welcome West Ham United to Vicarage Road on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) for a clash of mid-table climbers and relegation fighters, respectively.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Man Utd, Chelsea win big… so do Man City ]

Watford began the 2017-18 Premier League season in fine form, winning four of their first eight games and losing just one (to runaway leaders Manchester City, no less). In their last three games, however, the Hornets have conceded eight goals, while scoring just four themselves, and winning zero points. Coincidentally — nor not, perhaps — that three-game slide began at the same time Watford manager Marco Silva‘s name was linked with the vacant manager’s job at Everton. With Ronald Koeman fired almost four weeks ago now, Watford have rejected approach after approach from Everton owner Farhad Moshiri. Silva, for his first three months of efforts, has been roundly praised by the club’s supporters and players alike.

“Everybody could see he changed a lot of things in the team. We had quite a lot of the same players but we improved a lot,” defender Christian Kabasele said this week. “When you have somebody like this and other teams are looking for him it’s important that Watford try to do everything possible to keep him.”

West Ham, meanwhile, started the season poorly and have remained equally so in recent weeks. Slaven Bilic was subsequently fired two weeks and succeeded by David Moyes, who had been out of a job since guiding Sunderland to relegation at the end of last season. Sunday’s bout with Watford will see Moyes make his debut for West Ham, the fourth club to employ him since leaving Everton four and a half years ago. To make matters more difficult, the Hammers’ leading scorer, Javier Hernandez (4 goals), won’t be available after picking up an injury on international duty.

“It’s a clean slate for the entire squad,” Moyes said last week. “They’ve all worked very hard this week and responded in a positive manner to everything we’ve asked of them. It will obviously take time for the players to fully understand our style and methods but the initial signs are very encouraging — they’ve bought in what we are trying to do and that’s a good base for us to build on.”

INJURIES: Watford — OUT: Troy Deeney (suspension), Nathaniel Chalobah (knee), Isaac Success (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Younes Kaboul (hamstring), Sebastian Prodl (hamstring), Roberto Pereyra (hamstring) | West Ham — OUT: Javier Hernandez (hamstring), James Collins (ankle), Sam Byram (thigh), Jose Fonte (foot); QUESTIONABLE: Michail Antonio (ribs)

The 2 Robbies: North London Painted Red

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In today’s pod, the Robbies heap praise on Arsenal’s impressive performance in the North London Derby (00:30), analyze Manchester United’s 4-1 win against Newcastle on the back of Paul Pogba’s return (10:00), ask if this Man City side is the best Premier League side ever (18:25), debate where Kevin De Bruyne’s current form ranks in the league’s greatest ever players (23:45) and pick the best summer signing so far this season (27:15; hint, hint – he might be leading the league in scoring).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

La Liga: Draw in Madrid derby puts Barca 10 clear of capital rivals

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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid played to a scoreless draw in their first derby at the new Wanda Metropolitano Stadium on Saturday, leaving both teams further away from Spanish league leader Barcelona.

Barcelona won at Leganes 3-0 earlier and ended the day 10 points in front of both Madrid clubs after 12 matches. The thriving Catalan club is seven points in front of second-place Valencia, which will try to extend its seven-game winning streak at Espanyol on Sunday.

The draw extended Atletico’s winless run at its new home to five matches. It drew three straight entering this weekend. Diego Simeone’s team has won only two of its last 10 games in all competitions.

Both teams will have to remain nearly perfect for the rest of the season to try to catch up to Barcelona, which has won 11 of its 12 league matches.

It was a tense between Real and Atletico from the start, with hard fouls from both sides.

Real had control for most of the game but was not able to create many significant chances.

Atletico had one of its best opportunities early when forward Angel Correa entered the area free from markers with only goalkeeper Kiko Casilla to beat but sent his shot wide.

Substitute Kevin Gameiro also came close in the second half, but his shot over Casilla was cleared by Real defender Raphael Varane in front of the goal-line.

Real threatened with a few runs by Isco and a couple of free kicks taken by Cristiano Ronaldo.

It was another tough night for Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann. Ronaldo has scored six times in the Champions league but only once in La Liga, while Griezmann has only three goals in 14 matches with Atletico in all competitions. The France forward was jeered when he was replaced by Fernando Torres near the end of the second half.

Luis Suarez scored twice to end a five-match scoring drought in Barcelona’s win.

The Uruguay striker found the net in each half and substitute midfielder Paulinho scored late to give the Catalan club its 11th win.

Leganes, ninth in the standings, had its chances early in southern Madrid but couldn’t beat Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Suarez opened the scoring in the 28th after Leganes goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar dropped the ball in front of the goal after a cross by Paco Alcacer. Suarez’s second in the 60th was a rebound shot after Cuellar parried a shot by Lionel Messi. Suarez hadn’t scored in more than a month.

“What mattered to me was that I was feeling good and was helping the team, and today the goals helped us get the three points against a difficult rival,” Suarez said. “We always try to play better, but it’s not always possible.”

Paulinho sealed the victory in the 90th after a pass by Messi, who was on the ground fighting for the ball when he tipped it back to the midfielder.

Leganes, playing only in its second season in the first division, wore a specially designed purple shirt to promote the fight against gender violence.

“We had our opportunities, but in the end we knew that we were playing against the best team in the world, and with very little they can score on you,” Leganes midfielder Ruben Perez said.

Sevilla recovered from its loss to Barcelona in the previous round by beating Celta Vigo 2-1 to move back to fifth place.

Celta got on the board first through Maxi Gomez, but the hosts rallied with goals by Luis Muriel in the first half and Nolito in the second.

It was the fourth win in five matches for Sevilla in all competitions.

Markel Bergara and Jorge Molina scored in the first 10 minutes to lead Getafe to a comfortable 4-1 win over Alaves at home.

It was the 10th league loss for Alaves, which remains in 18th place. Getafe is 10th.

“Our performance was embarrassing,” Alaves coach Gianni De Biasi said.

Bundesliga: Bayern running away (again) after slow start

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BERLIN (AP) Robert Lewandowski scored twice to help Bayern Munich stretch its lead in the Bundesliga to six points with a 3-0 defeat of Bavarian rival Augsburg on Saturday.

It was the 500th league win for Jupp Heynckes as a player or coach and extends the 72-year-old’s winning start to eight games across all competitions since he returned for his fourth stint.

“That’s a surprise for me. I don’t bother with statistics and numbers,” Heynckes said on being told about his winning landmark. “But it’s an impressive number (500). I had a long career as a player, and now as a coach. It wasn’t planned.”

Heynckes was coaxed out of retirement to take over from the fired Carlo Ancelotti on Oct. 5. Bayern was trailing then-leader Borussia Dortmund by five points at the time. Now the side is nine points ahead of Dortmund, which hasn’t won in the league since Sept. 30, and six ahead of Leipzig, held to a draw at Bayer Leverkusen.

Bayern midfielder Arturo Vidal broke the deadlock after half an hour, swiveling to fire home the rebound from a difficult angle after Mats Hummels’s effort was blocked and the ball ricocheted off Niklas Suele.

Vidal turned provider seven minutes later, playing Lewandowski through on a counterattack to shoot past Marwin Hitz.

The Poland striker claimed his league-leading 13th goal of the season early in the second half with a perfectly struck volley to Joshua Kimmich’s precise long cross from the right.

Vidal headed against the crossbar just afterward before Bayern conserved energy for Wednesday’s Champions League game at Anderlecht.

The win stretched the side’s unbeaten record to 28 games at home.

Winless Cologne’s terrible start to the league continued with its 10th defeat in 12 games, while the discussion over video assistance in the league will continue after two mistakes by referee Felix Brych.

Daniel Brosinski’s penalty before the break was enough for a 1-0 win for Mainz against Cologne, but how it came about will ensure the controversy over video assistance goes on.

Brych pointed to the spot when Pablo De Blasis fell under Frederik Sorensen’s challenge. He then consulted the video assistant, who had the benefit of studying replays in Cologne, and stood by the decision – despite television showing that Sorensen made hardly any contact with the Mainz player.

Brych later sent off Mainz’s Giulio Donati for what he perceived as striking Leon Bittencourt after a tussle between the two. However, Bittencourt’s foot struck Donati in the face beforehand. Donati, who was lying on the pitch clutching his face, brushed the Cologne player away when he went to lift him up.

Following controversial decisions in previous games, the German soccer federation said video assistants were only to step in when there was “a clear wrong decision.”

Ten-man Leverkusen came from behind to salvage a 2-2 draw at home against second-place Leipzig.

Timo Werner’s early penalty put the visitors in front before Leon Bailey equalized before the break.

The home side’s hopes took a blow when Benjamin Henrichs was sent off for handball on the line and Emil Forsberg scored the resulting penalty, but Kevin Volland equalized again with a quarter-hour remaining.

Wolfsburg defeated Freiburg 3-1 at home to give coach Martin Schmidt his first win after he started with seven draws.

On loan from Bayern, Serge Gnabry did brilliantly to set up Mark Uth for Hoffenheim’s injury-time equalizer in a 1-1 draw with visiting Eintracht Frankfurt.