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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.”

Schedule for 2019 Club World Cup announced

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The schedule for the 2019 FIFA World Club Cup has been confirmed.

Liverpool will represent UEFA in the global competition in Qatar from December 11-21, as Jurgen Klopp‘s side will play at least two games.

The Premier League side will face either Liga MX side Monterrey or the winner of Al Saad SC/Hienghene Sport in the semifinal on Dec. 17, then four days later will play in either the third-place match or the final.

Below is the schedule in full.


First round
Match 1: Al Sadd SC v Hienghene Sport – December 11

Second round
Match 2: Monterrey v. Winner of Match 1 – December 14
Match 3: AFC Champions v. Esperance Sportive de Tunis – December 14

Fifth-place match
Match 4: Loser Match 2 v. Loser Match 3 – December 17

Semifinals
Match 5: CONMEBOL champions v. Winners of Match 3 – December 17
Match 6: Winners Match 2 v. Liverpool – December 18

Third-place match
Match 7: Loser Match 6 v. Loser Match 5 – December 21

Final
Match 8: Winners Match 6 v. Winners Match 5 – December 21

Rooney lambasts MLS over domestic salaries

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It is quite clear Wayne Rooney is leaving Major League Soccer in December to head back to England.

Before he leaves for a player-coach role at Derby County, he’s hellbent on having his say. He is keen to air some grievances.

Like a free-spirited floor manager who is working out his notice before moving on, Rooney has once again taken a shot at MLS. This time he has hit out over salaries domestic players in the U.S. and Canada receive.

In an interview with ESPN, Rooney, 33, doubled down after his recent criticism of travel issues regarding charter flights not being available for all away trips.

“I feel that American players get underpaid,” Rooney said. “I feel they deserve to get more money to stay in line with football in the rest of the world and in terms of the American sports. I’m not saying it to benefit me, I obviously won’t be in the league next season. I think it’s only fair to those players who are putting in the same work as all have to earn the right to earn more money for doing it.”

Has Rooney got a point? He has, but it is a complex area to delve in to.

With more money set aside in recent seasons for Targeted Allocation Money (TAM), it is easier for MLS franchises to spend more money on overseas additions, and they often do that rather than use it on domestic players.

If you are a non-Designated Player in MLS, the maximum salary you can earn is $10,192-a-week. Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and others clearly don’t have to worry about their salary as DPs, but it is commendable that they are lending their voices to the cause. Rooney could just sit their and take his DP salary, but he’s not. So, he’s obviously seen something that needs to be addressed.

Do MLS players deserve to be paid higher? Of course. But it is still a growing league and is far away from the average salary in Europe’s top leagues. The average wage in MLS is around $7,000 per week, while in the Premier League it is around $70,000 per week.

With MLS expanding to new markets and attracting new interest from all over the globe, you’d expect the players who helped make the league what it is, the veteran U.S. and Canadian players, to be rewarded for their loyalty. But in the current system, it doesn’t work like that.

Why is Rooney speaking out now? The current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) runs out on Jan. 31, 2020 and there is talk of a strike unless more charter flights and freedom of movement between MLS teams is granted.

Given his profile, having Rooney lead the charge makes sense. Expect to hear a lot more about the MLS’ upcoming CBA talks with the MLS Players Association (MLSPA).

Inter’s Conte fumes over media’s fixation on formations

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ROME (AP) Only three rounds into his Serie A return, new Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte is already fed up with the local media’s obsession with tactics and the “modulo” – Italian for formation.

Known for his three-man defense, Conte was asked if he would change to a more traditional four-man backline.

“Only in Italy are we fixated on formations,” Conte snapped at a reporter’s question over the “modulo.” “I’ve coached in England and they’re not the least bit interested in that there. I want to see courage and intensity, which we’re trying to express. The rest is all crap.”

When Conte guided Juventus to three straight Serie A titles from 2012-14, his “BBC” defense of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini was the backbone of the club’s success.

When he took over Chelsea in 2016, he used a 4-1-4-1 formation during dispiriting early-season losses to Arsenal and Liverpool before quickly changing to a 3-4-2-1 with David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill going on to anchor the defense in a campaign that ended with the Premier League title.

At Inter, Conte is using Diego Godin, Stefan de Vrij and Milan Skriniar to anchor a 3-5-2 and Inter has started with three wins from three matches to open up a two-point lead over Bologna and eight-time defending champion Juventus.

It’s the first time Juventus has not been atop the standings since March 2018.

Inter’s early success will be tested against struggling AC Milan in the city derby on Saturday.

“Modern football evolves and you have to keep up with the times,” Conte said. “Enthusiasm isn’t tied to results but rather what we’re trying to do. Rome was not built in a day.”

MANDZUKIC TO QATAR?

Mario Mandzukic could be on his way to Qatar after being left off Juventus’ squad for the Champions League group stage.

“There are market opportunities that present themselves. Mario has been a very important player for us over the years, he proved himself at every level, there is a possibility and in agreement with him, the coach and his agent, we decided it was best he didn’t come on this trip,” Juventus sporting director Fabio Paratici said before Juve’s scoreless draw at Fiorentina on Saturday, confirming that there was an offer from Qatar for the striker.

Mandzukic scored goals in the double figures across all competitions for Juventus each of the past four seasons but new coach Maurizio Sarri has preferred to use Gonzalo Higuain in support of Cristiano Ronaldo this season.

Midfielder Emre Can was also left off the Champions League squad, and had to apologize to the club after saying he was “furious” over the decision.

WOMEN’S SERIE A

Italy’s run to the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Cup has put more of a spotlight on the women’s Serie A.

The 12-team league opened its season over the weekend with the three favorites, two-time defending champion Juventus, AC Milan and Fiorentina the only teams to post victories.

Juventus’ 2-1 win over Empoli and Milan’s 3-0 shutout of Roma were shown live on Italy’s Sky satellite TV service Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

Fiorentina’s 4-2 derby victory at Florentia San Gimignano was broadcast live via the club’s Twitter feed .

The Gazzetta dello Sport had a full page of coverage Sunday and Monday.

Inter Milan, making its debut in the top division, drew 2-2 with Verona.

Among the national team players to score were Cristiana Girelli for Juventus and Milan captain Valentina Giacinti, who led the league with 21 goals in 21 matches last season.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf

Alex Morgan out for season with knee injury

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We knew Alex Morgan was hurt. You could see it, I could see it, we all could see it. Yet she insisted all throughout the 2019 Women’s World Cup, “I’m ok.”

Now we confirmation that she wasn’t ok.

Morgan announced she will miss the rest of the 2019 NWSL season for the Orlando Pride with a knee injury, confirming she’s been dealing with the problem since the World Cup. “I’m disappointed I won’t be able to compete with the Pride for the remainder of 2019 due to a knee injury I’ve been managing since the World Cup,” Morgan wrote on Instagram, “and that I can’t be there to help my teammates and my club have more success.”

The Pride are bottom of the NWSL table, with just four wins in 21 matches this season. Morgan has played in just six of those, four before the World Cup and two after, without scoring or assisting a single goal. Orlando won just one of the six games Morgan appeared in, the most recent one on August 21 against second-placed Chicago. Meanwhile, they were shut out in four of the six games she appeared in, with Morgan registering just one lone shot among the six appearances.

“I have already started physical therapy in LA and am eager to get back on the field doing what I love,” Morgan said without offering any other details on her injury.

The 30-year-old USWNT star scored five goals in their opening match of the 2019 Women’s World Cup against Thailand, assisting three more as the U.S. won 13-0. However, she was a consistent target for physical play in the ensuing match against Sweden and was seemingly injured in the 33rd minute, leading Jill Ellis to withdraw the striker at halftime. Morgan did not appear herself over the rest of the tournament, scoring just one more goal the rest of the way and at times looking unusually off the pace. Opposing teams copied Sweden’s strategy, targeting Morgan throughout the tournament with repeated kicks, fouls, and physical play.

“his year has had the highest of highs but along with that comes challenges and sometimes even falling short of my goals I set for myself in 2019,” Morgan wrote in her announcement.