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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.”

Petr Cech earns win with 2 penalty saves in hockey debut

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Former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper joined English fourth-division hockey team Guildford Phoenix four days ago and made his debut on Sunday.

He did not disappoint.

The 37-year-old saved two penalties in the shootout, earning Man of the Match honors.

Cech is reportedly a fan of the Guilford Flames, the first-division side who use the Phoenix as their developmental side. He was signed to be the team’s third-choice goalkeeper, just a chance for him to get in on the action before his body gives way for good, but he was given a chance to play right away. He wore number 39, a nod to famous Czech goaltender Dominik Hasek. His custom helmet was adorned with Arsenal and Chelsea colors. Regulation finished level at 2-2 before Cech’s shootout heroics.

“I wanted to win, that was the main thing, and I’m glad we did,” Cech said after the match. “I was surprised that I wasn’t more nervous. I didn’t know what to expect so it was nice how quickly my body switched into matchday mode.”

Giroud upset with reserve role at Chelsea

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Olivier Giroud does not look back on his transfer to Chelsea and wish he had done things differently, but that doesn’t mean things are all sunshine and roses for the 33-year-old.

Giroud, who moved to Chelsea from Arsenal in the winter of 2018 after six years with the Gunners, has played just 43 times in the Premier League, averaging just 35 minutes per appearance. That has him frustrated, hoping to prove his loyalty to the club and work harder than the other options up front.

“I had competitors in attack – [Alvaro] Morata, [Gonzalo] Higuain, who ended up leaving,” Giroud said. “I won at the end: I played the final of the FA Cup in 2018 and the [Europa League] final in 2019. Once again, I’m starting the year in a difficult situation. But as my brother says, I have always built myself in the face of adversity.”

Giroud is trying to be smart about how he approaches the competition for time with the likes of Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi, but he says it is emotionally taxing.

“You do not have to be fatalistic in certain situations,” Giroud says about keeping a level head. “I have always been respectful and humble. Even if I do not agree with the coach, I do not criticize him. But in myself, I cannot accept it because I know what I’m worth on a pitch.”

The French international has made just three league appearances this season, mostly thanks to Abraham’s scalding form. Abraham, still just 22 years old, has snatched his opportunity for first-team minutes with eight goals in eight games to start the campaign. That has left Giroud on the sidelines for each of the last five league games, missing out on a spot in the matchday squad altogether for the last three.

Despite his struggles at the club level, Giroud has maintained his place in the French national team, missing just five matches of France’s last 64 games, including 37 of the last 39.

James says he was not knocked unconscious in Wales draw

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Head injury awareness again rose to the forefront in the 1-1 draw between Wales and Croatia in Cardiff when Daniel James went down after colliding with a pair of opponents.

The Manchester United winger looked to almost sure have been knocked unconscious when Domagoj Vida’s knee appeared to tap the back of his head while challenging for a ball in the air. Vida went toppling over the back of teammate Borna Barisic who ducked out of the way, but it was James who many were concerned for as he lay motionless on his back with his eyes closed.

Yet James was allowed to come back onto the field and completed the full 90 minutes, sparking criticism from injury advocates and fans who were concerned for James’ safety on the field, at potential risk for even more serious consequences should he indeed have suffered a concussion.

After the game however, despite what fans saw as James lie on the turf, the 21-year-old insisted he was not knocked unconscious. “I’m fine,” James claimed after the match, speaking to Sky Sports. “I think he just caught me in the head but I didn’t get knocked out fortunately.”

Wales boss Ryan Giggs backed up the decision as well, calling James’ motionless display “a bit of acting.”

“The medical staff went over, he was compos mentis and we did all the checks at half-time and he was fine,” Giggs said, referring to the latin phrase for “of sound mind.”

If James was indeed faking unconsciousness, it’s natural to wonder if he should face a fine from UEFA for looking to con referees, and in the process possibly confusing the independent neurologists on site assigned to assess head injuries.

ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman, who has been outspoken over the past few years advocating for head injury awareness after his career was cut short by concussions, took to Twitter to criticize Wales for allowing James back into the game. Twellman, who was on the ESPN call of the broadcast with Ian Darke, said more needs to be done to prevent players from being able to force their way back onto the field, lest someone be killed by second impact syndrome.

Former Hull City player Ryan Mason, who was forced to retire after a serious skull fracture saw him fighting for his life, was also seriously concerned about the incident.

Interestingly enough, later in the match just seconds after the second half restart, young Wales midfielder Ethan Ampadu was whalloped from behind by Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic in a wild and reckless aerial challenge. Petkovic’s elbow went clattering into the back of Ampadu’s head, and the was left writhing on the ground holding his head. The Chelsea youngster was taken off the field and immediately replaced by Joe Morrell, while Petkovic was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

Kane reflects on Tottenham, England struggles

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Harry Kane keeps finding the back of the net, but his teams keep losing.

The 26-year-old striker has bagged five Premier League goals in eight games for Spurs thus far, plus another seven goals for England in five Euro 2020 qualifiers this cycle. Yet Tottenham sits ninth in the table after three losses already this season, while England slumped to its first Euro defeat last time out, putting its seeding at the Euro finals next summer in jeopardy.

Kane is hoping to be a leader through the tough times for both club and country, wearing the armband for both as it currently stands.

“I think you need to lead by example,” Kane said ahead of England’s visit to Bulgaria on Monday. “Not getting too down when you lose a game, not getting too high when you win games. It is a long, old season for club and country ahead – a lot of games to be played so there are going to be tough periods.”

Kane has taken over the England captaincy on a permanent basis, and is filling in for the injured Hugo Lloris at Tottenham. “I am still the same person,” he said. “I still try and lead by example on and off the pitch and I will continue to do that. I have been in high pressure situations before in my career, whether that is going through goal droughts, playing in high-pressure games or not playing well as a team. It is something I will take in my stride and improve on.”

Leading by example includes finding the back of the net, while also supporting teammates both on and off the pitch. He knows even if he’s in good personal form on the stat sheet, there’s always ways to improve and help the squads through tough times.

“I am scoring goals but can I get more assists, create more chances? So yeah, I always look at little things I can get better at. Yes, the England form has been good but as ever, it can be better. We will see if I can continue scoring. It has been a good campaign but important I do not stop now.”