West Bromwich Albion v Aston Villa - Premier League

It’s been a good year for goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Seriously!


Aston Villa is certainly suffering a bedraggled season, committed to sticking through thin and thin with a young group, and taking the cuts and lumps to show for it.

So in that regard there has been no joy around Villa Park, not for anyone, including U.S. international Brad Guzan.

On the other hand, Villa’s forgettable campaign is doing something to build the resume, respect and professional chops of the U.S. backup in goal. And if Villa can stay up in the Premier League – Guzan and Co. took a huge step in that direction today with three huge points against West Ham – all the better.

As I watched Villa hold on desperately at the end (And barely so!) and then celebrate wildly (As they should!), here’s what I thought regarding Guzan:

He isn’t buckling under the pressure. Guzan is showing us something right now, and what he’s demonstrating should not be discounted or under-valued.

There is tremendous pressure in a relegation battle. And make no mistake, today’s result may have allowed fans around Villa Park to exhale for a day, supplying some small measure of temporary relief as Paul Lambert’s club climbs one spot beyond the drop zone’s terrible, swift sword, but Guzan and his midlands mates are still in the fight of their young lives.

Everyone who has been around a club holding off the relegation reaper will tell you: there is no pressure like it. It truly is crush depth, not even comparable to the pressure of matches when top-table stakes are exposed and looking to be claimed.

Pressure amplifies what a player is – what any man or woman is, really.

Guzan has held steadfast this year, picking the ball from his net time and again, but picking up his head each time and getting on with it. And still making saves and handling his business with a calm aplomb.

The time is coming when Guzan will be needed in a major U.S. match. It might be due to injury or further down the line; Tim Howard is five years older, as we know. Either way, Guzan is showing everyone in his first year as a first-choice starter in the world’s top league that he can take a punch, pressure wise.

In this way, this has been a good season for the Illinois native.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

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Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

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I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.