Okore

Paul Lambert’s youth revolution sees five new faces arrive at Villa Park

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Last season Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert convinced chairman Randy Lerner to dole out £7 million for a relatively unknown 21 year old commodity out of Racing Genk. At the time the fee seemed a bit rich but fast forward nine months and there is not a club in the world that would pass on such a cut-rate price for Christian Benteke.

And while the Benteke deal is Lambert’s shrewdest to date, a deeper look at his portfolio suggests the Villa manager has a keen insight on picking up young, quality talent in the transfer market.

Last season he snapped up 22 year old Matthew Lowton from Sheffield United for a fee of £3 million, 21 year old Ashley Westwood from Crewe Alexandria for a fee of £2 million and 22 year old Yacouba Sylla from Clermont Foot for  £2 million. Lowton quickly established himself as one of the best young right-backs in the league while Westwood made the holding midfield role his own and Sylla impressed in the same position with a marauding style that brought bite to the claret and blue.

In addition to bringing in new players, Lambert has recently re-signed the talented youth in place before his arrival at Villa Park, penning 22 year old defender Nathan Baker and 21 year old winger Andreas Weimann to new deals this summer. And as the youth are locked down, the non-impacting veterans – James Collins (29), Jean Makoun(30) and Stephen Warnock (31) – have all been put to pasture.

It’s all part of Lambert’s youth revolution, which has continued this summer by bringing in five new faces all under the age of 23 – Antonio Luna (22), Aleksandar Tonev (22), Jores Okore (20), Leandro Bacuna (21) and Nicklas Helenius (22).

So, which one of these players could be the next Benteke or Weimann? Let’s take a closer look at each one and note their potential impact.

Antonio Luna

Luna signed with the West Midlands on a three year deal from Sevilla, where the left-back made his debut in 2010 and went on to make 20 appearances over three seasons. After a perceived drop in play he was sent on loan to Almeria in 2011 (making 13 appearances) and to Mallorca last season (making 10 appearances). Although not expected to come in and start for the Villians, if Luna hits form do not be surprised if Lambert’s plants the Spaniard at left-back and moves Baker into the center of the defense.

Aleksandar Tonev

Bulgarian midfielder Tonev comes to Villa from Lech Poznan where he netted seven times in three years. The winger played alongside Villa midfielder (and now assistant development coach) Stilian Petrov in the Bulgarian national team and hopes to emulate the impact of Petrov and fellow countrymen Dimitar Berbatov in the Premier League. Like Luna, Tonev is unlikely to start but will provide competition for Weimann and Gabriel Agbonglahor and is likely to be utilized by Lambert as a spark late in matches.

Jores Okore

Okore (pictured) is a big, physical center-back who played a key part of FC Nordsjaelland’s strong run in the Danish Superliga and earned vital experience in this season’s Champions League stint. He is fast, big, strong and good in the air but his youth makes him prone to positioning mistakes. Okore may not start immediately but he very well could prove the most valuable of the lot in a few years down the road. For this season, however, he’ll serve as serious competition for Ron Vlaar, Baker and Joseph Bennett.

Leandro Bacuna

Leandro Bacuna is a pacy and versatile Dutch midfielder came through the youth ranks at Groningen and spent four seasons with the senior side making 109 appearances and scoring 10 goals. At 6’1″ Bacuna is physically imposing player prone to more of a power orientated approach that sometimes finds his skill lacking. His engine could see him inserted anywhere in the midfield but Lambert is most likely to let him challenge Westwood, Sylla and Fabian Delph in the center of the park.

Nicklas Helenius

Helenius is a striker from Danish League side Aalborg BK, where he made 102 appearances and scored 40 goals. The Danish international is a threat in the air due to his towering height (6’5″) and also on the ground where he possesses a delicate touch in the box. The 22 year old would make a fearsome strike partner for Benteke, could be a wonderful target for both Weimann and  Agbonglahor and may be the man who prompts Villa to cut ties with Darren Bent.

 

UEFA Champions League roundup: Stanciu’s stunner, five draws, more

BUCHAREST,ROMANIA - AUGUST 19: Nicolae Stanciu of FC Steaua Bucuresti  in action during the UEFA Champions League first leg play-off match against between FC Steaua Bucuresti  and PFC Ludogorets Razgrad on August 19, 2014 in Bucharest,Romania . (Photo by Daniel Mihailescu/EuroFootball/Getty Images)
Photo by Daniel Mihailescu/EuroFootball/Getty Images
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We were treated to a pair of very different but still aesthetically pleasing goals as the first legs of the third qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League kicked off on Tuesday.

Ajax, Shakhtar Donetsk and Monaco are three of the biggest teams playing at this stage of the tournament, with the first two playing today and one featuring in the goals in question.

[ MORE: Everton to land Gueye? ]

That was Ajax, as PAOK’s Djalma Campos took a walk around wandering Ajax goalkeeper Jesper Cilleseen and cut a goal home from a tricky, tricky angle.

The Dutch legends came back to draw 1-1, but gave up a quality road goal to its Greek visitors.

Romanian powers Steaua Bucharest found themselves a thrilling free kick goal in a 1-1 draw at Sparta Prague.

Nicolae Stanciu is the goal scorer in question, the 23-year-old who’s scored four goals in 7 appearances for the Romania national team since breaking through this season.

This is how he did it today:

Tuesday’s first legs
BATE Borisov 1-0 Dundalk
Ludogorets Razgrad 2-2 Red Star Belgrade
Sparta Prague 1-1 Steaua Bucharest
Partizani Tirana 0-1 Red Bull Salzburg
Viktoria Plzen 0-0 Qarabag
Rostov 2-2 Anderlecht
Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0 Young Boys
Ajax 1-1 PAOK
Dinamo Zagreb 2-0 Dinamo Tbilisi

PSG signs Argentine midfielder Giovani Lo Celso from Rosario

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PARIS (AP) French champion Paris Saint-Germain has signed attacking midfielder Giovani Lo Celso from Argentine club Rosario Central on a five-year deal, making him new coach Unai Emery’s fourth signing since replacing Laurent Blanc last month.

The 20-year-old Lo Celso, who operates best as a probing playmaker behind the strikers, scored twice for Rosario last season.

No financial details of the deal were given.

[ MORE: Everton to land Gueye? ]

In recent weeks, PSG has signed France winger Hatem Ben Arfa, Poland midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak and Belgium right back Thomas Meunier.

Lo Celso says he hopes to “follow in the footsteps” of countrymen Angel Di Maria and Javier Pastore – who are key players for PSG.

Before joining up with his new teammates, however, Lo Celso will play for Argentina at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics next month.

Coup for Koeman? Everton agrees to Gueye’s release clause

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - APRIL 02: Idrissa Gueye of Aston Villa controls the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Chelsea at Villa Park on April 2, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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If you’ve read this space at all, you’ll know PST is very high on Aston Villa box-to-box midfielder Idrissa Gueye.

Only N'Golo Kante registered more successful tackles than Gueye in last season’s Premier League, and that came on a Villa side which endured its first PL relegation.

[ MORE: Sounders, Schmid part ways ]

Gueye, 26, has a release clause of $9.3 million, and according to Sky Sports it’s now been met by two teams: Marseille and Everton. Reports say Gueye prefers to stay in England, so Ronald Koeman could have a huge addition to his squad.

It’s not overstating it to say Gueye could revolutionize the Everton squad, allowing players like Ross Barkley even more freedom and giving terrific cover. Gueye has a better offensive acumen than we saw with Villa, and is an invaluable part of Senegal’s set-up.

Sounders part ways with MLS all-time wins leader Sigi Schmid

SANDY, UT - MARCH 12: Head coach Sigi Schmid of Seattle Sounders FC gestures from the sidelines in the game against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium on March 12, 2016 in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
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The underachieving Seattle Sounders have cost their legendary coach his job.

Sigi Schmid and the Sounders have agreed to part ways, the team announced on Tuesday, ending an eight-year run as the only coach in franchise’s MLS history.

Schmid, 63, is one of the most decorated coaches in MLS history, and has four U.S. Open Cup titles with Seattle after a pair of MLS Cup wins between Columbus and Los Angeles.

[ MORE: How did Yedlin, CCV play vs Juventus? ]

He also won three College Cup titles at UCLA between 1980-99.

Here’s Schmid, from SoundersFC.com:

“I want to thank Seattle Sounders FC for the opportunity to lead this club over the past eight years, with particular gratitude to Adrian Hanauer, Joe Roth and the rest of the club’s ownership group. I’d also like to thank my coaches and technical staff for the support they’ve given me, and most importantly I want to thank my players for their tremendous effort throughout the years,” Schmid said.

“I’m proud of the success we’ve achieved in winning five major trophies in Seattle, qualifying for the postseason for seven-straight seasons. My only disappointment is that we were unable to bring home an MLS Cup to our tremendous fans, who have always been supportive through good times and bad. In closing, I want to thank the Sounders FC organization, the club’s fans and the city of Seattle for this amazing run.”

Longtime assistant Brian Schmetzer takes over in the interim, tasked with finding a way to improve on the uninspiring Sounders’ 6-12-2 record.

The Sounders are 10 points out of the final playoff spot and haven’t won since June 22 (2L-4T). They’ve scored the third-fewest goals in MLS. Without knowing what’s going on behind the scenes, the players’ performances over the last few weeks raised serious character concerns. Hopefully a coaching change somehow eases those, as it did for Chelsea.