Premier League Preview: Aston Villa

3 Comments

Each day from now until the beginning of the Premier League season, we will preview two teams from England’s top flight. You can view them all here at PST Preview central. Don’t forget, the 2013-14 PL season begins on August 17th, and for the first-time ever you can watch every game live on NBC Sports.

Aston Villa has never been outside the Premier League since its inception in the 1992-93 season, but it’s been a little too close for comfort the past two years. The team hasn’t won a trophy since the 2001 UEFA Intertoto Cup, and despite a four-year run of top-10 domestic finishes, things seem to be trending downward at Villa Park.

Transfers In: M Aleksandar Tonev (Lech Poznań, Poland), D Antonio Luna (Sevilla, Spain), GK Jed Steer (Norwich City), D Jores Okore (Nordsjælland, Denmark), M Leandro Bacuna (FC Groningen, Netherlands), F Nicklas Helenius (Aalborg, Denmark)

Transfers Out: M Stiliyan Petrov (retired), F Brett Holman (Al Nasr, UAE), D Derrick Williams (Bristol City, League One), D Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest, Championship), D Richard Dunne (Queens Park Rangers, Championship), M Jean Makoun (Stade Rennais, France), M Courtney Cameron (Torquay United, League Two), GK Andy Marshall (released)

source: Getty ImagesKey Player: The most important name for Villa is one that nearly found itself in the section above this one. Striker Christian Benteke (pictured) was the team’s top scorer last year as it narrowly avoided relegation, and he was linked with Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Arsenal in the off-season after he handed in a transfer request. In the end, he decided to sign a new deal to keep him at Aston Villa until 2017.

On the other end of the field, American goalkeeper Brad Guzan also played a large role in Villa’s successful fight against relegation to the Championship. His performance earned him the team vote for 2011-12 Player of the Year. If Villa is going to stay in the top flight again, he will play a crucial part in this season.

Manager: Scotsman Paul Lambert took over from countryman Alex McLeish at the start of last season, but he only finished one spot higher in the table. Lambert is on the clock right from the start of this campaign — he is the only manager to start a second season in charge since Martin O’Neill left the club in 2010.

Lambert has played a lot of young players in preseason but tempered fans’ expectations of them and asked for patience, which seems to indicate that he expects another tough season ahead. If that’s true, Villa could very well finish it with a different manager than the one who starts it.

Outlook: It’s going to be a battle to stay in the Premier League this season for Aston Villa. It could take another special individual performance from Benteke and Guzan to keep the team afloat. If injuries hit either of those two, survival will be nearly impossible.

MORE: Read all the Premier League previews for each team here

WATCH: Neymar dizzies Valencia, gets Suarez pick to score vs. Man Utd

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
Leave a comment

All three parts of the MSN trident helped Barcelona produce an International Champions Cup goal against Manchester United on Wednesday, though not in the most traditional of fashions.

Lionel Messi’s through ball was off target, and Neymar rushed onto it before spinning toward goal. Luis Suarez literally shoved Chris Smalling out of contention to stop the Brazilian, and Neymar did the rest with a finish past David De Gea.

[ REPORT: Barca confident of Coutinho deal ]

Say it with me, “It’s preseason for the officials, too, you guys.”

Neymar’s goal has given Barcelona a 1-0 lead over United, and the match is at halftime. Obviously, he hasn’t been sent to Paris Saint-Germain.

Report: Man City in “advanced” Mbappe talks; Real could sell Bale to Man Utd

Michael Steele/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Can Manchester United doom Manchester City’s hopes of claiming Kylian Mbappe from AS Monaco?

Goal.com reports that Man City is in advanced talks with Monaco regarding the electric 18-year-old coming off a 26-goal season, but claims Real Madrid remains prepared to buy Mbappe if they can finance the move.

How would they do that? Apparently, by selling Gareth Bale to Manchester United.

[ REPORT: Barca confident of Coutinho deal ]

The Bale to Old Trafford rumors have existed dating back to the Welshman’s days at Tottenham Hotspur, but this puts a concrete plan behind a move. United boss Jose Mourinho has lamented the price of doing business in the market, and maybe the fee would bend a bit to his liking thanks to Real’s alleged need to deal.

This helps explain why it’s Man City who Goal claims sits in the driver’s seat:

Though it is believed Mbappe is also open to moving to the Santiago Bernabeu, Pep Guardiola has spoken personally with the teenager in a bid to convince him to move to Manchester, and the Catalan’s employers are now trying to persuade Monaco to sell.

The same report, seemingly well connected to Man City, claims the Etihad Stadium bunch has been surprised by Arsenal’s unwillingness to sell Alexis Sanchez within the Premier League.

The arrival of Bale and/or Mbappe to the Premier League would further congest the race for the top of the table, and start to build a gulf between a trio of Man City, Man United, and Chelsea, and the rest of the league.

And what about the Reggae Boyz? History awaits

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Being an American site whose readership celebrates USMNT coverage, we’ve dealt with the U.S. side of Wednesday’s Gold Cup Final in Santa Clara.

Yet the opponent is truly staring down history with little to no expectations. Jamaica enters its second-straight Gold Cup Final also hoping to put one leg in the 2021 Confederations Cup in Qatar.

[ MORE: Gold Cup Final preview ]

The Reggae Boyz are 8:1 underdogs against the United States tonight, and that figure would likely be even bolder if the U.S. was performing to its capabilities. Jamaica enters the game with red-hot Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake, a half-dozen MLS players, and the rest of its roster comprised of Jamaican-based or lower-tier U.S. club players.

And as for leaving players behind, as the U.S. clearly did for this tournament, this is not a Jamaican team boasting Premier League players Wes Morgan, Adrian Mariappa, and Michael Hector.  Consider that manager Theodore Whitmore has qualified for a final with a far less impressive-looking roster than the one that fell to Mexico in 2015. That tournament roster had only six players from outside the MLS, the Premier League, and the English Football League system.

Jamaica boasted third- and fourth-place finishes in 1993 and 1998, and remains the only team from the Caribbean Football Union to make it to a final. It has a chance to become just the fourth Gold Cup winner in 14 tournaments (Mexico has seven, the USMNT five, and Canada won the 2000 tournament).

Jamaica’s ELO rating is 66th in the world. It’s FIFA ranking is 113, behind Cuba, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Haiti. Behind Antigua and Barbuda.

To win this tournament, whatever you think of the Gold Cup, would be an amazing achievement. But what Whitmore has done in calmly guiding his men to this point is already remarkable. That he’s done it like he’s been there before is even more laudable.

Rapids add longtime Bundesliga winger Aigner from 1860 Munich (highlights)

Photo by Johannes Simon/Getty Images For MAN
Leave a comment

The Colorado Rapids are hoping for an injection of offense from veteran Bundesliga right winger Stefan Aigner.

The soon-to-be 30-year-old has played 274 games between the first and second tiers of German soccer, with 25 goals and 25 assists in Bundesliga play and a further 31 and 25 in the second tier.

Most recently with 2.Bundesliga side 1860 Munich for a third time, he’s played most of his career between Munich and Eintracht Frankfurt.

[ MORE: BVB’s Merino to Newcastle ]

Aigner has the resume to succeed and perhaps star in MLS, especially if he wasn’t slowed too much by a knee injury last season (He returned and produced at the 2.Bundesliga level).

Here’s what Rapids interim general manager Padraig Smith said:

“We’re excited to add a player of Stefan’s caliber to our roster for the next three-and-a-half years,” said Smith. “As an organization we are committed to fielding a forward-thinking side and bringing in Stefan – a technical and versatile player who can excel in multiple attacking roles – will help us achieve that vision.”