Premier League Preview: Manchester United vs. Aston Villa

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  • Man United have lost a club record 10 PL games this season
  • Villa have won just once in their last 34 league and cup games vs. United
  • United have only dropped points in 3 games, after taking the lead

The last time Aston Villa visited Manchester United, the Red Devils secured a comprehensive victory to seal the Premier League title.

What a difference a year makes.

On Saturday at Old Trafford Man United host Villa (Watch live on NBCSN, 8:45 a.m. ET and online via Live Extra) with real turmoil engulfing the famous club. Fan groups have arranged to have a banner saying “Wrong One- Moyes Out” flown over the stadium during the game, as they protest against the poor season from United and their new manager David Moyes.

Following the 3-0 demolition from Manchester City in the Manchester derby on Wednesday, tensions have been high in the red half of Manchester.

On Friday Moyes stated that the majority of fans are still on his side, but this game will be more about the off-field action than the match itself, as the reaction the Scotsman gets at Old Trafford will be a telling sign as to how he’s really viewed.

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Looking at the match, Villa have only beaten United once in their last 34 league and cup games against the Reds and United have lost just once against the Villans since 1995. Some record. But as we know this season, going to Old Trafford isn’t as daunting as it once was, so Paul Lambert’s men will fancy their chances of causing an upset.

Nemanja Vidic will return from suspension, but Chris Smalling, Robin van Persie and Jonny Evans are all out injured for United. As for Villa, they may be without Karim El Ahmadi but Andreas Weimann is expected to play some part.

What they’re saying

David Moyes on criticism from his own fans: “I am witnessing great support inside the ground, I’m witnessing great support when I bump into supporters outside the ground. There’s a rebuilding plan underway. Anybody who has an understanding of the game will understand that it happens. The people who put me in the job here are top football people, who understand the game and know exactly what is required at Manchester United and exactly the kind of characters you need to run the club.”

Paul Lambert on Villa’s chances of winning: “Yes they might be having a hard time at the minute. But David is following one of the greatest managers of all-time. That is no mean feat in itself. Whoever went in there at the start of the season was always going to find it difficult because they have had incredible success over a 20-plus year period. They still have some great, great players there. It’s not as if they have become poor players overnight. You’re probably expecting them to come out firing on all cylinders this weekend but it’s our job to try and win and what we can do best is to try and hurt them. That’s our intent, to go up there and try and win.”

Prediction

In this dreadful season for United, its hard to predict any kind of positive outcome. Finishing in the top five would be a commendable achievement right now, how they mighty have fallen. But after that battering from Manchester rivals Man City, I expect a response from the Red Devils. Villa aren’t in that much danger of relegation, and aren’t great at the back either. I fancy Wayne Rooney to tear the Villans apart and give Moyes’ men a big win at Old Trafford.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.