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Championship Sunday focus: Aston Villa

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Story so far… The 2013/14 Premier League season has largely been one to forget for Aston Villa.

On the pitch, their season was defined by a few marquee wins – the 1-3 come-from-behind victory at Arsenal on opening day, the 3-2 home win over Manchester City and the 1-0 victory over Chelsea – and tragically poor home results where they dropped points in 13 of 19 contests.

The poor results were based on a number of elements including a young squad, transfers who didn’t pan out (Nicklas Helenius, Aleksander Tonev, Antonio Luna), a season to forget for Christian Benteke (a drab fall/winter and a spring ruined by a torn achilles) and a manager who came off as uninspiring and, at times, indifferent to his sides’ poor displays. Besides the victories over big clubs, another positive was the continued development of a number of players like Brad Guzan, who had some epic saves in goal, Fabian Delph, who memorably dribbled half the pitch and beat Chelsea with a back heel goal, Leandro Bacuna, who proved himself an offensive menace despite playing as a full-back, and Ashley Westwood, who proved he can score goals and be a leader for years to come.

Off the pitch things have unraveled with rumors of owner Randy Lerner looking to sell while long-serving assistant coaches, Ian Culverhouse and Gary Karsa, being suspended in April after an alleged row. It’s a scene that feels inevitable to come to a head over the summer. 

Who do they play and where can I watch it: Villa faces Tottenham at White Hart Lane and can be seen live on USA at 10:00am ET as well as streamed via NBC Sports Live Extra.

Form guide: Form wise, Villa have had tough run of it lately, winning only once in their last six matches. Back in October Villa lost to Spurs 2-0 after goals from Roberto Soldado and Andros Townsend did the damage.

April 5 – Aston Villa 1-2 Fulham
April 12 – Crystal Palace 1 Aston Villa 0
April 19 – Aston Villa 0 Southampton 0
April 26 – Swansea City 4 Aston Villa 1
May 3 – Aston Villa 3 Hull City 1
May 7 – Manchester City 4 Aston Villa 0

What’s at stake: A victory on Sunday could take them as high as 12th place while a loss, combined with wins by West Brom and Hull City, could see them finish 17th. It’s a large range of possibilities for the Villans but no matter what happens, supporters will be happy to be staying up and eager to move on from what has been an odd and forgettable 2013/14 season.

When the final whistle blows: It’s difficult to see Villa beat Spurs but a share of the points certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Onwards and upwards.

Ronaldo shows no sign of injury while hanging with Conor McGregor

instagram.com/cristiano/
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Cristiano Ronaldo may not be ready for the UEFA Super Cup, but he’s no longer limping around.

To explore the Real Madrid superstar’s Instagram is to see Ronaldo, sometimes clothed, hanging out with celebrities.

In the last couple weeks we’ve seen him with Eva Longoria, Jennifer Lopez, and now his “bro” Conor McGregor.

[ MORE: Who wins the League of Hate? ]

Wait, what?

Yeah, Ronaldo is friends with the MMA star, and showed no ill form (and no brace of any kind) in several posed photos with McGregor.

Although admittedly, McGregor’s IG game is a bit better: The Irish fighter posted a photo of himself sunning in his briefs with the caption, “I’m gonna get him on the Forbes list by next year. But I’m gonna get him on the tan by next week.”

Good luck with both, bro.

Great to see you bro!!💪🏽🔝

A photo posted by Cristiano Ronaldo (@cristiano) on Jul 24, 2016 at 3:48pm PD

Bruce pens letter to Hull fans: “Desperately wanted to make it work”

YORK, ENGLAND - JULY 23: Steve Bruce manager of  Hull City ahead of the pre-season friendly match between York City and Hull City at Bootham Cresent on July 23, 2014  in York, England. (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)
Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images
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Many Hull City fans didn’t want Steve Bruce to leave the club, and this open letter shows why.

After leaving the club by “mutual consent” on Friday — it was first widely reported that he quit — fans protested at Hull’s game on Monday.

[ MORE: Who wins the League of Hate? ]

Bruce may’ve had his problems with Hull’s ownership, but he certainly got his supporters’ feelings right down to the core.

From the Hull Daily Mail:

My biggest regret is having to walk away but it was a decision I had to make for the sake of the club. The last 12 months have been very tough and it felt like the right step for the club to move forward in a different direction and with someone else in charge.

I desperately wanted to make it work this summer and be a Premier League manager again but, sadly, it wasn’t to be. Nevertheless, I’ve left Hull City with some fantastic memories that I’ll always cherish, including just eight weeks ago in the Championship play-off final at Wembley.

Class from the longtime boss, and we imagine he’ll have a job very soon if he wants it.

Report: Everton to activate release clause of Stoke’s Arnautovic

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28: Marko Arnautovic (1st L) of Stoke City competes for the ball against Seamus Coleman (2nd L) and Gareth Barry (1st Rof Everton during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Stoke City at Goodison Park on December 28, 2015 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)
Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images
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Everton is going to activate Marko Arnautovic‘s $16 million release clause to bring the Stoke City striker to Goodison Park, according to a report out of Austria.

Stoke had been trying to sign Arnautovic to a contract extension, but the player was reportedly prepared to play out the final year of his deal.

[ MORE: Who wins the League of Hate? ]

The huge 27-year-old Austrian has been with Stoke since 2013, and broke through with 11 Premier League goals last season.

Arnautovic would give Everton support behind Romelu Lukaku, and insurance in case the Toffees do wind up selling their Belgian striker. Everton also has Arouna Kone as a potential target forward, but Oumar Niasse is expecting to leave after less than a year at Goodison Park.

Chelsea wins the League… of Hate; Bournemouth, Leicester not hated

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27:  Diego Costa of Chelsea celebrates his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Chelsea at St Mary's Stadium on February 27, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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A family of English newspapers conducted its annual survey of which teams are the most hated in the Premier League, and there’s a new champion.

Manchester United has dropped to second in the table to Chelsea in what the Manchester Evening News called the “League of Hate”.

[ MORE: Rooney’s England position not set ]

According to the MEN, 10,000 fans were quizzed on their love and hate:

A national survey asked fans of each top flight club which sides they hate, and which they love, and the west London club came out as the most disliked club overall.

United, who won the dubious accolade last year, have been revealed to be the next most reviled side.

It’s no surprise that the league’s more successful sides sit atop the table while newer PL clubs like Bournemouth and Burnley are not reviled. That said, Leicester’s dream story has them 19th. How much more success do they need to have before shooting up the hate table?

Here’s the Top Five, and all results:

1) Chelsea
2) Manchester United
3) Liverpool
4) Manchester City
5) Arsenal