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.

Report: Chelsea, Everton target disgruntled PSG striker Cavani

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Sunday’s 2-0 victory was anything but conventional for Paris Saint-Germain, and now, it’s become quite clear that one of its stars isn’t happy at the Parc des Princes.

[ MORE: Spurs meet Hammers, Chelsea takes on Everton in League Cup ]

Edinson Cavani’s on-field disagreements with Neymar were documented over the weekend, with the Uruguayan forward clearly disgruntled over the fact that he had a free kick taken away from him and a separate occasion where the Brazilian wanted to take a penalty kick as well.

The Daily Mail is reporting that Chelsea and Everton have expressed their interest in the 30-year-old striker following the incidents that occurred against Lyon.

Everton is certainly in the market for a striker at this point, after heavily struggling in the attacking third during the opening month-plus of the Premier League season, while Chelsea would likely want someone to provide depth for them up front in support of summer signing Alvaro Morata.

However, the big concern over Cavani is not only his age, but his salary as well. For the sort of money that he’d likely command, a team like Chelsea would surely only play the Uruguayan on rare occasions given Morata and Michy Batshuayi‘s presence.

War of egos weakens Cavani at Paris Saint-Germain

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PARIS (AP) With eight wins in as many matches this season, Paris Saint-Germain should be bursting with confidence ahead of Bayern Munich’s visit next week in the Champions League.

[ MORE: Pulisic stars with a goal in another BVB win ]

A war of egos between the club’s biggest stars, however, is tarnishing PSG’s perfect start to the season, as well as the club’s slick image that the Qatari owners want to promote in their ambition to build a great club in the French capital.

[ MORE: Atletico Madrid to host 2018/19 Champions League final ]

When Qatar Sports Investments splashed 222 million euros ($262 million) – double the previous world-record transfer of 105 million euros (then $116 million) – to acquire Neymar, the general mood at the club and in the French media was upbeat.

To sum it up, the Brazil striker was the player PSG needed in its quest for Champions League glory.

But some voices immediately rose, noting that Neymar’s technical relationship with forward Edinson Cavani could be problematic, especially if the former Barcelona player was used in a central position. PSG coach Unai Emery, however, made the clever choice of keeping Cavani in a center-forward role, with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe deployed on the wings.

PSG’s new attacking trident was clinical in its first two matches, scoring 10 goals, but proved less efficient in a 2-0 win over Lyon last weekend at the Parc des Princes, where tensions between Cavani and Neymar were obvious.

The two argued over who should take a penalty kick that Cavani finally missed. The dispute happened just minutes after the Uruguay international had tried to take a free kick, but Neymar’s good friend and Brazil teammate Dani Alves took the ball and gave it to the former Barcelona star.

Visibly angered, Cavani went back to the dressing room straight after the final whistle while his teammates celebrated on the field.

According to L’Equipe newspaper, a dressing room bust-up followed and the duo had to be separated by teammates.

For now, PSG seems to be willing to ease tensions between its stars.

“There needs to be a gentlemen’s agreement between them when it comes to taking spot kicks,” Emery said. “Apart from that, we will have to arrange things internally for when we get penalties because I believe that both are capable of converting them.”

The altercation, however, spoke volumes about how fast Cavani is losing his influence in the team. After years in the shadow of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the long-haired forward finally got the chance to impose himself as a true leader last season. He did it in style, finishing as the French league’s top scorer and netting 49 goals in 50 games across all competitions.

Neymar’s arrival has taken the spotlight away from him, and the good relationship between the Brazil captain and Mbappe is making things ever more difficult for Cavani. In a team where five Brazilians are now playing together, Neymar is clearly the new boss and Cavani’s days at the club might be numbered.

[ MORE: Mourinho questions worth of the League Cup ]

Speaking to an Uruguayan radio program, Cavani has nonetheless denied tensions exist between the pair.

“These things are created. The truth is that these are normal things, things that happen in football,” he said. “The truth is that there’s no problem.”

L’Equipe reported that Dani Alves invited all his teammates to a reconciliation dinner on Wednesday, but it remains to be seen how long the new “MCN” trident of Mbappe, Cavani and Neymar will stay in place at PSG.

Breaking: Chelsea sells Diego Costa to Atleti, will re-join club in January

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We all suspected this would happen, and it finally occurred on Thursday.

[ MORE: Tammy Abraham expected to call Nigeria his national team ]

Chelsea has announced the transfer of Diego Costa to Atletico Madrid for roughly $77 million after spending  seasons with the Premier League side.

The 28-year-old will re-join Atleti in January during the winter transfer window. Atletico was banned from making transfers over the summer, which kept the move on hold.

Costa played for the La Liga side on two separate stints, first from 2007-2009 and then 2010-2014 after a brief move to Real Valladolid in between.

In his time with the Blues, the Spanish international scored 59 goals in all competitions for the Londoners, and helped the club to two Premier League titles.

The sale of Costa isn’t unexpected after the striker’s falling out with Chelsea manager Antonio Conte towards the latter half of the 2016/17 PL season.

The Italian boss revealed to Costa via text at the conclusion of the team’s PL-winning campaign that the goalscorer would no longer be needed at Stamford Bridge, prior to Chelsea acquiring striker Alvaro Morata over the summer.

Red Bulls must rally quickly, turn attention back to MLS playoff race

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For any Red Bulls supporter, Wednesday night’s U.S. Open Cup final was a grim reminder of how devastating any cup final can be for a team.

[ MORE: Sporting KC claims its fourth U.S. Open Cup title ]

The New York Red Bulls fell short against Sporting KC — who captured its fourth Open Cup victory in its club’s history — but Jesse Marsch’s side cannot dwell on the result because there is another big task at hand over the final weeks of the MLS regular season.

While that may be easier said than done, especially after the “heartbreaking” nature of Wednesday’s loss, Marsch believes that his side exhibits the qualities you’d want in any good team.

“The outcome is obviously heartbreaking, but the performance is what I think we’ll carry with us. In the moment, there’s no consolation prize,” Marsch said when asked about if there would be any hang over from the loss. “But the confidence that this group has, they way that they played and the way that they played for each other, this will continue to make us good.”

The biggest concern for the Red Bulls though isn’t necessarily even their current form, but instead the form of other clubs around them in the Eastern Conference. With six matches remaining, Marsch and Co. sit just three points above the Montreal Impact for the sixth and final playoff spot in the East.

Meanwhile, Atlanta United has surged up the table and still holds at least a game in hand over most of the field, making them quite the danger in addition leaders Toronto FC and second-place New York City FC.

The Red Bulls haven’t won a match since their 3-2 Open Cup semifinal victory against FC Cincinnati, which came over a month ago.

Marsch and his side do have the benefit of facing bottom-dwellers D.C. United twice over the last five weeks of the regular season, but also packed into into the Red Bulls schedule are matches against four current playoff teams, including Toronto and Atlanta.

Goalkeeper Ryan Meara stressed the importance of his side maintaining its focus, particularly after the Impact and Atlanta each picked up three points on Wednesday night.

“Yeah, that’s the thing, (our upcoming games) will make us move on from this,” Meara said. “We’ve got a big game in Columbus, we know the teams around us have been winning, Montreal won tonight and Atlanta won tonight, so I guess feel sorry for ourselves tonight, get up and dust ourselves off tomorrow and start looking forward to Saturday and Wednesday with D.C. United at home. The games are coming thick and fast and we’ve got to be ready for it.”