Premier League 2014-15 preview: Aston Villa

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Aston Villa’s offseason has been engulfed by talk of a new owner taking over from American businessman Randy Lerner, however nobody has come in to buy the Midlands club. After another season of struggle last time out, a true sleeping giant of English soccer will hope to finally awake from their lengthy slumber this season. With Paul Lambert still in charge, despite growing criticism, his new assistant Roy Keane will be crucial in helping to turn things around. Experienced heads like Joe Cole, Philippe Senderos and Kieran Richardson have joined Villa’s young core and will hope to help them creep into the top 10 this season. That must be the aim, but more likely is another season of battling the drop at Villa Park.

[RELATED: Full PL season preview]

Transfers In: Joe Cole (West Ham, Free), Philippe Senderos (Valencia, Free), Kieran Richardson (Fulham, Undisclosed)

Transfers Out: Marc Albrighton (Leicester City, Free), Nathan Delfouneso (Blackpool, Free), Jordan Bowery (Rotherham, $420,000)

| Full PL schedule |  Watch Villa live via Live Extra | BPL on NBC schedule |

Last season: Villa finished 15th last season and battled against the drop for most of the campaign. Despite some great wins over Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, they often came unstuck against lesser teams and Christian Benteke’s season-ending injury hit them hard. Fans were not happy with the lack of forward momentum their side showed but with young kids being thrown in at the deep end, it was never going to be a stellar season for the Villans. Here is a recap of their 2013-14 season.

source: Getty Images
Guzan will need to have another superb season to help Villa climb up the standings.

Star player: Brad Guzan

The American ‘keeper has has two wonderful years at Villa since Lambert took charge. The clubs reigning Player of the Year was initially released by the club in 2012, but then signed a new deal when Lambert arrived. Since then Guzan, 29, hasn’t looked back. He has become one of the best goalkeepers in the PL and let’s be honest, he’s been getting plenty of reps over the past 24 months. As an understudy to Tim Howard for the U.S. national team, Guzan has been on the cusp of taking over from his illustrious teammate. However now it seems like he may have to put in another season or two of splendid performances for Villa before he knocks Howard off his perch as the USA’s no 1. If Villa are going to survive, and thrive, this season, Guzan needs to have another great campaign. Ron Vlaar, if he sticks around, will also be key. As will the returning Benteke.

Coaches’ Corner: Paul Lambert

After two seasons  at Villa, Lambert has had it rough since switching Norwich for Villa Park in 2012. Sure, he hasn’t had much money to spend but with a club the size of Villa and the number of promising youngsters they have, you need to be doing better than just staying up. You really feel that if Villa are at the wrong end of the table by Christmas time, Lambert’s time in charge could be up. Having former Manchester United and Republic of Ireland legend Roy Keane by his side could be his only saving grace. Together they must turn things around.

PST predicts: This season could go either way for Villa, it really could. I like the additions of Cole, Richardson and Senderos. All three have played for huge clubs like Chelesea, Manchester United and Arsenal but have something to prove after their careers have stalled. If those three cheap additions can come in and have a positive impact on the dressing room, expect Villa to be fine in mid-table. They have a bunch of talented youngsters like Gary Gardner, Fabian Delph and Andreas Weimann who would all benefit from experienced players. If things go badly early in the season, expect Lambert to get fired and Roy Keane to replace him. Strap in, this will be a rollercoaster ride.

Pochettino trolling? “You got the feeling that Chelsea were a small team”

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LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur huffed and puffed at White Hart Lane on Sunday but never really got going as they settled for a point at White Hart Lane.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Harry Kane forced Asmir Begovic into two good saves in the first half and Song Hueng-min should’ve scored in the second half with a header but even after after a grueling 5,000-mile round trip to Azerbaijan on Thursday night for Europa League action which saw them arrive back in England at 6 a.m. local time Friday, manager Mauricio Pochettino wasn’t pleased his team didn’t win to move into the top four.

“No, not really happy. We deserved more than we got, so I was disappointed, but it’s true that I’m proud of the players. For me they’re big heroes,” Pochettino told ProSoccerTalk. “The effort was massive. Chelsea played one of their best games of the season, and when you make the effort we showed and the maturity, you have to be happy with your players but disappointed with one point.”

[ MORE: Mourinho calls benched Costa “privileged” ]

With Spurs now stretching their unbeaten run to 13 games this season — their one and only defeat in 2015-16 came on the opening day of the season, 1-0 at Manchester United — Pochettino was asked if his side, who sit five points off the top, should be pleased that a draw against Chelsea felt like two points dropped.

The Argentine coach then released his inner Jose Mourinho — the pair have a close relationship and before Poch came to coach in England he spoke at length to Mourinho — dishing out a backhanded compliment to the master of the backhanded compliment.

“This is a good thing. We play the champions. It’s good. You got the feeling that Chelsea were a small team and Tottenham can win every game we play,” Pochettino said. “It’s very difficult, though. Not easy. We’re the youngest team in the PL and the maturity we showed today we have shown in different games. We have to feel happy. It’s a good thing that, maybe, we are a bigger club than Chelsea or that we deserve more. We showed good performances in the last few games, and I’m happy, but we have to keep working hard. We’ve only had 14 games in the PL and it’s too early to think about the end of the season.”

Whether or not those comments were lost in translation from a man who is still getting used to English as his second language, Pochettino clearly felt Spurs deserved more than the point they got and it’s apparent from the differing predicaments both teams find themselves in that Spurs have more chance of winning the title and finishing in the top four than Chelsea this season.

Watch Live: Liverpool vs. Swansea City (Lineups, Live Stream)

SWANSEA, WALES - MARCH 16:  Kyle Naughton of Swansea City is closed down by Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at Liberty Stadium on March 16, 2015 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
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Struggling Swansea City has quite a task with its visit to high-flying Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

Swansea has plenty of experience on the bench, and will start Eder and Kyle Bartley.

Daniel Sturridge is again on the bench for Liverpool, while Christian Benteke starts up top for the Reds.



Liverpool: Mignolet, Clyne, Skrtel, Lovren, Moreno, Can, Milner, Lallana, Ibe, Firmino, Benteke. Subs: Bogdan, Toure, Henderson, Sturridge, Allen, Origi, Randall.

Swansea City: Fabianski, Naughton, Bartley, Williams (c), Taylor, Britton, Ki Sung-Yueng, Sigurdsson, Routledge, Ayew, Éder. Subs: Nordfeldt, Rangel, Fernandez, Cork, Grimes, Montero, Gomis.

Watch Live: Norwich City vs. Arsenal (Lineups, Live Stream)

NORWICH, ENGLAND - MAY 11:  Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal and Johan Elmander of Norwich City compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Arsenal at Carrow Road on May 11, 2014 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images
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Norwich City faces a third UEFA Champions League side in four matches when Arsenal visits Carrow Road on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET online via Live Extra).

Arsenal starts Mathieu Flamini in place of the injured Francis Coquelin, and Olivier Giroud is again up top.

As for the home side, there’s a lot of offense on the bench including Nathan Redmond.



Norwich City: Ruddy; Wisdom, Bennett, Bassong, Olsson; Howson, Dorrans, O’Neil (c), Brady; Hoolahan; Grabban. Subs: Rudd (GK), Martin, Mbokani, Jerome, Mulumbu, Redmond, Odjidja.

Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Cazorla, Ramsey, Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud. Subs: Ospina, Debuchy, Gabriel, Chambers, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Reine-Adelaide, Campbell.

Mourinho on benching Costa: “He is very privileged”

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LONDON — Jose Mourinho defended his decision to leave Diego Costa on the bench on Sunday for Chelsea’s 0-0 draw at Tottenham Hotspur, calling the Spanish international “privileged” for keeping his spot in the Chelsea lineup this long.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Costa, 27, has scored just four goals in 17 appearances for Chelsea this season and in their midweek win at Maccabi Tel-Aviv he and Mourinho had a clear misunderstanding in the first half which saw words exchanged.

Since then, reports have claimed that Mourinho is trying to bring in a new striker in January and his benching of Costa on Sunday will add further fuel to the fire.

“Diego is very privileged because he was the last one to be on the bench,” Mourinho said. “Everyone else has been: the captain; Ivanovic, Cahill, the vice-captain of England; Fabregas; Pedro; Hazard, player of the season; Oscar; everyone was on the bench. Diego was privileged because I kept him in the team for all these matches. Today we thought the best strategy was this one. We are happy with the decision and the players. If we had won 1-0, our performance would have been considered tremendous. You will still say it was good.”

Chelsea’s boss was pushed further about Diego’s state of mind as he reportedly failed to put his boots on when warming up and then threw his warm-up bib (see the video above) in the direction of Mourinho.

“Physically he is fine. No problems. He is working well every day. His mood is positive. He’s always a positive guy in the team,” Mourinho said. “I was not expecting to have a player on the bench jumping and singing because he is not playing, unless you’re a kid who has a chance to go on the bench – Ruben, Kenedy, feel that is one more step. But for a top player, they’re not happy. His behavior was normal. He was ready to play when he went to warm up. When I decided not to play him, he went. And probably he is eating while waiting for us in the bus.”

“If he wants to hurt me, it’s not with a bib. I have a good relationship with him, no problem”

Mourinho may not feel like he has a problem right now with Costa because Eden Hazard led the line superbly in a false-nine formation.

With Loic Remy missing due to the birth of his child on Saturday, Mourinho decided to replace Costa with the diminutive Belgian and he dazzled Spurs’ backline with several intelligent runs and had Chelsea’s best two chances as he headed over in the first half and then forced Hugo Lloris into a superb stop in the second half from a controlled volley.

Costa’s benching has been coming, and although he seemed to handle it poorly on the sidelines, it’s clear that he must now shape up or Chelsea will move on without him.

“If Costa watched the game with some attention from the bench he will  know what is needed from him,” Mourinho said, ominously.