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)

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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.

Netherlands manager Danny Blind fired after Bulgaria loss

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The Netherlands are in real trouble, and the manager has paid the price.

The Dutch national team has parted ways with Danny Blind the day after a 2-0 loss to Bulgaria left the Dutch fourth in their World Cup qualification group halfway through.

The move garnering all the headlines from Saturday’s loss was Blind’s decision to start 17-year-old defender Matthijs de Ligt. The Ajax youth product, who has just two Eredivisie starts to his credit, made two crucial errors and yanked at halftime, but the damage had been done. Spas Delev scored twice in the opening 20 minutes for Bulgaria, and that was all the home side needed as the Dutch offered little in front of goal.

Blind was also criticized for not getting Memphis Depay on the field as they chased the game. The Netherlands held 74% possession, but could only manage 3 shots on target. Depay has been in good form since his January move to Lyon, with five goals in his 10 Ligue 1 appearances.

This decision was something Blind saw coming. He told national broadcaster NOS immediately after the Bulgaria loss, “I blame myself. It can’t go on like this. Things have to change.”

“I need to think about [my future]. I do not throw the towel in here. I’m incredibly disappointed, especially since I had a good feeling about this match. It makes sense that I put myself in front of the mirror.”

However, the problems for the Dutch go far deeper than Danny Blind. They missed out on Euro 2016 largely thanks to the failed 2nd tenure for Guus Hiddink. His assistant Blind took over, but the results have been equally as poor. The Netherlands sit fourth in UEFA World Cup qualification Group A, with losses to Bulgaria and France plus a draw with Sweden. It’s not over for them though, as they sit three points back of a second place spot with five matches to go, and three of those five at home.

With the Netherlands still yet to play their friendly against Italy this coming week, former goalkeeper Fred Grim takes over on an interim basis. Grim collected 101 caps for the Netherlands, and has served as the Netherlands U-21 manager for the last two years. Before that, he took charge of his first full managerial job as head man of Dutch 2nd-tier club Almere City.

Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

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Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

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It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Two Russian soccer fans stabbed in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Two Russian fans have been hospitalized with serious injuries after being stabbed following a friendly soccer match between Red Star Belgrade and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Sunday police were looking for the knife-wielding perpetrators who attacked a group of Lokomotiv fans in downtown Belgrade late Saturday.

Serbian media reports said the Russian fans were attacked by supporters of Red Star’s rival Partizan Belgrade.

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The match, which Red Star won 2-1, was meant to promote Serbia’s traditional friendship with Russia.

Stefanovic says “nobody should think they could hurt the Serbian-Russian friendship” with such attacks.

Serbia has seen a surge of fan violence inside and outside stadiums. In 2009, a French football fan was fatally beaten in Belgrade.

VIDEO: Gerrard’s juggle and finish leads Liverpool legends past Real Madrid

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Scoring at Anfield doesn’t get old, especially when your name is Steven Gerrard.

The English midfielder was playing in a friendly match between Liverpool and Real Madrid “legends” on Sunday, when he delivered this tasty goal (and assists to Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, and John Aldridge).

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Gerrard redirects a cross over a lunging defender and into a place where he can lash a goal home to put the Reds up 4-0. He dedicated his Man of the Match performance to club legend Ronnie Moran, who died earlier this week.

Real’s comeback came up just short in a 4-3 final, with Fernando Morientes, Ruben de la Red, and Edwin Congo scoring for the visitors.

On a Sunday waiting for the international matches to begin, Gerrard supplies a nice highlight for the rest of us (Extended highlights free on Liverpool’s site).