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.

Watch Live: Swansea City vs. Liverpool

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Swansea City’s bid to slow down steamrolling Liverpool begins at 3 p.m. ET Monday at the Liberty Stadium (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The rampaging Reds are coming off a 4-3 win that ended Manchester City’s unbeaten Premier League season, and will hope to avoid a let down against desperate Swans.

The Welsh hosts are six points adrift in the race for Premier League safety, and look set for a 5-4-1 with Jordan Ayew the only forward. Wilfried Bony and Oliver McBurnie are on the bench along with attack-minded Luciano Narsingh.

LINEUPS

Swansea City: Fabianski, Naughton, Van der Hoorn, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson, Ki, Fer, Clucas, Dyer, Ayew. Subs: Nordfeldt, Bartley, Roque Mesa, Carroll, Narsingh, McBurnie, Bony.

Liverpool: Karius, Gomez, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson, Can, Wijnaldum, Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mane, Firmino. Subs: Mignolet, Milner, Klavan, Lallana, Ings, Solanke, Alexander-Arnold.

Kevin De Bruyne commits to Man City through 2022-23

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Kevin De Bruyne is one of the best players in the world, and he’s committing his prime to the club which has taken him to the next level.

[ MORE: How will Arsenal, Man Utd line up? ]

Manchester City announced a new deal for the Belgian wizard, keeping him at the Etihad Stadium through 2023.

De Bruyne, 26, has posted 31 goals and 38 assists for Pep Guardiola‘s men since returning to England from the Bundesliga, and appreciates being given a lot more money. From ManCity.com:

“As I’ve said previously, my intention has always been to stay here at City, where I’ve felt at home from day one. Not only are we winning – we are playing great football. It’s a pleasure to be a part of and I’m really excited about what we can achieve in the coming years.”

De Bruyne is in the discussion for a Ballon d’Or finalist spot this year, along with Lionel Messi, Neymar, Gareth Bale, Harry Kane, and others (Hot take: This does seem to be year Ronaldo possibly knocked off, barring a remarkable run in the Champions League or World Cup).

After the swap: Alexis, Mkhi-infused XIs for Man Utd, Arsenal

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The deal is done: Henrikh Mkhitaryan has moved to Arsenal with Alexis Sanchez going the other way in a monumental January move.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

How will it look for each side once the shape’s settled?

Arsenal

When Henrikh Mkhitaryan was at his very best — for Borussia Dortmund in 2014-15 — he was deployed as a left or right wing. He contributed 23 goals and 32 assists in 52 matches during his final season at the Westfalenstadion, and predictably saw those numbers drop as Jose Mourinho consistently moved him toward an attacking center midfield role.

He’ll get the chance to go out wide again at the Emirates Stadium, though perhaps not always to the extreme flanks. Expect Alexandre Lacazette‘s numbers to explode with this move.

Arsene Wenger used a 4-3-3 to batter Crystal Palace 4-1 at the weekend, with Ozil on the right wing and Alex Iwobi on the left. The club still needs better at center defensive mid while Aaron Ramsey is out, so that will likely keep the lineup similar until he returns (at a minimum):

Cech

Bellerin — Mustafi — Koscielny — Montreal

Elneny (Ramsey, eventually)

Xhaka — Wilshere

Ozil — Lacazette — Mkhitaryan

By the way, a lot of Arsenal supporters aren’t feeling great about this (understatement alert):

Manchester United

Alexis Sanchez prefers left wing, too, and Mourinho has a trio of in-form players who like that side of the field. Anthony Martial is red hot but plays wider than Jesse Lingard, and it seems one of them will take the slot of Juan Mata to the right of Paul Pogba in a 4-1-4-1. Marcus Rashford could also see the far right positioning.

But against top competition — continued apologies to Burnley — it’s usually a 4-2-3-1 for Mourinho with Pogba dropping next to Nemanja Matic a little deeper in the formation. Lingard has been getting the run as CAM here, usually to the detriment of Juan Mata. With Alexis as the clear-cut left wing in this formation, it causes real combat for the two other slots between Mata, Lingard, Rashford, and Martial.

So while it’s likely we’d see something like this in a big game for Manchester United…

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Pogba

Martial — Lingard —  Sanchez

Lukaku

… We’d love to see something more like this:

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Herrera

Pogba

Martial — Lukaku — Sanchez

How do you think Wenger and Mou will run ’em out?

Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap official (video)

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Arsenal and Manchester United have completed their American-style trade, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan joining the Gunners and Alexis Sanchez on board the Red Devils’ train.

Both 29 years old, the playmakers arrive at their new homes with plenty to prove.

More to come…