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.

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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.

LIVE – Arsenal v. Man City in FA Cup semifinal

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Arsenal and Manchester City clash in an FA Cup semifinal on Sunday at Wembley which promises to be a case of all-out attack.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola met earlier this month with their teams drawing 2-2 at the Emirates Stadium in an end-to-end encounter.

The winner of this semifinal will play Chelsea in the FA Cup final on May 27 at Wembley after Antonio Conte‘s side beat Tottenham 4-2 on Saturday.

In team news Arsenal stick with the 3-4-2-1 formation they used at Middlesbrough with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil off Olivier Giroud.

City line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Sergio Aguero up top and Leroy Sane, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne off him.

Click on the link above to follow live coverage of what promises to be an entertaining semifinal, while here at Pro Soccer Talk we will have plenty more reaction and analysis after the game too.

STREAM LIVE: Burnley host injury-hit Man United

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Burnley host Manchester United on Sunday (Watch live, 9:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at fortress Turf Moor with the Clarets in search of yet another huge scalp.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Sean Dyche‘s men have already beat the likes of Everton and Liverpool at home this season and one more victory should all but secure their Premier League status and first-ever consecutive seasons in the PL.

As for United, Jose Mourinho’s squad is depleted and after the news that Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo both suffered “significant knee ligaments injuries” in the Europa League quarterfinal clash against Anderlecht the Red Devils’ resources have been stretched even further.

In team news Burnley stick with a solid 4-4-2 formation as Ashley Barnes and Andre Gray play up top, with former United duo Tom Heaton and Michael Keane also starting.

United make eight changes and line up with what looks like a three-man central defense given that Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Rojo are all missing, while Wayne Rooney starts up top and captains United.

LINEUPS

Burnley: Heaton; Lowton, Keane, Mee, Ward; Boyd, Barton, Hendrick, Brady; Gray, Barnes. Subs: Flanagan, Westwood, Defour, Tarkowski, Gudmundsson, Agyei, Pope

Manchester United: De Gea; Darmian, Bailly, Blind; Young, Herrera, Pogba, Fellaini, Lingard; Martial, Rooney. Subs: Romero, Fosu-Mensah, Tuanzebe, Shaw, Carrick, Mkhitaryan, Rashford

Barcelona leaves Neymar out of ‘El Clasico’ v Real Madrid

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MADRID (AP) Barcelona has decided to leave Neymar out of the decisive “clasico” against Real Madrid because of the legal uncertainty over an appeal to overturn his suspension.

The club had taken all legal measures to try to clear the player for Sunday’s match at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, but ended up not including him in the squad because there had been no ruling on its latest appeal by Sunday morning.

Barcelona’s first appeal was rejected by the Spanish football federation last week, but the club was also trying to reverse the suspension through a local sports tribunal.

The club released a statement on Sunday criticizing the tribunal for not making a decision on the case in time for the match.

The tribunal said Saturday that while it had not yet had the opportunity to consider the appeal, that did not mean the striker was cleared to play.

Neymar was handed a two-game suspension for sarcastically applauding an assistant referee after being sent off in a 2-0 loss at Malaga on April 8.

The two-match ban was in addition to the one-game suspension he was automatically required to serve for the red card. The Brazilian had already sat out one match.

Two-time champion Barcelona also won’t have the injured Rafinha and Aleix Vidal, who have long-term injuries.

Madrid, seeking its first title since 2012, is expected to welcome the return of Gareth Bale, who had been sidelined because of a muscle injury.

Madrid enters Sunday’s game with a three-point lead over Barcelona. Madrid also has a game in hand.

MLS roundup: FCD win battle of unbeatens; POR rebound vs. VAN

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With seven MLS Saturday afternoons/evenings officially in the books, only 27 more to go…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage

FC Dallas 1-0 Sporting Kansas City

The only two remaining unbeaten teams faced off in Frisco on Saturday, and only one came out still unblemished. FCD dominated in the two most important facets of the game — chances created, and goals.

Maynor Figueroa scored the game’s only goal, a 77th-minute header to put home Michael Barrios’ floated cross toward the back post. If not for the (increasingly typical) heroics of Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia (five saves), FCD would have already been 3-0 or 4-0 in front by that point. Sporting’s only shot on target didn’t arrive until the 47th minute, and it was far from a clear-cut chance, as Jimmy Medranda fired from the corner of the 18-yard box and hardly tested Jesse Gonzalez with the effort.

The win sees FCD move to six games unbeaten to start the season (three wins, three draws), while Sporting suffer their first defeat in seven games.


Portland Timbers 2-1 Vancouver Whitecaps

Darlington Nagbe and Darren Mattocks bagged goals for Portland, who wasted little time in bouncing back from last weekend’s home defeat to Sporting. Nagbe’s goal, a stunner from outside the penalty area (WATCH HERE) opened the scoring in the 18th minute, and Mattocks made it 2-0 five minutes before halftime.

Fredy Montero scored his third goal in two games to bring Vancouver back to 2-1 just before the hour mark, but that’s as close as the visitors would get.

Diego Valeri was carried off the field in the 80th minute, which is the worst scare that Timbers fans could have possibly imagined, though the Argentine superstar told reporters after the game that he was feeling much better.


Real Salt Lake 1-3 Atlanta United

The honeymoon period is over for Mike Petke who, after back-to-back wins to open his tenure as RSL head coach, suffered his first defeat since taking over for Jeff Cassar five games into the season.

A series of comedic errors doomed RSL just about from the start, as Hector Villalba (9th minute) and Yamil Asad (46th), two of Atlanta’s South American starlets, put the visitors 2-0 ahead a minute into the first half — the latter was set up by Miguel Almiron, another of the young, South American attackers at Gerardo Martino’s disposal. Albert Rusnak pulled RSL back to 2-1 in the 69th minute, but it would remain that way until second-half stoppage time, when Brandon Vazquez beat Nick Rimando for a 3-1 clincher.


New York Red Bulls 2-0 Columbus Crew SC

Columbus’s defeat away to New York went from bad, to worse, to worst, in 39 minutes’ time on Saturday. Midfield revelation Artur went off with a nasty arm injury in the 6th minute, Alex Muyl put the home side 1-0 up in the 11th minute Daniel Royer made it 2-0 from the penalty spot in the 38th minute, and defensive revelation (and rookie) Alex Crognale went off injured immediately thereafter.


Houston Dynamo 2-0 San Jose Earthquakes

Wilmer Cabrera’s side will live and die by the form of his young attacking quartet this season. On Saturday, Erick Torres and Alberth Elis delivered the goals (read: goals) as Houston picked up a rather comfortable him win over San Jose.

Torres opened the scoring in the 9th minute, and though Elis didn’t double the advantage for another 63 minutes, the result was rarely, if ever, in doubt. San Jose managed just two shots on target (Houston had just three, for what it’s worth), as Adolfo Machado, Tyler Deric and Co. kept their first clean sheet of the season.


New England Revolution 2-2 D.C. United

In a battle of bottom-half Eastern Conference sides, New England and D.C. drew 2-2 after Lee Nguyen and a Sean Franklin own goal stalemated tallies from Jared Jeffrey and Sebastien Le Toux.