Performance still outpacing results for Guzan at Villa

Leave a comment

Seemingly as short on ideas as goals, Aston Villa would be in a major bind were it not for Brad Guzan. Saturday was another example of it, though we’ve been seeing the problem all season. Villa are inept with that ball, and their underwhelming defensive personnel predictably defy the team’s pace by allowing a handful of chances per match. That’s not horrible – even good teams give up the odd opportunity – but when your team’s only scored seven times in nine matches, every conceded chance could decide a game. It’s a formula that leaves Villa’s keeper as the only thing between a storied club at the drop zone.

This morning at Villa Park, Villa managed to beat Norwich onto to scoresheet, Cristian Benteke’s 27th minute goal giving Villans two reasons for hope. Against an offensively-challenged Norwich team, Benteke’s goal could have held up, giving Villa their second win of the season. There was also hope that Benteke, the team’s main summer acquisition, might start providing Villa some return on their investment.

Unfortunately, Benteke’s was one of the few chances Villa created, and they needed a lot of help for Norwich defender Sebastian Bassong to get that. When left back Joe Bennett committed a textbook “why did you risk that while carrying a yellow” challenge early in the second half, Villa were left to play the final 38 minutes with 10 men. Predictably, the Canaries found an equalizer, giving Norwich a valuable road point against a potential relegation rival.

If it wasn’t for Guzan, things would have been much worse. It started early when a kick save on a Wes Hoolahan shot kept the Canaries from an opener. Guzan would go on to deny Hoolahan and Grant Holt in the second half before conceding on an unstoppable header from Michael Turner, Villa’s defense falling asleep as Norwich played quick from a corner. Hoolahan’s near post cross found an unmarked Turner, who redirected the ball just inside the far post from 10 yards out. Villa were left with a 1-1 draw.

The result was harsh on Guzan, but the goal had been coming. Down a man, Villa were left to have the game dictated to them by Norwich, though it’s not an uncommon position for Paul Lambert’s team. Villa rank 17th in the Premier League in shots per game, 13th in possession, and 17th in passing percentage. They came into the day last in goals, and although they’ve proved capable of playing some nice soccer at times, they’ve consistently disappointed in the final third.

It’s not a pretty situation for Guzan, jumping into the fire since replacing Shay Given earlier this year. His team don’t often keep the ball, and when they do they’re not dangerous. At the back, Ron Vlaar is the best of an otherwise inexperienced and at times overwhelmed back line. Calls for Eric Lichaj to be in the U.S. national team should note he’s been unable to win time among a generally unimpressive back four.

Despite some nice work from Guzan, Aston Villa’s still allowed 14 goals through nine games. Given how the Villa keeper performed since assuming the No. 1 shirt, you can’t help but wonder what Guzan could do with a little more help.

Three key battles for Champions League Final

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Saturday brings Real Madrid’s journey toward a third-straight UEFA Champions League title to a close, with just Liverpool standing in the way.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

The Reds attack promises danger and entertainment, while Zinedine Zidane’s personnel choice may be just as important as his tactical decisions in Kiev.

Van Dijk, Lovren against… Ronaldo and whoever Zidane decides

It’s difficult to highlight the match-up problems for Liverpool’s center backs because Zinedine Zidane has used three different set-ups atop his line-up.

At times, it’s been Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. Sometimes, Gareth Bale takes Benzema’s spot, and occasionally Ronaldo has been played up top as a center forward.

Believe it or not, that may be the best case scenario for Liverpool, though Ronaldo will undoubtedly roam across the top of the formation. While many think of Ronaldo and visualize his laser shots from distance, he’s quite dangerous in 1v1 aerial battles as well as tight spaces inside the box.

Quite frankly, matches like this highlight why the Reds signed Virgil Van Dijk. And, opinion alert, human bowling ball Benzema and his Juggernaut-esque approach to attacking may be a unique challenge Liverpool has not seen outside of Romelu Lukaku.

Marcelo vs. Mohamed Salah

Marcelo is an unbelievably silky, savvy left back who uses an elite attacking skill set to keep the opposition’s entire right side off kilter.

In some ways he can be partially neutralized by the danger presented by Reds right wing Mo Salah, but Zidane isn’t going to tell Marcelo to camp out in his own end when left center back Sergio Ramos is the next man up to defend, one of the finest players of his generation.

So it’s on Salah to assert himself on the game, something that shouldn’t be a problem after a couple weeks away from match action.

Can Real defend Liverpool on the counter?

We’ve seen Liverpool expose a number of teams on the counter attack, and Real certainly has a handle on how to do the same.

But building on our second key, there’s danger for both sides when Marcelo or Dani Carvajal get up the pitch. When Liverpool regains the ball and attacks at pace, there are big choices to be made.

Say Marcelo is up the pitch. Now Ramos may have to take Salah and leave Roberto Firmino to Raphael Varane. Now Carvajal may be alone with Sadio Mane. It’s not that Carvajal or Marcelo cannot defend, but these are not situations anyone wants in a one-off.

And that’s the key for Liverpool, really. This is a one-off. Over two legs, it’s hard to imagine the Reds as constructed pulling off another heavily-outchanced two-leg win like it did against Manchester City. The answer to this counter question may be what tells the story in Kiev.

Ancelotti hired to end Napoli’s scudetto drought

Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Is Carlo Ancelotti the right man to end Juventus’ seemingly ages-old hold on the scudetto?

Napoli hopes so, and has inked the former Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Bayern Munich boss to a three-year deal.

Ancelotti’s resume speaks for itself, and the hiring promises more Serie A drama after the Neapolitan club nearly got the job done this season under Maurizio Sarri.

[ MORE: Top takeaways from Emery’s Arsenal unveiling ] 

Ancelotti won scudetti as a player with Roma (1) and AC Milan (2), once more as a manager for the latter. He also led Milan to two Champions League crowns, winning the tournament with Real Madrid as well, while bringing league titles to Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, and Bayern Munich.

Napoli has finished Top 3 in six of eight seasons, finishing four points behind Juve this season. Juventus has won the last seven scudetti, and Napoli’s only title came in 1987.

The club announced the move after owner Aurelio De Laurentiis let go of Sarri, thanking the previous manager for three seasons of work which included a Serie A Coach of the Year Award and wins in 97 of 147 matches.

“I’d like to thank Maurizio Sarri for his valuable contribution to the Napoli cause. He brought joy and prestige to Naples and Napoli fans all over the world with an entertaining brand of football that drew praise from all quarters. Well done, Maurizio.”

Transfer Rumors: Seri to Arsenal; Vagnoman to Chelsea

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Nice’s Jean Seri is reportedly Unai Emery’s first target as Arsenal boss.

A report from the Daily Mail states that Seri, 26, is available for $46 million and although both Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund are interested, the Ivorian midfielder is a long-time target of the new Arsenal boss.

[ MORE: Top takeaways from Emery’s unveiling

Seri almost signed for Barcelona in the past and Emery tried to sign him in January while he was in charge of PSG.

The defensive midfielder is in the N'Golo Kante mould, but slightly more attack-minded than Kante. He has an incredible engine, exceptional reading of the game and is able to protect the ball while also starting attacks with surging runs on the ball. Yep, that’s the type of player who would thrive at Arsenal.

Seri’s arrival would also be much-needed following Santi Cazorla leaving after a two-year injury nightmare, plus Jack Wilshere out of contract on July 1 and likely to leave the Gunners. With Granit Xhaka‘s big-money arrival never quite working out, especially defensively, Seri could be a key part of the jigsaw in Emery’s rebuild as he can keep the ball and also spark the new high-pressing style the Spaniard wants to say.


Teenage defender Josha Vagnoman is being linked with a move to Chelsea, Arsenal and Everton, according to multiple outlets.

A report from ESPN states that the 17-year-old Hamburg full back (the second youngest player in Bundesliga history) will move on this summer and clubs across Europe are lining up to sign the German youth international as his contract with recently relegated Hamburg ends in July.

Vagnoman is interesting Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig but the report claims Arsenal have the edge due to their new head of recruitment, Sven Mislintat, keeping a close eye on his countryman over the years. Vagnoman is able to play left or right back.

Joining the likes of Arsenal, Bayern and Chelsea would likely mean a few years in the reserve squad for Vagnoman, while he could well play soon for either Dortmund or Leipzig given their penchant for giving youth a chance in their first team.

Argentina goalkeeper Romero out of World Cup with injury

Getty Images
Leave a comment

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero will miss the World Cup because of a right knee injury.

The Argentine soccer federation says the Manchester United reserve may need surgery.

Romero was one of the three goalkeepers chosen by Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli for the 23-player squad he will take to the World Cup in Russia. Franco Armani and Wilfredo Caballero were also named in the squad.

Romero was a starter for Argentina at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.

The federation says Sampaoli will announce a substitute for Romero in the coming days.