Premier League Preview: Aston Villa

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Each day from now until the beginning of the Premier League season, we will preview two teams from England’s top flight. You can view them all here at PST Preview central. Don’t forget, the 2013-14 PL season begins on August 17th, and for the first-time ever you can watch every game live on NBC Sports.

Aston Villa has never been outside the Premier League since its inception in the 1992-93 season, but it’s been a little too close for comfort the past two years. The team hasn’t won a trophy since the 2001 UEFA Intertoto Cup, and despite a four-year run of top-10 domestic finishes, things seem to be trending downward at Villa Park.

Transfers In: M Aleksandar Tonev (Lech Poznań, Poland), D Antonio Luna (Sevilla, Spain), GK Jed Steer (Norwich City), D Jores Okore (Nordsjælland, Denmark), M Leandro Bacuna (FC Groningen, Netherlands), F Nicklas Helenius (Aalborg, Denmark)

Transfers Out: M Stiliyan Petrov (retired), F Brett Holman (Al Nasr, UAE), D Derrick Williams (Bristol City, League One), D Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest, Championship), D Richard Dunne (Queens Park Rangers, Championship), M Jean Makoun (Stade Rennais, France), M Courtney Cameron (Torquay United, League Two), GK Andy Marshall (released)

source: Getty ImagesKey Player: The most important name for Villa is one that nearly found itself in the section above this one. Striker Christian Benteke (pictured) was the team’s top scorer last year as it narrowly avoided relegation, and he was linked with Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Arsenal in the off-season after he handed in a transfer request. In the end, he decided to sign a new deal to keep him at Aston Villa until 2017.

On the other end of the field, American goalkeeper Brad Guzan also played a large role in Villa’s successful fight against relegation to the Championship. His performance earned him the team vote for 2011-12 Player of the Year. If Villa is going to stay in the top flight again, he will play a crucial part in this season.

Manager: Scotsman Paul Lambert took over from countryman Alex McLeish at the start of last season, but he only finished one spot higher in the table. Lambert is on the clock right from the start of this campaign — he is the only manager to start a second season in charge since Martin O’Neill left the club in 2010.

Lambert has played a lot of young players in preseason but tempered fans’ expectations of them and asked for patience, which seems to indicate that he expects another tough season ahead. If that’s true, Villa could very well finish it with a different manager than the one who starts it.

Outlook: It’s going to be a battle to stay in the Premier League this season for Aston Villa. It could take another special individual performance from Benteke and Guzan to keep the team afloat. If injuries hit either of those two, survival will be nearly impossible.

MORE: Read all the Premier League previews for each team here