Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Aston Villa

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Aston Villa’s survived relegation by the skin of their teeth last season and it could be another close run thing for Tim Sherwood’s side this year.

[ MORE: All of PST’s season previews ]

After losing Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph to Liverpool and Manchester City respectively over the summer, Sherwood has had the heart of his team ripped out. With plenty of new additions from France’s Ligue 1 who are talented, but unproven in the PL, expect another season of struggle for the Villans. Last season’s run to the FA Cup final provided brief respite for the Midlands club, who are openly on the market as American owner Randy Lerner looks to sell.

The Birmingham-based club have a rich history, winning seven league titles in their history and a European Cup in 1982, but relegation battles have been commonplace in recent seasons although Villa are one of seven clubs to have never been relegated from the PL. Villa’s arch rivals are Championship side Birmingham City, but their local foes in the PL include West Bromwich Albion and Leicester City.

Best possible XI:

—– Guzan —–

— Hutton — Richards — Clark — Amavi —

— Westwood —– Gueye —

—– Bacuna —-  Grealish —- Agbonlahor —-

—— J. Ayew—–

Transfers In: Scott Sinclair ($4 million, Manchester City), Micah Richards (Free, Manchester City), Mark Bunn (Free, Norwich City), Idrissa Gueye ($15 million, Lille), Jordan Amavi ($15 million, Nice), Jordan Ayew ($15 million, Lorient)

Transfers Out: Christian Benteke ($49 million, Liverpool), Fabian Delph ($12 million, Manchester City), Ron Vlaar (Released), Shay Given (Free, Stoke City), Matthew Lowton ($1.5 million, Burnley), Andreas Weimann ($4 million, Derby County), Yacouba Sylla (Undisclosed, Stade Reannais), Antonio Luna (Free, Eibar), Nicklas Helenius (Free, Aalborg BK)

Last season: 17th in PL, Runners up in FA Cup – Villa struggled massively and Paul Lambert was fired in February with the battle against relegation looking grim. Sherwood arrived and helped steady the ship and got the best out of Benteke, Delph and found a gem in Jack Grealish to lift them up the table with some crucial wins at the end of the campaign. They survived. Just.

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Villa’s new midfielder, Idrissa Gueye

Star player: Idrissa Gueye – The holding midfielder from Lille comes with a huge reputation and his displays in preseason have drawn rave reviews. Gueye, a Senegalese international, will be in the thick of the battle week in, week out for Villa and is likely to be influential if Sherwood’s side can kick on and move towards the top 10 this season.

Coaches’ Corner: The nickname “Tactics Tim” is perhaps a little harsh on Sherwood as he motivated Villa last season and did what he had to do in order to save a team, which was severely lacking in confidence, from the drop. Losing Benteke and Delph will hurt his chances of succeeding this season, but the board have given Sherwood money to spend and this will truly be his Villa side. A top 10 finish would be a great achievement, but expect Sherwood to be one of the favorites for the sack if they struggle at the start of the season.

PST predicts: Another season of struggle beckons for Villa, but they might just surprise a few people. Sherwood is a young, energetic manager and his side is full of players who have yet to taste the PL or are looking for a second chance to prove themselves. Villa should stave off relegation, but it may not be pretty.

Liverpool sign teenage sensation Van den Berg

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Sepp van den Berg is officially a Liverpool player with a $1.6 million deal agreed.

Plenty of top clubs across Europe have been chasing the PEC Zwolle teenager, but the 17-year-old center back has chosen to sign for Jurgen Klopp‘s reigning European champions.

Van den Berg made his debut in the Dutch Eredivisie during the 2018-19 campaign, making 15 appearances, and has already progressed to play for the Netherlands U19 national team four times.

Speaking about his arrival at Anfield, the youngster seems pretty happy to be calling Liverpool home.

“It’s just an amazing feeling. It is, for me, the biggest club in the world and it’s a dream come true. I am really excited,” van den Berg said. “I’ve seen what kind of players from the Academy grew into the first team here. It is unbelievable, especially when this kind of big club does that. Of course, the trainer [Jurgen Klopp] is a great guy and one of the reasons they are successful – and also one of the reasons I came here. I think this is the best place for me to grow and hopefully play a lot of games here.”

This is a long-term signing for Liverpool, but with Dejan Lovren eager to leave this summer to play regularly, VDB could be straight in as Liverpool’s fourth-choice center back. He is a defender who has a turn of pace but is also calm on the ball, and that seems to slot in perfect with what Liverpool want from their defenders.

Fellow Dutchman Virgil Van Dijk will be the perfect role model for the youngster (van den Berg mentioned that he can’t wait to learn “everything” from van Dijk) while Joel Matip and Joe Gomez will battle it out for the spot alongside VVD at center back in the next few seasons.

Having VVD pass the baton to VDB in a few years time seems like the plan for Klopp and Liverpool. NBD.

Barcelona sign Neto in goalkeeper swap with Valencia

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Brazilian goalkeeper Neto will sign a four-year contract with the Spanish champions.

The transfer completes a swap a day after Barcelona sold Jasper Cillessen to Valencia.

Barcelona says it is paying 26 million euros ($29.5 million) plus possibly another 9 million euros ($10.2 million) in variables for Neto. Valencia paid Barcelona 35 million euros ($40 million) for Cillessen.

Neto will replace Cillessen, who played as a backup for Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the Champions League and the Spanish league and only regularly started in the Copa del Rey.

The 29-year-old Neto helped Valencia qualify for the Champions League with a fourth-place finish for the past two seasons in Spain. He also played in Italy at Juventus as a backup to Gianluigi Buffon and at Fiorentina after starting at Brazilian club Paranaense.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

USMNT v. Panama: Three things we learned

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It wasn’t always pretty, but the U.S. Men’s National Team eked out a 1-0 win over Panama in Kansas City, Kan. on Wednesday night to win its group. Jozy Altidore scored the game’s only goal in stunning fashion, finishing an overhead kick to put Panama away and set up a quarterfinal bout with Curacao on Sunday evening.

Here are three of the biggest takeaways from Wednesday’s win:

[READ: All the latest USMNT news here]


Jozy Altidore is still the best we’ve got

Many U.S. Men’s National Team fans have called for the forced retirements of Altidore and Michael Bradley, among many others, after the debacle that was the last World Cup cycle.

Until tonight, Altidore wasn’t in the USMNT picture, in part due to Dave Sarachan using younger players and Altidore continuing to suffer a series of muscle injuries since October 2017. And yet, if tonight’s game showed anything in Altidore’s 83 minutes on the pitch, it’s that he’s still the best option for the USMNT up top. While Gregg Berhalter clearly prefers Gyasi Zardes right now based on their previous work history together in Columbus, Zardes doesn’t have the strength or skill that Altidore does. It’s hard to imagine Zardes executing an overhead kick and it going in as sweetly as Altidore did.

What does this mean going forward? Regardless of if Zardes starts the rest of the way, Berhalter knows that he has Altidore always around who can give the U.S. a goal, especially on home soil and when fit. But it also lays the marker down for Zardes, Tim Weah, Josh Sargent and the other up and coming strikers that this is the level they need to meet, and beat, if they want to break into the starting lineup under Berhalter.

There’s speed to burn on the wings

It may not have had a huge impact on Wednesday, but in bringing Tyler Boyd and Christian Pulisic off the bench, Berhalter showed exactly why he’s brought so many speedy skill players along the wings.

While Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis couldn’t figure out the final pass or final touch in the box to score a goal, just their presence for 65-70 minutes tired out the backline, and the introductions of Pulisic and Boyd could have really unlocked the Panama defense. While it didn’t totally work on Wednesday, it could in the later stages of the tournament, especially in a potential rematch with either Panama or Jamaica in the semifinals and Mexico in the finals.

With Lewis and Morris likely available off the bench, that adds a new piece opponents have to worry about, both in terms of speed and dribbling ability.

Few impressed in a chance to earn a starting spot

It’s been nearly two years since the debacle in Trinidad and Tobago, and yet aside from maybe Matt Miazga or Nick Lima, there have been very few players who have done much to impress and prove they’re better than the previous cycle’s players. That continued on Wednesday with an MLS-heavy lineup. Wil Trapp, a midfielder with so much promise a few years ago, appears to have stalled. He had multiple turnovers and certainly didn’t look as sharp as Michael Bradley.

While Lewis and Morris have plenty of pace, their final pass was woeful and they didn’t do themselves any favors. Djordje Mihailovic was never going to push Pulisic out of the starting lineup, but Mihailovic didn’t exactly do enough to say that he should be the first man off the bench either, or to push Pulisic into a wing role with Mihailovic in the middle.

Aside from Matt Miazga and Omar Gonzalez in the middle, along with Altidore up top, no one in the lineup really did enough through the first 65 minutes to warrant another start in the tournament. It’s yet another disappointment as young players get chance after chance to prove they belong as starters, only to waste the opportunity, enabling the veterans to keep their role. More players need to keep pushing for those spots, whether through club form or national team performances. Otherwise, we’ll end up in the same situation as before.

 

USMNT remains perfect, tops Panama to win group (video)

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In his first start since the U.S. Men’s National Team’s infamous defeat to Trinidad and Tobago, Jozy Altidore showcased his strength, speed and technical ability to help lead the U.S. to victory.

Altidore’s outstanding bicycle kick goal proved to be the difference in a sometimes dour game as the USMNT topped Panama, 1-0, Wednesday evening at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan. The win kept the U.S. perfect through the Gold Cup group stage with no goals allowed, and it has somewhat erased the memory of the USMNT’s horrible run-up to the tournament, with defeats to Jamaica and Venezuela now firmly in the rear-view mirror.

[MUST-SEE GOAL: Jozy Altidore]

With the win, both teams head to Philadelphia for the quarterfinals this Sunday. Panama plays the undercard matchup against Jamaica while the USMNT faces Curacao.

Coming off two wins to open the Gold Cup, Berhalter decided to use a completely changed starting lineup, featuring ten players from MLS teams along with Chelsea loanee Matt Miazga. Although there was some familiarity of the players on the field, it was at times a very poor match, with the USMNT struggling badly in the final third and even turning the ball over at midfield or leading the attack.

Despite winning the possession battle, 62-38, the USMNT didn’t do much with it. Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis, both of whom were subbed out, struggled on their crosses after beating a defender. The pair provided energy and hard running defensively but it didn’t lead to many chances. Altidore had the best of the first half when he was played into the box, but his strike from the right just went wide of the net.

In the 65th minute, Berhalter tried to inject some life in the game with the introduction of Christian Pulisic. It turned out a goal could come just after, but without the intervention of Pulisic.

Djordje Mihailovic drilled the corner kick to the far post where it was met by the head of Matt Miazga who sent it back towards goal. A missed clearance from Panama popped the ball up in the air above the back post, allowing Altidore the time he needed to lift off the ground and bicycle kick it in for the game’s only goal.

Berhalter later brought on both Tyler Boyd and Gyasi Zardes off the bench to try and score an insurance goal, but Panama’s defense held strong and the U.S. failed to threaten the rest of the way. However, the U.S. backline kept a third-consecutive clean sheet and key players such as Michael Bradley got the entire game off to rest before likely returning to the lineup this weekend.