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.

Rodgers excuses Maddison’s behavior after England departure

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Leicester City and England midfielder James Maddison made headlines for the wrong reasons after he was pictured last week watching the England match at the Czech Republic from a casino.

Despite the negative attention from Maddison’s decision to watch the game at that venue, he has the backing of his club manager, Brendan Rodgers.

“The kid went away with the international team and took ill while he was away,” Rodgers said, via the Guardian. “He wanted to stay and hopefully be ready for the second game. But the England medical staff – which I can understand, as he had flu and they didn’t want that to spread to his teammates – decided it’s best for him to leave the camp. So he leaves, gets some tablets with our guys at the club, then he feels better.

“He watched the game at home on his own on the Friday and then goes out at half-time – probably he’ll make better decisions in his life but he went to a casino on his own to sit and watch the second half by a poker table. The suggestions are he left England purposelessly and then goes to a casino but that’s totally not the case at all. But his eyes have been opened now to the wider world in terms of what he did. He knows in hindsight he’s made a mistake.”

Considering all that went on during England’s international break, from the poor performance in Prague to the horrible racism endured in Bulgaria, this is a bit of a silly scandal. To be honest, as long as Maddison is taking care of his body and himself, why does it matter if he was at a casino, or a pub, or anywhere?

However, there’s no denying that the optics look bad. Folks didn’t know that he arrived to England camp with the flu, or a flu-like illness at least, and the England medical staff are right to send him away to make sure no one else gets sick. He may have been feeling better by Friday and wanted to get out of the house. I think we’ve all been there after being sick for a few days.

The most important lesson for Maddison is to learn that his actions, out of context, can be misunderstood. In terms of soccer, after Ross Barkley’s performance for England, Maddison will have to prove in his club form that he should still have a place in the England team for the near future. There’s only two more international dates left before the 2020 Euros, so time is running out for Maddison to make an impact to Southgate.

 

Tierney, Lacazette available for Arsenal

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Arsenal are edging closer to finally having a full-strength squad.

Ahead of Monday’s prime-time matchup with Sheffield United, Arsenal manager Unai Emery confirmed that Kieran Tierney was in line to make his Premier League debut, while Alexandre Lacazette was back in full training and should be in the gameday squad.

“Today is Lacazette’s first training back with us,” Emery said in a press conference on Thursday. “He finished it well and he’s feeling well with his injuries. Tomorrow we will be training again and he will be with us. We will decide.

“The most important thing is that first he is training, then secondly it’s whether he can be with us and it depends how he can feel in the next days training with us, whether his ankle is not giving him any more problems.”

This is a huge boost to Arsenal, which has had to rely on some youngsters and have made some lineup changes to accommodate not having Lacazette on the field. Tierney meanwhile could step into a position where there’s already a decent starter, Sead Kolasinac.

Lacazette’s return also couldn’t have come at a better time. In Premier League action, Arsenal’s high-powered offense has been stymied, scoring just two goals in the last two league games. Meanwhile, against weaker defenses in the UEFA Europa League and the Carabao Cup, Arsenal has bagged a total of 12 goals.

The veteran Frenchman has scored two goals in three appearances so far this season, including a big goal just before halftime in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham. However, he suffered a long-term ankle injury in that match that has kept him on the sidelines for more than a month.

“[Tierney is] ready to play,” Emery later said. Now we have two options in that left-back role with Sead Kolasinac and him. We’re going to play a lot of matches after Monday. We will need every player. It depends how he comes into the first training with us, Sead, after his international matches. We now have two players in that position and we can use one on Monday, it depends how they are, one or the other.”

Tierney, the 22-year-old Scottish left back, has made two appearances for the Arsenal first team since recovering from a double hernia operation over the summer. Signed from Celtic for around $32 million, Tierney adds a skill that Kolasinac has struggled with – expert crosser of the ball into the box, where the likes of Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can score when given a decent chance.

USWNT star Rapinoe, boxer Shields win sportswomen of year

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Soccer star Megan Rapinoe and boxer Claressa Shields have been honored as Sportswomen of the Year by the Women’s Sports Foundation.

They won in the team and individual categories, the awards coming at the foundation’s 40th annual Salute to Women in Sports.

Rapinoe led the U.S. to victory at the World Cup in France and earned the FIFA Player of the Year award. Shields is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and middleweight champion.

Sheila Johnson, part-owner of the Washington Wizards, Capitals and recent WNBA champion Mystics, won the Billie Jean King Leadership Award. Marta Vieira da Silva, star of the Brazilian national soccer team, won the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award.

Rapinoe thanked her teammates Wednesday night and lauded Marta, a six-time FIFA Player of the Year, calling the Brazilian the greatest of all time and an “absolute hero in our sport.”

John Burke, president of the Trek Bicycle company, received the inaugural Champion for Equality Award.

MNUFC’s Opara wins MLS Defender of the Year

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For the second time in three seasons, Ike Opara has been named MLS Defender of the Year, this time as the foundational piece of Minnesota United’s much-improved defense.

[ Report: Sacramento finally gets MLS expansion franchise ]

Opara becomes just the fourth player to win multiple Defender of the Year awards, joining Carlos Bocanegra (2002, 2003), Robin Fraser (1999, 2004) and Chad Marshall, the only three-time winner (2008, 2009, 2014) in MLS history. Opara won the award going away, nearly doubling the percentage of votes received by second-place Walker Zimmerman.

Defender of the Year Player % Club % Media % Final %
Ike Opara  25.75% 27.27% 44.88% 32.64%
Walker Zimmerman 20.40% 17.17% 12.20% 16.59%
Miles Robinson 19.40% 13.13% 15.75% 16.09%
Maxime Chanot 1.67% 16.16% 4.33% 7.39%
Eddie Segura 4.35% 9.09% 5.91% 6.45%
Aaron Long 2.34% 5.05% 1.97% 3.12%

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This time last year, the 30-year-old was a member of one of the league’s stingiest defensive units as a member of Sporting Kansas City. Following a contract dispute with Sporting, Opara was traded to Minnesota in exchange for $900,000 of targeted allocation money, plus an additional $100,000 after Minnesota qualified for the playoffs for the first time since joining MLS.