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Villa’s Wesley, Heaton ruled out for season

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Aston Villa have been dealt a huge blow in their battle against relegation.

Wesley and Tom Heaton have both been ruled out for the rest of the season after suffering knee ligament damage in their 2-1 win at Burnley on New Year’s Day.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

Both players were stretchered off in the second half as Villa’s big win at Turf Moor came at a huge cost as both will now be out for between six and nine months.

“They are two key players who I feel very sorry for,” Smith said. “We’ve had five games in 16 days and another seven to come in January. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves; we have to deal with it, help the players in their recovery and go and recruit wisely.”

Wesley scored his first Premier League goal in almost three months in the win at Burnley and he is the focal point of Villa’s attack, while Heaton is their starting goalkeeper. These injuries mean Villa will have to dip into the market in January to find replacements, probably on loan.

Both players arrived at Villa in the summer and have been influential so far with Heaton making several fine stops after starting 20 of Villa’s 21 PL games so far. Back up goalkeeper Jed Steer is currently out injured too with inexperienced duo Orjan Nyland and Lovre Kalinic waiting in the wings.

Wesley has started every PL game up top for Villa but has struggled to get going in the PL after the Brazilian striker arrived from Club Brugge as he’s scored five goals so far. It has been reported that Villa want to sign Michy Batshuayi on loan for the rest of the season to replace Wesley.

With star midfielder John McGinn out for three months due to a fractured ankle it has been a horrible festive period for Villa in terms of injuries as their relegation battle just got that much tougher.

Dean Smith will now be a very busy many in the January transfer window.

PL Sunday preview: Leicester, Newcastle, Sheffield Utd, Wolves in action

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There will be no shortage of action and subplots during Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures, as Aston Villa host in-form Leicester City; Newcastle look to continue their winning ways against an improving Southampton side; Norwich City look for a way out of the relegation zone as they take on Sheffield United; and Wolverhampton Wanderers aim to continue their spectacular, unbeaten run against Brighton.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Aston Villa vs. Leicester City — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBCSN

December is upon us, and the team putting some form of pressure on top-of-the-table Liverpool is second-best Leicester City. Who would have thought?

In similar fashion to what the masses thought of the Foxes prior to the start of the 2015/16 season, the answer is that not many were sold on the notion that Brendan Rodgers and his team were going to be a flat-out success this season, especially after dealing out Harry Maguire to Manchester United.

Whether the onlookers believed or didn’t believe is a conversation that surely doesn’t bother the majority associated with the once-Premier League champions. The Foxes are on a seven-game winning streak and Rodgers was rewarded for his accomplishments thus far, signing a new contract on Friday that keeps him at the helm until 2025.

Aston Villa’s Dean Smith recognized that his opponents on Sunday are in stellar shape but also cautioned that playing his team at Villa Park will not be a walk in the park, despite only being a point above the red line.

“They are on a fantastic run of form but there aren’t many teams who will come away from Villa Park and think they’ve had an easy game,” Dean Smith said.

It’s not the blockbuster game that will freeze the soccer community, but from the sounds of it, Leicester’s visit to Birmingham will be an authentic battle between two teams that are on the opposite sides of the spectrum.

INJURIES: Aston Villa — OUT: Keinan Davis (hamstring), Jed Steer (achilles)| Leicester City — OUT: Matty James (calf) 

Newcastle vs. Southampton — 9:00 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Southampton haven’t won three consecutive league matches since May of 2016.

That can change on Sunday at St. James Park, mostly if Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s gamble of starting the same lineup for a third straight game over the span of eight days pays off. But just as it can pay off, it can certainly backfire at the hands of a slowly-but-surely improving Newcastle side.

“It’s a huge month for us,” Steve Bruce said about his Magpies ahead of the match. “It’s season defining, I think it is for every team because there are so many games.

“I have always said that a few results along the way helps everybody, so we’ve given ourselves a nice platform going into the busy Christmas period.

“The spirit among the players, and their attitude and the way they are playing has delighted me.”

That said, as expected, Hasenhuttl likes his side’s chances after demonstrating to him that they’re more than willing to follow order and fight for the crest at all costs.

“In the last three games… the team [has been] playing much more committed,” he said. “When we play like this we create chances, we don’t give the opponents chances, we are defending higher and then keep the opponent far away from our goal and this is more our style we want to play.”

INJURIES: Newcastle — OUT: Lascelles (Knee), Ritchie (ankle) | Southampton — OUT: Armstrong (calf)

Norwich City vs. Sheffield United — 9:00 a.m ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Just a couple of months ago, Daniel Farke and his players were touching the clouds.

A 3-2 win against the defending champions Manchester City was the root cause of that state of hysteria that is now nowhere to be found. With one win in their last 10 matches, the Canaries have been grounded and more. In fact, Farke’s rhetoric on his team and their future in the league says it all.

“We are a newly-promoted side who have not spent any money, so in each and every second at this level we must be at our best,” he said leading up to Sunday’s match. “We told everyone before the season this would be a difficult challenge.”

Promoted with them last season, Sheffield United, too, didn’t let lavish spendings over the summer do the talking. But even then, Chris Wilder‘s men have done a lot with a little, putting together formidable, team-oriented performances. The Blades have surprised many with their 19 points after 15 matches.

Sunday presents itself as a game in which Sheffield has the upper hand, but Wilder knows Norwich far too well. In fact, it’s a team they were constantly chasing in England’s second division this time last year.

“They were the outstanding team in the Championship last season,” he said. “I was delighted to get as close as we did to them.”

INJURIES: Norwich City — OUT: Hanley (groin), Drmic (hamstring), Timm Klose (knee) | Sheffield United — OUT: None

Brighton Hove and Albion vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers  — 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBCSN

Very few teams in the league have overcome adversity this season like Wolves.

A team that surprised many last season, started the season off in a way that was unlike anything Nuno Espirito Santo had put forward before: a sluggish, disjointed brand of play. Wolves have been participating in European competition for the first time since 1980, however, and have 28 games under their belts this season.

Riding a 10-game unbeaten streak (the best active streak in the league), Espirito Santo decided to give his players a rare Thursday off from all training ahead of Sunday’s showdown against a hungry Brighton.

“I hope [the players] enjoyed their day off [on Thursday],” the Portuguese manager said. “It was well deserved and they needed it. It was important they understand it’s a day to rest, recover, stay at home and be with family and join us today to be ready for Sunday.”

Coming off an emphatic win at the Emirates, Brighton are aware of the tough task that will be defeating a red-hot Wolves. But as Graham Potter says and just experienced against Arsenal, anything and everything goes in the Premier League.

“Anything is possible in this league, that’s the way you have to think or else it becomes boring,” Potter said. “We have to keep working towards what we’re trying to achieve and maintain the spirit around the group.”

INJURIES: Brighton  OUT: Izquierdo (knee) | Wolves  OUT: Boly (leg), Gibbs-White (back), Shabani (knee)

PL Sunday preview: Arsenal’s post-Emery era; Man Utd host Villa

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Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures features four games, including (but not limited to) the first game of the post-Unai Emery era at Arsenal, Manchester United with a chance to climb into fifth place, and what could be the final game of Marco Silva‘s tenure at Everton.

[ MORE: Mourinho praises “phenomenal” Dele Alli, Spurs supporters ]

Arsenal v. Norwich City — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Unai Emery was fired by Arsenal on Friday, making way for the Freddie Ljungberg (interim) era to begin on Sunday. With no obvious candidate standing out from all the others, Ljungberg, a long-time favorite as a Gunners player, could be given the chance to impress and have the “interim” tag removed, a la Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a year ago. After taking just three points from their last five PL games, Arsenal have fallen to ninth place, eight points behind fourth-place Chelsea, and could finish the weekend as low as 10th place. On the other hand, a win over 19th-place Norwich would see them climb up to fifth, a point ahead of north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur. Norwich’s Teemu Pukki, who took the PL by storm with five goals in his first three games, hasn’t found the back of the net since Sept. 14, a run of eight straight goal-less games for the Fininish forward.

INJURIES: Arsenal —  OUT: Dani Ceballos (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Hector Bellerin (hamstring), David Luiz (ribs), Shkodran Mustafi (foot) | Norwich  — OUT: Alexander Tettey (personal), Grant Hanley (groin), Timm Klose (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Jamal Lewis (knee), Josip Drmic (hamstring)


Wolves v. Sheffield United — 9 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Through 13 games of their debut season in the PL, Sheffield United are threatening to “do a Wolves,” in so much that the newly promoted side currently sits seventh — where Wolves finished last season — following a red-hot start. Following a poor start of their own (zero wins from their first six games), Wolves have rebounded nicely (unbeaten in their last eight, including four wins) and climbed all the way up to sixth (each side sat a place higher coming into the weekend).

INJURIES: Wolves —  OUT: Willy Boly (ankle), Ryan Bennett (groin), Romain Saiss (suspension), Morgan Gibbs-White (back) | Sheffield United  — OUT: None


Man United v. Aston Villa — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Nearly four months into the season, Man United are still without back-to-back PL victories. In fact, they’ve not repeated the same result — win, loss or draw — in consecutive league games all season. The Red Devils ave been, if anything, consistently inconsistent. After drawing Sheffield United 3-3 last time out, the best Solskjaer’s side can do on Sunday is get halfway there ahead of Tottenham’s blockbuster visit, and Jose Mourinho’s return, on Wednesday. United’s injury list remains extensive — and expensive — as Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly remain out, with Nemanja Matic perhaps set to return on Sunday. As for Villa, Dean Smith‘s side snapped a three-game losing skid last time out by thoroughly besting Newcastle United at Villa Park to put four points between themselves and the relegation zone. Following Southampton’s victory on Saturday, that gap is already down to two points.

INJURIES: Man United —  OUT: Paul Pogba (ankle), Eric Bailly (knee), Marcos Rojo (undisclosed), Diogo Dalot (groin); QUESTIONABLE: Nemanja Matic (groin), Scott McTominay (ankle) | Aston Villa  — OUT: Jed Steer (calf), Jota (hernia); QUESTIONABLE: Bjorn Engels (hip)


Leicester City v. Everton — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Every defeat in the coming days could prove to be the final day of Silva’s employment as Everton manager, with the Toffees entering Sunday’s trip to the King Power Stadium in 17th place. It’s not just the number of losses for Everton (seven) on the season thus far, but the sides to which they’ve lost (Villa, Bournemouth, Sheffield United, Burnley, Brighton & Hove Albion and Norwich, to name most of them) that stands out as most embarrassing for a club that thought it would be competing for the top-six this season. Leicester, meanwhile, have happily and swiftly taken their place as the side most likely to break up the monotony of the same clubs finishing atop the table every season. The Foxes entered the weekend in second place (they have since fallen to second), eight points back of Liverpool (now 11), on the back of five straight league victories. Jamie Vardy‘s 12 goals have garnered most of the headlines, but the play-making duo of James Maddison and Youri Tielemans have been arguably more enjoyable to watch

INJURIES: Leicester —  OUT: Matty James (achilles) | Everton  — OUT: Andre Gomes (ankle), Theo Walcott (knock), Jean-Philippe Gbamin (thigh), Morgan Schneiderlin (knock), Fabian Delph (hamstring), Cuco Martina (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Bernard (knee)

Premier League Preview: Aston Villa v. Newcastle United

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Two teams having very different seasons meet Monday when Newcastle United heads to Villa Park to face Aston Villa (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Steve Bruce will lead his fortuitous Newcastle side against his former side, one he nearly led to Premier League promotion. The Villans have been a fun watch this season, but have not seen performances turn into points.

Villa has lost three-straight league matches, albeit against strong sides Liverpool, Man City, and Wolves, and after this face Manchester United, Arsenal, and Leicester City.

Newcastle is unbeaten in three, turning a Wolves draw into wins over Bournemouth and West Ham.

The Magpies are up to 14th and sit closer to fifth than the drop zone, while Villa is just a point clear of the Bottom Three despite some impressive performances this season.


Injuries/suspensions

Aston Villa: OUT — Jed Steer. QUESTIONABLE — Jack Grealish,

Newcastle United: OUT — Jamaal Lascelles, Sean Longstaff, Matt Ritchie. QUESTIONABLE — Florian Lejeune, Ciaran Clark


Probable lineups

Aston Villa: Heaton, Targett, Mings, Konsa, Guilbert, Nakamba, Luiz, McGinn, Grealish, El Ghazi, Wesley.

Newcastle United: Dubravka; Willems, Fernandez, Schar, Dummett, Yedlin; Hayden, Shelvey; Almiron, Saint-Maximin, Joelinton.


What they’re saying

Villa boss Dean Smith on playmaker Jack Grealish: “The fact he hasn’t got called up, we’ve spoken at length about that. He can’t control that but what he can control is he can keep performing, making sure he keeps the pressure on the people who have to make them decisions. He’s ready. He’s one of the fittest lads there, always doing extras after training as well. He’s fit and ready.”

Newcastle’s Steve Bruce on electric, eccentric Allan Saint-Maximin“He’s only 22 and he’s got more outfits than I’ve seen. He’s different and I’m sure at times he’s going to cause me a few problems. But in all of that, deep down, he’s a decent kid. He’s okay, a bit different, but we all have to manage these different individuals, and he’s certainly one. He likes an ear-ring. He gives me £100 every other day when he forgets to take it out! In that respect, I’ve got a few quid off him already. But he’s a good kid, he’s all right. The players like him. He’s daft, he’s off the wall and he’s likeable.”


Prediction

A Villa win could seem like a decent bet, but so do goals. And the way Newcastle has defended is feast or famine this season. We’re gonna go for goals, with Grealish, Saint-Maximin, Wesley, and maybe even Miguel Almiron on the score sheet. 2-2.

Wolves unbeaten in 7 after sinking Aston Villa

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Wolves ran their Premier League unbeaten streak to seven with a 2-1 defeat of Aston Villa at the Molineux on Sunday.

Ruben Neves and Raul Jimenez supplied the goals, a clean sheet spoiled by Trezeguet’s stoppage time tally.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Wolves now sit eighth with 16 points, five more than 17th place Aston Villa.


Three things we learned

1. Wolves again ready to threaten the Top Six: A slow start to the season, rife with Europa League congestion, had Nuno Espirito Santo‘s Wolves wallowing in the Bottom Three. No more. Wolves’ only loss since September was a League Cup defeat against Villa, who fought hard but didn’t have the hosts’ level of class on Sunday. Look out (again) for Nuno’s men.

2. Stop us if you’ve read this one before: The old, worn-out maxim that “(Player X) only scores bangers” comes very close to being true when it comes to Ruben Neves. The 22-year-old hasn’t met a shot from distance he doesn’t love, but this one off the training ground was the right call at the right time. And the seeing-eye quality of it all…

3. El Tri’s target man keeps firing: Raul Jimenez’s finished off the scoring with his 13th goal in 22 matches across all competitions, many of them coming late in matches. The Mexican forward also has three assists, and he continues to deliver for Nuno Espirito Santo in tight affairs.

Man of the Match: Adama Traore — The recent Spain call-up was all over the field as usual, hitting the woodwork with a shot and grabbing an assist. Credited with an absurd nine successful dribbles, his development under Nuno has been nothing short of sensational.


Wolves had the first two corners of the match, and Villa was soon forced into a change when second choice keeper Jed Steer — filling in for injured Tom Heaton — suffered a leg injury and limped off the pitch.

He was replaced by Norwegian international Orjan Nyland, who arrived from Ingolstadt in 2018 and played 23 times in the Villa’s promotion campaign.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Diogo Jota misread a 3v2 break, then headed to Nyland under pressure.

Then a short free kick routine set up Ruben Neves in his office, and he delivered with typical aplomb.

Jota‘s second half bid to make it 2-0 was well-saved by Nyland.