Nicklas Helenius

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.

source: Getty Images
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.

Dark tales of Jonas, Helenius remind us the on-field comes second

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In the big business world of the Premier League, it’s easy to forget that the players have struggles off the field.

And while we’ve read plenty of reports on the ostentatious characteristics of Premier Leaguers lives, there are some horrible ordeals that affect players abilities on the pitch and even their availability for team selection.

The past year hasn’t been kind to Aston Villa’s Nicklas Helenius — now on loan at AaB — and former Newcastle United midfielder Jonas Gutierrez.

[ PREMIER LEAGUE: 10 things to watch this weekend ]

The 23-year-old Helenius made just three appearances for Villa last year after transferring from AaB and received plenty of guff for his lack of involvement in the team.

But he recently revealed a struggle with bacterial illness that had him fearing for his life and struggling with depression and an addition to sleeping pills. He lost almost 18 pounds and spent much of his time in the bathroom.

From The Birmingham Mail:

source: Getty Images“It ruined me physically because the bacteria couldn’t get out and I couldn’t get the vitamins needed,” explained Helenius.

“I thought I had a very serious disease or even cancer.

“I had very bad thoughts and was afraid of dying and those thoughts of dying were with me all the time.

“I was crying for help. I had to get through this and that’s why I went back to Aalborg to feel comfortable in Denmark.”

To help him sleep Helenius started taking pills and became reliant on them for around six weeks.

“I was addicted to them,” he add. “I was almost like a drug addict, but there pills are not good for your body.”

While Helenius is recovering and is expected back at Aston Villa for the final year of his contract next season, there’s a player who won’t get the chance to return to his club through no fault of his own.

Former Newcastle United veteran Jonas has been in the headlines after revealing his year-long battle with testicular cancer has become a battle in more parts of his body. After detecting the cancer and having surgery, Jonas returned to Newcastle to find there was no longer a place for him.

And he didn’t take it well.

From The Newcastle Chronicle:

Gutierrez wanted to break the news himself of his fight against the illness – but it left question marks over his future when he failed to return for pre-season training.

When asked about his situation at Newcastle he said: ”I don’t want to say if they were good or bad, I can’t judge.

“What I can say is that it hurt me very much when they told me to look for another team after that I had the surgery.

“I had been at the club for five years – that was tough.”

Gutierrez has also spoken of his relief at going public on his fight with cancer.

source:
Daily Mail

Jonas went on loan to Norwich City before revealing his cancer battle prior to this season. A beloved teammate, he’s watched as plenty in the soccer community have supported him. From Papiss Cisse’s goal celebrations to fans cheering during the 18th minute (his uniform number), Jonas has received some ‘calm’ from the tributes.

But it’s hard to imagine what he went through privately last season — or at least away from the public eye — while Helenius was fighting similar demons.

Championship Sunday focus: Aston Villa

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Story so far… The 2013/14 Premier League season has largely been one to forget for Aston Villa.

On the pitch, their season was defined by a few marquee wins – the 1-3 come-from-behind victory at Arsenal on opening day, the 3-2 home win over Manchester City and the 1-0 victory over Chelsea – and tragically poor home results where they dropped points in 13 of 19 contests.

The poor results were based on a number of elements including a young squad, transfers who didn’t pan out (Nicklas Helenius, Aleksander Tonev, Antonio Luna), a season to forget for Christian Benteke (a drab fall/winter and a spring ruined by a torn achilles) and a manager who came off as uninspiring and, at times, indifferent to his sides’ poor displays. Besides the victories over big clubs, another positive was the continued development of a number of players like Brad Guzan, who had some epic saves in goal, Fabian Delph, who memorably dribbled half the pitch and beat Chelsea with a back heel goal, Leandro Bacuna, who proved himself an offensive menace despite playing as a full-back, and Ashley Westwood, who proved he can score goals and be a leader for years to come.

Off the pitch things have unraveled with rumors of owner Randy Lerner looking to sell while long-serving assistant coaches, Ian Culverhouse and Gary Karsa, being suspended in April after an alleged row. It’s a scene that feels inevitable to come to a head over the summer. 

Who do they play and where can I watch it: Villa faces Tottenham at White Hart Lane and can be seen live on USA at 10:00am ET as well as streamed via NBC Sports Live Extra.

Form guide: Form wise, Villa have had tough run of it lately, winning only once in their last six matches. Back in October Villa lost to Spurs 2-0 after goals from Roberto Soldado and Andros Townsend did the damage.

April 5 – Aston Villa 1-2 Fulham
April 12 – Crystal Palace 1 Aston Villa 0
April 19 – Aston Villa 0 Southampton 0
April 26 – Swansea City 4 Aston Villa 1
May 3 – Aston Villa 3 Hull City 1
May 7 – Manchester City 4 Aston Villa 0

What’s at stake: A victory on Sunday could take them as high as 12th place while a loss, combined with wins by West Brom and Hull City, could see them finish 17th. It’s a large range of possibilities for the Villans but no matter what happens, supporters will be happy to be staying up and eager to move on from what has been an odd and forgettable 2013/14 season.

When the final whistle blows: It’s difficult to see Villa beat Spurs but a share of the points certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Onwards and upwards.

Premier League Relegation Watch: Sunderland gain ground in tight table

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With the top of the table becoming clearer by the week, the fight to avoid relegation grows more and more convoluted.

So let’s take a look at all the relegation-threatened sides and evaluate their remaining matches, form, injuries and odds of staying up in the Premier League.

13. SWANSEA CITY 36 PTS (35 PLD)

Remaining Matches (3): Aston Villa (H); Southampton (H); Sunderland (A)

League Form: LDWLLW

Other Competitions: None

Injuries: Michu, ankle (no return date)

Vegas odds to be relegated: 10/1

Verdict: Great win at Newcastle leaves the Swans in a good spot, as does the status of their final three opponents.

14. HULL CITY 36 PTS (34 PLD)

Remaining Matches (4): Fulham (A); Aston Villa (A); Manchester United (A); Everton (H)

League Form: LLWLLW

Other Competitions: FA Cup final (May 17th)

Injuries: Allan McGregor, kidney (no return date); Robbie Brady, groin (no return date); Paul McShane, ankle (no return date)

Vegas odds to be relegated: 11/1

Verdict: A game in hand is a good thing but three away matches followed by a final match at home against Everton is a difficult run.

15. ASTON VILLA 35 PTS (34 PLD)

Remaining Matches (4): Swansea City (A); Hull City (H); Manchester City (A); Tottenham (A)

League Form: WLLLLD

Other Competitions: None

Injuries: Christian Benteke, achilles (out for season); Libor Kozak, broken leg (out for season); Jores Okore, knee (April 26th); Charles N’Zogbia, calf (no return date); Nicklas Helenius, hip (no return date)

Vegas odds to be relegated: 3/1

Verdict: Drab 0-0 draw with Southampton sees Villa drop further in the table setting up a dire next two matches against Swansea and Hull.

16. WEST BROMWICH ALBION 33 PTS (33 PLD)

Remaining Matches (5): Manchester City (A); West Ham United (H); Arsenal (A); Sunderland (H); Stoke City (H)

League Form: LWLDWD

Other Competitions: None

Injuries: Jonas Olsson, calf (April 21st); James Morrison, ankle (April 21st)

Vegas odds to be relegated: 1/1

Verdict: Gonna be tight for the Baggies, who could do with a result today against City. But the game in hand helps as do matches against West Ham and Stoke City, both of whom have nothing to play for.

17. NORWICH CITY 32 PTS (35 PLD)

Remaining Matches (3): Manchester United (A); Chelsea (A); Arsenal (H)

League Form: LWLLLL

Other Competitions: None

Injuries: Elliot Bennett, knee (April 26th); Joseph Yobo, hamstring (no return date)

Vegas odds to be relegated: 1/4

Verdict: Tremendous effort in the 2-3 loss to Liverpool on Sunday but ‘effort’ does the Canaries very little these days. With a two point cushion they face an incredibly difficult final three fixtures against United, Chelsea and Arsenal, it’s hard not to see Norwich going down.

18. CARDIFF CITY 30 PTS (35 PLD)

Remaining Matches (3): Sunderland (A); Newcastle United (A); Chelsea (H)

League Form: LLDLWD

Other Competitions: None

InjuriesCraig Noone, abdominal (May 11th); Mark Hudson, hamstring (no return date); Andrew Taylor, knock (no return date)

Vegas odds to be relegated: 1/4

Verdict: Kept grinding with a 1-1 against Stoke on Saturday, Cardiff will need a big result next weekend against Sunderland to set up a final weekend match-up with Jose Mourinho’s side. Feels ominous.

19. FULHAM 30 PTS (35 PLD)

Remaining Matches (3): Hull City (H); Stoke City (A); Crystal Palace (H)

League Form: WLLWWL

Other Competitions: None

Injuries: Kieran Richardson, hamstring (no return date); Kostas Mitroglu, knee (no return date); Scott Parker, thigh (April 26th); Damien Duff, knock (no return date); Mahamadou Diarra, knee  (no return date)

Vegas odds to be relegated: 1/3

Verdict: A valiant effort against Spurs fell short this weekend but facing three clubs with nothing to play for will be a boon to the Cottagers.

20. SUNDERLAND 29 PTS (34 PLD)

Remaining Matches (4): Cardiff City (H); Manchester United (A); West Bromwich Albion (H); Swansea City (H)

League Form: LLLLDW

Other Competitions: None

InjuriesSteven Fletcher, ankle (no return date); Keiren Westwood, shoulder (no return date); Connor Wickham, knock (April 27th); Ki Sung-Yeung, knee (no return date); Carlos Cuellar, hamstring (no return date)

Vegas odds to be relegated: 1/4

Verdict: Fantastic win over Chelsea keeps the ‘miracle’ hopes alive. Game-in-hand could be the difference that makes it a reality.

FA Cup roundup: Plenty of upsets dot third-round slate

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Three Premier League squads have fallen amidst plenty of upsets and upheaval during Saturday’s third round of the FA Cup, and all this before the North London Derby kicked off at 12:15pm ET.

The upsets…

Aston Villa 1-2 Sheffield United
It’s a good thing Paul Lambert’s not a big fan of the FA Cup, because it may help him ignore the jeers of the AV faithful after Sheffield United bounced the Villans out of the tournament. The Blades are through thanks to Scottish scoring from Jamie Murphy in the 20th minute and Ryan Flynn’s game-winning tally in the 81st after Nicklas Helenius briefly put Aston Villa level.

Southend United 4-1 Millwall
What a mess for last year’s semi-finalists, who got absolutely pummeled before and after a red card to Jermaine Easter for apparently stamping on Ben Coker. Martyn Woolford’s 64th minute goal was Millwall’s only moment and came with the team down 3-0. Barry Corr’s header put the Shrimpers ahead in the 22nd minute before Easter’s sending off in the 45th opened the floodgates. Roots Hall went rightly bananas all afternoon.

Rochdale 2-0 Leeds United
The League Two side used a loud home stadium to its advantage, as Scott Hogan and Ian Henderson scored against a pretty strong squad. Rochdale heads into the fourth round for the first time in 11 years.

Doncaster 2-3 Stevenage
Francois Zoko’s 49th minute goal kickstarted a match that featured five second half goals. Stevenage lead 2-0 and 3-1 before Liam Wakefield scored in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

Barnsley 1-2 Coventry City
Jim O’Brien gave the hosts an early lead, but Franck Moussa and Leon Clark struck in the 78th and 89th minutes for the Sky Blues to send the League One side onward

Close, but not enough…

Stoke City 2-1 Leicester City
Southampton 4-3 Burnley
Bolton 2-1 Blackpool
Brighton and Hove Albion 1-0 Reading

Premier League ousters…

Newcastle United 1-2 Cardiff City
Vincent Tan will certainly be pleased to see Ole Gunnar Solskjaer pick up a win in the manager’s first game in charge, as the Bluebirds fought back after Papiss Cisse’s 62nd minute tally to win on the road. Craig Noone tied the game moments after subbing on and Frazier Campbell headed home the winner as Cardiff struck twice in seven minutes before holding on for the win. Looks to be yet another year without a shot at silverware for the Magpies.

West Bromwich Albion 0-2 Crystal Palace
Tony Pulis had to wonder how the road was so easy. Dwight Gayle scored in the first half and Marouane Chamakh added one deep into second half stoppage as the Eagles sent the Baggies to defeat.

Two of three fifth division sides survive for replays…

The Harriers of Kidderminster held Peterborough to a 0-0 draw, while Macclesfield Town and Sheffield Wednesday played to a 1-1 stalemate. Both clubs were at home and face challenging road replays. Grimsby Town nearly made it 3/3, but fell to Huddersfield 3-2 at home on an added time own goal.

No alarms and no surprises…

Everton 4-0 Queens Park Rangers
The Toffees smashed Harry Redknapp’s QPR to bits, a 4-0 decision at Goodison Park behind a brace from Nikita Jelavic.

Middlesborough 0-2 Hull City
The Tigers handled their road business in a tidy fashion to crash another Northeast club out of the tournament. Aaron McLean and Nick Proschwitz scored as Steve Bruce played mainly reserves and still ran roughshod over Boro.

Yeovil Town 4-0 Leyton Orient
The Championship side handled its business against an injury-ravaged Orient side. Two goals for James Hayter grabbed the headlines.

Onto the replays…

Blackburn 1-1 Manchester City (click for recap)
Bristol City 1-1 Watford
Ipswich Town 1-1 Preston North End
Kidderminster 0-0 Peterborough
Macclesfield Town 1-1 Sheffield Wednesday
Norwich 1-1 Fulham
Wigan Athletic 3-3 MK Dons