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Aston Villa, Newcastle or Norwich: Where will Darren Bent play his football next term?

Darren Bent has always scored goals, wherever he has been. For whatever reason he isn’t held in the esteem of the likes of Jermain Defoe or Peter Crouch, but he has an excellent goalscoring record. He is a victim of his own type; the player who ‘only’ scores goals. Because his touch isn’t pretty and his game is based on pace and goal getting, he can be a bit frustrating. For this reason, he’s only had a brief spell with Spurs as a chance at a top club. Even there his record wasn’t too bad, but it is remembered more for the glaring misses, chances that Harry Redknapp’s mother could have scored, than his near one goal in three 25 goals in 79 appearances. Compared to Peter Crouch at Spurs (24 goals in 93 games) it’s not too bad and only marginally less than Jermain Defoe’s goals per game ration at the club.

But aside from that Spurs spell, his ratio has been nearer to, and often better than, one in two, the holy grail of the striker. His career ratio is one goal every 2.3 games. Which compares favourably to the likes of Robbie Keane (1:2.7) Crouch (1:3.3) Defoe (1:2.4) and even Wayne Rooney (1:2.2). Bent has always shown pedigree and always scored goals. And yet he is not thought of as being in these players’ calibre.

Darren Bent

Aston Villa paid Sunderland £18m for Darren Bent in January 2011 to help them out of a relegation battle. He rewarded them with nine goals in 16 games over the rest of that season. He was then in and out of the team, many suspecting it was to avoid paying Sunderland extra money, but still managed nine in 22. However, last summer saw the arrival of Paul Lambert and the pursuit of a different transfer policy. With him came youth and lower wages. And most importantly, Christian Benteke. The young Belgian surged in to the team and with Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor either side, gave Villa a dynamic front three. But no place for the £18m man Bent.

With this in mind, and Villa’s desire to keep trimming the wage bill, Bent looks almost certain to leave this summer. There should be no shortage of takers, but where will he end up?

Newcastle have been linked most prominently in the press and the arrival of Joe Kinnear has added to this. On the understanding that he wants a striker and will prioritise the domestic market, Bent looks like an obvious solution. Never mind his ex-Sunderland days, they need a goalscorer. Much will depend on the future of Papiss Cisse though. Bent will not move anywhere that will result in him sitting on the bench. But Newcastle pay Cisse to be a starter. There is only room for one.

Norwich are making a real effort to improve their goal getting and the pace and movement of Bent will look very dangerous next to the equally swift Ricky van Wolfswinkel. Norwich have some nice creativity in wide areas with Robert Snodgrass and Anthony Pilkington but need pure goal scorers. Bent is capable of getting them 15-20 with good supply and he’d be a nailed on starter.

Stoke have to be in play for Bent. New manager Mark Hughes needs to add goals to an otherwise awful attack and Bent gives them the kind of poacher they don’t have. They’ve got a group of variously talented strikers but none are pure goal poachers. They also need to add players who can make chances mind, but what few chances they do get need someone to put them away. They’ve got some money to spend too.

Hull are a decent outside bet as it was under Steve Bruce that Bent enjoyed his best form for Sunderland. They need to show the kind of ambition to persuade him to come though, but if they can add a few creative players they might be able to persuade him.

Whoever gets Bent is in all likelihood getting a bargain. Villa are not in a strong negotiating position given that it’s pretty common knowledge that they want rid. A bid of £5-6m could end up getting the buyer a 15 or even 20 goals striker with the right supply line and total confidence in him to let him start every week.

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Aston Villa sign Chelsea target Jores Okore

In Jores Okore, Aston Villa have made the most impressive signing in the Premier League this summer. He may not be the most famous name coming to England from overseas, or the most expensive but the title says it all. Villa signed him from under Chelsea’s nose. Chelsea wanted him as part of their policy of hauling in all the young talent they can get and then would presumably have loaned him out for a few years where if he impressed the usual questions about where he fit in would be asked. By joining Villa Okore has skipped that phase and joins a club where he will be an instant first choice and a potentially huge upgrade on what they have at the moment.

Okore is just 21 years old and yet already has 7 caps and has played in the Champions League. He is a rugged, physically dominating central defender, the type that Villa don’t have. He is a lot quicker than any of the incumbents and is very strong. He can be an ideal partner for Ron Vlaar who is a decent organiser and leader but is certainly not quick. He is not as elegant as Villa’s last iconic Danish centre back Martin Laursen but he has the ability to be every bit as good.

Jores Okore

He is raw, more of a prospect than an instant fix. However, last summer Villa signed a raw prospect who wasn’t an instant fix and he turned out to be Christian Benteke. There are a quite a few similarities in their football backgrounds. Both come from smaller European leagues. Okore is joining from Nordsjaelland in Denmark. Both were renowned for their physical traits rather than technical ability and both came to Villa looking to show that they can play at an elite level and thrive. Both arrived hungry. It says a lot for Okore’s ambition that he chose to take the riskier move to Villa and play first team football than to potentially get lost on the Chelsea bench. Villa have signed a young man who will be looking to prove he made the right decision. He will be motivated and full of desire.

Okore fits the Villa transfer profile of the last year perfectly. He’s young and talented, coming from a less established league. Villa have tended to sign lots of these players and see what sticks. Last season Benteke, Lowton and Westwood became key men and Mo Sylla showed signs of promise. All came from leagues outside the ‘big five’. Villa are trying this policy again this summer.

Okore joins Aleksander Tonev who has been signed from Bulgaria and Leandro Bacuna who has come from Groningen in the Dutch Eredivisie. They could also be followed by Niklas Helenius from Aalborg in Denmark. Villa are pretty much cornering the market in these second tier leagues which is allowing them to sign the best that they have to offer. It’s riskier, the move from these leagues to the Premier League is a big one, but they come cheaper and full of desire. It’s like sifting for Gold. If you put enough of it in you will eventually find some. Tonev should bring directness and pace to the left wing, Bacuna will bring passing and work in the midfield and Helenius is a big body up front with a good goals record.

Villa are pursuing a unique transfer policy, one that involves thorough and high quality scouting, but if they keep dredging up a new Benteke or two it will work a treat. They got in trouble by overpaying for average Premier League players. £9m on Reo-Coker, £8m Curtis Davies, £9m N’Zogbia, Ireland on £60k a week etc. so it makes sense to try something different. Good luck to them, they deserve to be rewarded for being innovative and creative in the markets.

Christian Benteke – Tottenham, Arsenal or Liverpool?

Last summer Aston Villa bought Christian Benteke for £7m from Genk, a move that even Belgian football pundits thought fraught with risk. Now, they have one of the most desirable players in the Premier League, who is being linked with Spurs, Arsenal and Liverpool. They have been attracted by his prototypical physique, speed, power, goals, heading ability and the fact that he improved so quickly last season. So if Spurs, Arsenal and Liverpool are the domestic suitors, where would be best for him to go to? Or would he better off staying at Villa?

Spurs are being linked most strongly with Benteke of the three so are a logical place to start. There is no doubt, and precious little secrecy about Spurs’ summer priority and that is to sign an upgrade on their current strikers. They have been linked with Leandro Damiao, Jackson Martinez, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Benteke most prominently. There is an obvious theme to all of these; physical presence combined with ruthless finishing. In other words, they want a hybrid of what they currently have. They want the power and pace of Adebayor with the finishing of Jermain Defoe.

What all of these options have in their favour is consistency, but what makes Benteke such an intriguing option is that he has done it consistently in the Premier League. He has already shown that he can score goals against the opposition Spurs will have to overcome to get back in to the top four. Now, despite his improvements, he is still very raw. There is real doubt as to whether he is quite ready to lead a team to the top four and the idea of Spurs signing him depends of Gareth Bale’s future. If Spurs sell Bale they can’t sign Benteke to be their main man. He is not ready to be that figurehead at the top of the league. If they keep Bale, then Benteke would be a great option. Spurs are Bale’s team, so if he stays Benteke can play and learn and improve without the pressure of carrying them on his back. He would have a dream supply line to help him find his feet.

Christian Benteke

Arsenal have also been linked to Benteke but it is unclear whether the Emirates would be the best landing spot for him. Arsenal play a different style of football to Spurs, where the striker is more involved in the build-up play. At Spurs he would be allowed to roam the penalty box as he was at Villa. At Arsenal he would need to be more sophisticated and versatile, and at this stage he is not ready to be that. Spurs bombard the box with crosses, Arsenal do not. They have got a big penalty box man in Olivier Giroud, supposedly to offer a different dimension but most of Arsenal’s goals still came with passing or quick counter attacking which is more reliant on the attacking midfielders. Benteke has more potential than Giroud, but at this stage is at best a minor upgrade. Arsenal seem to readying bids for players like Stevan Jovetic, who carry an expectation of a title challenge. They would be better off spending big money on a world-class striker for the time being.

Liverpool have supposedly joined the race on the basis that Luis Suarez could be leaving. But, since the arrival of Daniel Sturridge, Suarez has played either in behind or out left, his old Ajax position. Sturridge is the striker that Brendan Rdogers believes in. He wants three tricky attackers in behind a quick goal-scoring striker. He seems to be prioritising adding a third option to Philippe Coutinho and Iago Aspas rather than striker. There’s a possibility that Sturridge could be moved wide right but that’s not why he was bought. Benteke’s role at Anfield is undefined.

Villa will of course, not let him go lightly, if at all. The problem for any club trying to buy him will be finding a fee that Villa find acceptable. He’s probably worth £15m or so, given his raw talent and goal output, but he is worth more than that to Villa. If they sell him, who are they replacing him with? He was singlehandedly responsible for them staying up last season so selling him would be a huge risk. The best solution for Villa would be to keep him for this season, and if he’s scored another 20+ goals he will be worth £20m, and more. There is no reason for them to sell him this summer unless they get a mind blowing offer. For Benteke, another season as guaranteed starter could give him the edge over Romelu Lukaku in the race to start for Belgium at the 2014 World Cup.

Premier League preview: Big games for Tottenham, Arsenal, Wigan and Aston Villa

With Manchester United sealing their 20th league title with a 3-0 win over Aston Villa on Monday, all the attention now shifts to the relegation battle and the top four places.

Arsenal v Manchester United

The Gunners welcome the champions to the Emirates for a big game in their battle for the top four. Arsenal currently have a two-point advantage over fifth-placed Spurs and are one point in front of fourth-placed Chelsea. After their vital win at Fulham last weekend, this is another huge game for the home side as Chelsea and Spurs both have a game in hand on them.

Robin van Persie

Some people may be wondering what sort of attitude Manchester United will have toward this game having already clinched the title. Sir Alex Ferguson has set them the target of winning their last four games to break Chelsea’s Premier League record of 95 points, and with questions also being asked about how good this United team actually is, they will want to put down a marker against one of the top teams in the division. With both teams wanting the win there is sure to be goals and you would expect there to be a positive result one way or the other.

Aston Villa v Sunderland

A massive relegation battle at Villa Park as Paolo Di Canio’s in-form Sunderland look to secure their Premiership safety. Following impressive back-to-back wins against Newcastle and Everton, Sunderland know a win here would take them to 40 points and all-but secure their place in the league next season. Di Canio has got them playing attacking football by getting the ball wide to their creative players like Adam Johnson and James McClean and getting more men into the box than under the previous regime. Di Canio has also got them well organised with two clean sheets in his three games in charge so far. His passion on the touchline seems to be translating to the players and the fans, the players seem to be enjoying their football again and have pride in the shirt.

Paul Lambert

For Villa despite their defeat at Manchester United they have been in decent form, with three wins in their last six games. The problem remains with their home form though, as they still seem to suffer from nervousness at Villa Park, with just two wins in their last six. Despite this fact Luxbet have them as favorites at 2.20. They need to start improving their home form, as come Monday night Wigan may be level on points with them and the Latics still have a game in hand at home to Swansea to come. Paul Lambert will be desperate to avoid having to go to Wigan on the last day of the season needing a result but it is hard seeing them getting the win here against a rejuvenated Sunderland.

Wigan v Tottenham

Arguably the biggest game of the weekend comes at the DW Stadium as relegation-threatened Wigan welcome a Spurs side buoyed by their 3-1 victory over Manchester City last weekend. Wigan’s usual good form at this time of the season has not come to fruition, with just two wins in their last six and with trips to West Brom and Arsenal still to come they need to find some better form quickly. Despite what Roberto Martinez has claimed, the upcoming FA Cup final may well be a distraction to the players as in the back of their minds the players will want to keep themselves fit for their big day at Wembley.

André Villas-Boas

Spurs meanwhile will be full of confidence after their comeback victory against Manchester City and know that they need to keep winning before their big showdown against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in a couple of weeks. With Gareth Bale another week further along in terms of regaining fitness and so much pace and so many goal scoring threats it is hard to see how Wigan will cope with this Spurs side.

By Chris Newman

Premier League Preview: Big games for Manchester United, Stoke, Newcastle, Sunderland and Aston Villa

Premier League preview: Derby day on Tyneside, United look to bounce back and a big game for Villa

While most eyes will be on Wembley this weekend for the FA Cup semi-finals, there are still some massive games in the Premiership with a number of teams looking for the precious three points.

Newcastle v Sunderland

A massive derby game on Sunday at St James’ Park, with a huge three points on offer in this relegation battle. After their last-gasp victory against Fulham last Sunday, Newcastle know that three points here would all but secure their place in the Premier League for next season and possibly condemn their nearest rivals to a place in the relegation zone.

Paolo Di Canio

After an encouraging performance at Stamford Bridge, Paolo Di Canio will have his team fired up and want them showing the same passion that he will undoubtedly be putting across on the touchline. Sunderland may well see this as a big opportunity with Newcastle playing on Thursday night against Benfica and they may well find it tough to get themselves up for another big physical effort just over two days later. This fixture generally produces goals, cards and talking points so a high scoring draw may well be on the cards, and with a lot of combative midfielders on the pitch a red card or two would not be a surprise.

Stoke v Manchester United

A big game at both ends of the table as Manchester United travel to the Britannia to take on a Stoke City side who have been dragged into a relegation battle. Only Reading are in worst form in the last six games than the hosts, who haven’t won in their last six league games and have only won one of their last six at home. Manchester United meanwhile are at the top of the form table and have not lost an away league game since defeat at Norwich in November.

Sir Alex Ferguson

Stoke now sit just three points above the drop zone after the damaging home defeat to Villa last week and as the lowest scorers in the division and their usually tight defence beginning to leak goals, they are in real danger of falling back into the Championship. The last thing Stoke need now is a visit from the champions elect. Manchester United will be stung by their derby defeat on Monday and they know that defeat here will give Manchester City a chance to get back into the title race. The first goal here will be crucial as the Stoke fans will try and create their famous intimidating atmosphere straight from kick off, an early goal for United and it may well be another easy away day for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men. If Stoke could manage to get in front though a positive result will surely act as a springboard for them to retain Premier League status.

Aston Villa v Fulham

Another massive game down the bottom as Paul Lambert’s young side have an opportunity to put some daylight between themselves and Wigan, who are in FA Cup action this weekend. After their impressive win at Stoke last weekend, which dragged them into trouble, Villa could take a massive stride toward safety by making it back-to-back wins.

Christian Benteke

One problem for this Villa side is playing in front of their home fans as they have lost four out of their last six home games. The young players seem to freeze in front of their own fans and play with much more freedom in their away games. Fulham meanwhile have picked up slightly with their away form, losing just two of their last six games but they are generally poor on their travels and now that they are safe for another season Villa’s extra need for the win may sway this fixture in their favour.

By Chris Newman

Five players Aston Villa should sign this summer

Last summer saw a complete philosophical switch from Aston Villa in the transfer market. Having spent big on players with Premier League experience under Martin O’Neill, the club moved towards signing young players from outside of the Premier League. This was primarily from the Football League with the odd notable Belgian exception. Although the common understanding is that Villa didn’t spend a lot of money, they actually spent a fair chunk. Not as much as the O’Neill years, but still a not unreasonable amount. With this in mind, and Paul Lambert’s success with signing outside of the Premier League at Norwich, there is every reason to think it will continue.

Rhys Williams – Middlesbrough

Scout Report Williams is Middlesbrough’s captain at just 24 years of age. He is a big physical presence in the centre of defence or in defensive midfield, and is equally comfortable throwing his body in front of a shot as he is in gliding forwards with the ball into midfield to set attacks in motion. His seasons of Championship football make him ready for the step up to the big show.

Rhys Williams
Where does he fit? Villa have had a merry-go-round in the centre of their defence. Whether operating a two or three-man central system they have struggled to get a settled and performing pair. Ron Vlaar, Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker have all been used with mixed results. Williams would add some much needed quality.
How much? £3-4m, right in Villa’s price range.

Marco van Ginkel

Scout Report Van Ginkel has surged to prominence in the Vitesse Arnhem central midfield this season, scoring seven goals and making a further ten. He is skilful, fleet footed and tricky. He’s only 20 but is able to take command of games in the competitive Eredivisie.

Marco van Ginkel
Where does he fit? Villa are chronically weak in central midfield and their biggest weakness is a lack of players who can make something unusual happen in games. They have got a bunch of plodders in there at the moment, a halfway house of guys who are neither overly creative or forceful enough in the tackle.
How much? It would take about £7m to pry him away, which is about the range they got Christian Benteke in and that one worked out well. They did it once; they can do it again.

Harry Maguire – Sheffield United

Scout Report Maguire is the 20-year-old at the heart of the Sheffield United defence, where he has been for several years. He’s big, quick and good on the ball. Added to his innate technical and physical qualities is his burgeoning football intelligence and positioning, which has improved massively as he has gained first-team experience over the years.

Harry Maguire
Where does he fit? Maguire has all the raw tools that Lambert would be looking for at the back. His preferred system involves his defenders being able to utilise the ball from deep. The point of the wing-backs is that they provide the only width in the team, but the problem with that is that they need time to get forward. This happens when the back three are able to move the ball around to give them time to get in to position. Maguire would slot straight in to that.
How much? £1-2m if Sheffield United make a mess of promotion, maybe £3m if they go up.

Will Hughes – Derby County

Scout Report Not hard to spot on the field with his shock of blonde hair, but it is not just that that makes you watch him. As a 17-year-old who has been given his footballing education in a period when three-man attacks are prevalent, he is able to operate anywhere across the front line. He is quick, skilful and has an eye for goal.

Will Hughes
Where does he fit? Villa need to add some sparkle to their attack to complement the hard running Andreas Weimann and bullish Benteke, and Hughes can be developed to be that.
How much? Derby aren’t in position where they could turn down £3-4m

Michail Antonio – Sheffield Wednesday

Scout Report Antonio brings pace and directness from his right wing position. He is powerful and strong to add to his pace, and is starting to produce more and more in attacking areas.

Michail Antonio
Where does he fit? Villa do not really have any width, and this has been their undoing on many occasions, most infamously when chasing Bradford in the cup semi-final. Charles N’Zogbia sent his twin brother to play for them and Marcus Albrighton has vanished, so Villa need some pace and width. Plus, Antonio fits the profile Lambert likes; young players who have worked their way up the lower leagues to earn their Premier League shot.
How much? £1-2m would make sense for both sides.

You can read more original content by Max at thefootballspace.com

Benitez, AVB or Rodgers? Premier League sack race

With Mark Hughes and Roberto Di Matteo already having lost their grip on the managerial merry-go-round long before the start of the imminent ‘silly season’, it’s time to consider who might be next in line. Crucial festive fixtures and the January transfer window are looming large and both are huge factors for managers looking to keep their jobs. Santi Cazorla’s hat-trick on Monday night only confirmed Brian McDermott’s place at the front of the grid but here NMO looks at all the runners and riders.

Brian McDermott

McDermott took over as bookies favourite to be next shown the door after his Reading side succumbed to fellow strugglers Southampton a few weeks ago. The stats for last season’s Championship Manager of the Year make grim reading and only serve as a stark reminder of how tough life can be in the top flight. The Royals have lost six on the bounce but perhaps most crucially three of those defeats have come against the teams around them, leaving McDermott’s side looking isolated from all but QPR. Only results can help the boss improve his chances. Unfortunately it’s Champions Manchester City up next. Boxing Day though sees the first of two home games against Swansea and then West Ham. At this point it looks like at least one win will be required to ensure McDermott escapes the axe before New Year.

Martin O’Neill

When Martin O’Neill arrived at Sunderland expectations were high. Fans in the Northeast felt, and probably rightly so, they were getting a manager who was capable of taking the club to the next level. Over a year now since the Northern Irishman took control and things have yet to turn out as planned. Sunderland have won only three times this season and the fact that O’Neill has been at the helm for some time makes the lack of progress even more difficult to take. There is no doubt Sunderland must improve and improve quickly if the former Villa and Celtic boss is to remain in charge. Plenty of money has been spent over the last 12 months and O’Neill will surely be making the case for further outlay but you get the feeling that unless the Black Cat’s form picks up then he may not be there to see it happen. The next fixture against fellow-strugglers Southampton is huge.

martin-o_neill_2081658c

Roberto Mancini

He may have clinched a historic title for the Citizens last season but clearly the majority believe Mancini’s position to be precarious. Mega-rich City have unquestionably made progress in recent seasons but whether that rate of progress is fast enough to satisfy the owners that the Italian can get the best from his phenomenally expensive squad is unclear. The manager escaped the chop after City’s dismal exit from the Champions League. The silver lining for Mancini perhaps, is the failure even to qualify for the Europa League, allowing his charges to focus fully on retaining their domestic title. The fact that he remains currently is indication that it will be the Premiership showing that ultimately decides his fate. The recent derby loss to United only tightened the noose while the former Azzurri man continues to grapple with multiple issues such as the twin terrors of Tevez and Balotelli. Despite this Mancini will remain at the helm as long as City remain within striking distance of table topping United.

Rafa Benitez

Rafael Benitez

Although only in charge for a matter of weeks, it is easy to see why Rafa is fairly short odds (10/1 with some bookmakers) to be gone as quickly as he arrived. Chelsea fans were less than hospitable in welcoming the former Liverpool boss to the Bridge and owner Roman Abramovich is certainly not one to hesitate in wielding the axe as Roberto Di Matteo would no doubt testify. Of course the odds are short because Benitez has only been officially confirmed as boss until the end of the season. One can’t help but think the appointment is perhaps merely a last experimental attempt by the owner to inject life into his £50m project within a project, the much discussed Fernando Torres. Benitez’s start has been poor and he missed an opportunity to bring back the feel-good factor that enveloped the club at the start of the campaign by failing to secure the World Club Cup. Torres though has at least bagged a few goals. Time will tell if Abramovich will allow his temporary manager to spend money in the transfer window. Despite all the questions raised by his appointment the Spaniard will surely at least see out the season barring any spectacular downturn in results for the European Champions.

Arsene Wenger

It’s almost unthinkable that Wenger should be considered at risk. The Frenchman these days seems constantly referred to as weary or beleaguered. Some bookies have him at 14/1 to be the next out of a job but the reality is that if his 16 year tenure is about to come to an end it will more likely be because the man himself has had enough. Recent weeks have seen the Gunners boss referred to as a dictator in the media and there have been rumours of a rift with his assistant Steve Bould. Surely it’s unlikely that an ultimately successful coach who has brought wonderful talents and a beautiful footballing ethos to the club could be sacked. There is no doubt though, that the current days are some of the darker ones Wenger has experienced during his reign. He continues to defy the odds and nurture young talent, maintaining the clubs Champions League status while repeatedly being forced to sell his star players. Arsenal must find some resilience in order for their form to improve. If they can close the gap on the top four then surely the media interest will subside and Wenger might find himself re-invigorated.

Alan Pardew

It was always going to be a tall order to improve on last season’s campaign for the Toon. Many anticipated that Pardew’s over-performing squad would be thoroughly raided during the summer but that failed to materialise. Newcastle managed to keep all their main assets. Still though, this season has been much worse than predicted and the drain of continental football has had the classic effect on the Magpies’ league form. Given the scale of his previous success Pardew will be afforded time but if Newcastle are still languishing in 15th come say, February then he will no doubt find himself on thin ice indeed. Owner Mike Ashley has a fairly ruthless reputation when it comes to firing managers and you get the feeling that although Pardew impressed last year, eighth or ninth place would be the bare minimum required this time around. Ashley may permit some spending in January but with no obvious priority areas, the manager will merely be looking to add strength in depth for when his side resume European competition.

Brendan Rodgers

This time last week, things were going alright for Brendan Rodgers. In between bouts of keeping his fingers crossed that Luis Suarez remained fit, the Northern Irishman must have taken time to reflect that Liverpool’s home form was solid and that if they could just pick up some more points on their travels and buy another striker then he would be onto a winner. Then Aston Villa, who until Saturday couldn’t score goals to save themselves, came to Anfield and helped themselves to three in front of a stunned kop. The good momentum gained in previous weeks vanished and the 39 year old’s side were left wallowing in 12th place. Most Liverpool fans are not expecting to be winning leagues right at the moment and probably not even considering Champions League football but Rodgers simply must do better. So far this season Suarez has carried the side and the need for another forward has been painfully clear. There are a few rays of light, the emergence of Raheem Sterling for example, the fact that Gerrard is currently injury free and that Rodgers has at least been partially successful in his attempts to forge an attractive attacking side. People will understand that his team remain a work in progress but if results don’t improve the club’s American owners may be left with little choice but to wield the axe.

Nigel Adkins

Nigel-Adkins-006

With Southampton hovering only just out of the drop zone the former goalkeeper is predictably considered one of the managers under threat. Thankfully for Adkins he has something some of his counterparts don’t; low club expectations. On the Saints first season back in the big time the supporters and the board will no doubt be satisfied if the 47 year old can ensure the club’s Premiership status is preserved. 17th place come May will be fine for Adkins and that’s where his side currently sit. The South coast outfit have shown encouraging form of late with three wins in five. If Adkins builds on this momentum and perhaps makes a couple of shrewd additions in January then he could still keep Southampton safe and keep his job in the process.

Martin Jol

In terms of the Premier League, Fulham are not really that big a club, therefore 13th position in the table should be perfectly acceptable. The problem for Martin Jol is that fans at Craven Cottage have seen their side exceed expectations in recent years and have become used to the idea of mixing it in the top half on the fringes of European football, and playing decent stuff in the process. At the moment the Dutchman is doing just enough to keep the wolves from his door as while they are having an unspectacular season by their recent standards, Fulham are in no immediate danger. The weekend’s defeat to QPR may have sounded a few alarm bells though and the Cottagers are not on a good run. Jol should be ok for now and could be allowed to add to his squad in January but he must find some consistency sooner rather than later.

Andre Villas-Boas

It was never going to be easy for AVB. The Portuguese arrived fresh from a doomed spell at London rivals Chelsea to a frosty reception from the Spurs faithful. This was always going to be somewhat of a transitional season for Tottenham and the fans begun it still smarting from the loss of former boss Harry Redknapp and midfield playmakers Modric and Van der Vaart. Villas-Boas as a young, foreign manager still has a long way to go to proving himself in the Premier League and a fairly shaky start did him no favours. A historic win at Old Trafford however, bought him some time and the form of both Gareth Bale and Jermaine Defoe have helped Spurs gradually ease themselves into the top four. Apart from somehow snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against Everton the results for AVB have been encouraging of late. With Arsenal stuttering and Liverpool floundering, the White Hart lane outfit currently look favourites for fourth spot. For the 35 year old former Porto boss this presents an opportunity to right the wrongs of his Chelsea spell. Unless his side slip out of top four contention his job looks secure.

Paul Lambert

It’s interesting how one man’s disaster can be another man’s saving grace. Villa’s shock win at Anfield was a massive boost and has given Lambert a good deal of breathing space. The fact, however, that some bookmakers are offering odds of as good as 50/1 on the Glasgow born boss to be next to bite the bullet is bemusing to say the least. Especially with his Villa Park charges currently toiling only three points above the bottom three. Villa’s more solid form of late has admittedly seen the Scot’s chances improve but if his side are to climb the table he will need to address a problem that has plagued Villa since long before his own tenure. They simply don’t score enough goals. Before last weekend their grand total was 12. With Darren Bent out of favour, Benteke and Weimann promising but inexperienced and Agbonlahor frustratingly inconsistent Lambert will surely be knocking on Randy Lerner’s door about a new striker come January. Whether Lerner will trust the manager long enough for that to happen remains to be seen.

What does 2012-13 have in store for Aston Villa?

To say that 2011-12 was a blow-par season for Aston Villa is something of an understatement. The Midlands club avoided the relegation places by two points, struggled to score goals, and with the lowly total of seven wins all season, the Villa Park faithful suffered at the hands of mediocre performances for the bulk of the campaign. However with Alex McLeish being shown the door, what does 2012-13 hold in store for Villa?

Villa’s season seemed doomed from day one, as ex-Birmingham City boss McLeish’s appointment was treated with contempt from the fans, a lack of money was spent in last summer’s transfer market and main creators Stewart Downing and Ashley Young left the club. Despite a plucky start, the club quickly spiralled into lacklustre performances, too many draws and not enough goals.

The days of Martin O’Neill, where Villa on their day could go toe-to-toe with most sides in the division, especially at home, have felt like a lifetime ago. Under the Northern Irishman the side posed an attacking threat, were confident and proved dogged when their opponents were in possession – none of these traits seemed overwhelmingly evident in the recently-concluded campaign.

Randy Lerner’s appointment of McLeish’s replacement is now critical for the side’s future. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer emerged as a surprise candidate before turning his back on the club to stay in his homeland; this may well be a blessing in disguise. Although the Norwegian trainer would more than likely offer a more progressive style than McLeish, Villa need a boss with Premier League experience and a track record of success.

Wigan’s Roberto Martinez turned the job down a year ago, but he and Paul Lambert are being touted as possible contenders. The Spaniard was Lerner’s first-choice last year, but with the Liverpool job now available the Latics boss may reject Villa once more. Lambert would be a bold choice, whilst the likes of Steve Bruce and Alan Curbishley are available immediately; however there is no real frontrunner screaming out to be hired.

Whoever the new man is, there is work to be done at the Birmingham-based side. Looking at the side’s rearguard, experienced campaigners like Shay Given, Richard Dunne and James Collins provide a solid base for the team, however additional strength at full-back looks necessary. Despite 53 goals conceded in 2011-12 being too many, the core is there to shore up the backline but other areas needed more imminent attention.

In midfield, due to the departure of Downing and Young, added creativity is needed. Stephen Ireland and Charles N’Zogbia are able, but another winger to supply opportunities for the attackers would be a welcome addition. With the blow of Stiliyan Petrov’s fight against Leukaemia, Villa have been robbed of the bite in the centre of the park, and the side are crying out for strength in depth, with Fabian Delph and Barry Bannon needing an older head to lead them.

Up front, Darren Bent remains the side’s shining light in the hunt for goals, and the Villa Park faithful will hope the England man can return to fitness and form ahead of 2012-13. Gabriel Agbonlahor has been inconsistent but is still a threat, whilst Andreas Weimann has shown glimpses in breaking into the first-team squad. With Emile Heskey departing, Villa could use a new forward with an eye for goal to compliment the existing trio.

Australia international Brett Holman will join the side on a Bosman ruling this summer, and comes highly-rated after a successful spell at AZ Alkmaar. A move for Heerenveen targetman Bas Dost has been speculated also, without any concrete progression. The likes of Junior Hoilett, Matt Jarvis, Mohamed Diame and Steven Fletcher will be available and are names Villa should be monitoring, whilst other stars from the continent need to be unearthed by the side’s scouting system.

All in all, Randy Lerner needs to do two things this off-season to get Villa back into the top half next season; pick an experienced manager with an attacking outlook, and back him with money to strengthen in the summer.

Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and European sides heading to USA for pre-season friendlies

Despite the 2011-12 season just drawing to a close and Euro 2012 and the Olympics on the horizon, a raft of leading European teams are planning their warm up games for next term. With an increase in popularity in the game across in North America, it has been the trend for pre-season friendlies to be played in the United States and Canada, and this summer it will be no different. Despite the fact that Barcelona and Manchester United will not be heading stateside in the build up to 2012-13, plenty of other European giants are.

Chelsea

American chairman Bruce Buck will have had a say in deciding to take the Blues back across to North America this pre-season, and the Stamford Bridge club will play four games in USA in July. Starting on the west coast in a game against the Seattle Sounders, Chelsea will also play big-spending Ligue 1 outfit Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan and the MLS All-Stars team.

  • 18th July – Chelsea vs Seattle Sounders, CenturyLink Field, Seattle
  • 22nd July – Chelsea vs Paris Saint-Germain, Yankee Stadium, New York
  • 25th July – Chelsea vs MLS All-Stars, PPL PArk, Chester
  • 28th July – Chelsea vs AC Milan, Sun Life Stadium, Miami

Aston Villa

Again with an American chairman at the helm, Villa will play three games in the United States in a whirlwind trip stateside in July. Games against Philadelphia Union, Chicago Fire and Portland Timbers should test Alex McLeish’s men.

  • July 18th – Aston Villa vs Philadelphia Union, PPL Park, Chester
  • July 21st – Aston Villa vs Chicago Fire, Toyota Park, Chicago
  • July 24th – Aston Villa vs Portland Timbers, Jeld-Wen Field, Portland

Tottenham

Spurs are set to go face-to-face with former striker Robbie Keane, David Beckham and former Arsenal forward Thierry Henry this summer. With Brad Friedel in the travelling contingent, the north London club will hope to use the trip to stoke up some additional support from fans stateside.

  • July 24th – Tottenham vs LA Galaxy, The Home Depot Center, Carson
  • July 28th – Tottenham vs Liverpool, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
  • July 31st – Tottenham vs New York Red Bulls, Red Bull Arena, Harrison

Liverpool

The Fenway Sports Group take their Anfield side across for a pre-season tour of Canada and United States this summer, with a glamour friendly against fellow American-owned side Roma one of the highlights.

  • July 21st – Liverpool vs Toronto, Rogers Centre, Toronto
  • July 25th – Liverpool vs Roma, Fenway Park, Boston
  • July 28th – Liverpool vs Tottenham, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore

Real Madrid

The newly-crowned La Liga champions will cross the Atlantic to test themselves in pre-season, and try to increase their popularity with American fans with Barcelona not travelling stateside this year.

  • August 3rd – Real Madrid vs LA Galaxy, The Home Depot Center, Carson
  • August 5th – Real Madrid vs Juventus, Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
  • August 8th – Real Madrid vs AC Milan, Yankee Stadium, New York

Juventus

The rejuvenated Turin giants are always a big draw for American crowds, and will once more return to the United States this summer. Their full plans are yet to be revealed, but the following friendlies have been confirmed.

  • July 28th – Juventus vs DC United, RFK Stadium, Washington
  • August 5th – Juventus vs Real Madrid, Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas

AC Milan

It will be a summer of rebuilding for AC Milan, as old heads Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso, Filippo Inzagi and Clarence Seedorf will leave the club, and American fans will be keen to see any new signings. Again, Milan’s plans are still to be set in stone, but the following are confirmed.

  • 28th July – AC Milan vs Chelsea, Sun Life Stadium, Miami
  • Two games in Philadelphia – information yet to be released

Published – Soccerlens

Manchester United, Liverpool and the biggest Premier League losers of 2011-12

Despite a fantastically entertaining season with a raft of Premier League winners this term, it has been a campaign to forget for some teams and individuals. Euro 2012, the Olympics and the summer transfer window are approaching, and for some 2011-12 could not come to an end quick enough. Here are Ninety Minutes Online’s biggest losers of 2011/12.

Liverpool

Despite lifting the Carling Cup with victory over Cardiff, 2011/12 has been the worst campaign for Liverpool for quite some time. The Anfield outfit’s fans expected their side to be challenging for a top four berth, but a eighth place finish, 17 points adrift of Tottenham in fourth, has been a massive disappointment.

From Fenway Sports Group’s ill-fated home-grown transfer policy, to Luis Suarez’s racism ban, defeat in the FA Cup final to embarrassing home defeats to some of the division’s lesser lights, Liverpool fans will want to forget 2011/12.

Andre Villas Boas

After leading Porto to an unbeaten league title and lifting the Europa League in 2010/11, Andre Villas Boas was heralded as the next Jose Mourinho and the man to lead Chelsea back to the summit of the Premier League. However, an at times bullish squad rotation system saw the senior players at the club alienated, the Blues floundering outside of the top four and Villas Boas given Roman Abramovich’s axe.

The £13 million Chelsea paid Porto for AVB’s services was not rewarded, and the young trainer is still out of work after seeing his stock drop in west London.

Wolves

Wolves have been in a fight to stay in the Premier League over the last number of seasons, but Mick McCarthy has led them to survival and commanded the respect of the squad. Steve Morgan’s decision to sack McCarthy, despite a poor run of form, was an ill-sighted one, and the appointment of assistant Terry Connor a disaster.

The Molineux club reportedly interviewed the likes of Alan Curbishley and Steve Bruce for the role, but were reluctant to offer the experienced pair long-term contracts. The appointment of Connor has backfired, with the club finishing bottom with a woeful five wins all season.

Sir Alex Ferguson

2011/12 will be a season to forget for Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United. The Old Trafford outfit are known for their will to win and mental toughness at the business end of the season, but the relinquishing of an eight-point lead is sure to give the legendary Scottish manager nightmares for years to come.

A lame Champions League exit in the group stages, a 6-1 hammering from City at Old Trafford and FA Cup elimination to Liverpool have been hard to take for the defending champions’ fans.

Alex McLeish and Aston Villa

Alex McLeish was a shock appointment at Villa Park last summer given his links to rivals Birmingham City, and the club’s supporters have not warmed to the Scot since. A toothless tally of seven wins, weak defending, a lack of creativity and the division’s second-lowest goal tally have had the Villa fans with their heads in their hands.

McLeish’s position as Villa manager must come under scrutiny this summer, but Randy Lerner must also invest in new players if the team are to have a better 2012/13 – Stewart Downing and Ashley Young have simply not been replaced.

Honourable mentions

  • Venkys – With Blackburn relegated this term, Steve Kean has received most of the flack from the media and the club’s fans. However, the Lancashire outfit’s Indian owners Venkys have not given the Scottish coach any funds to spend, and the side are now reportedly in financial trouble.
  • John Terry – Due to stand a court case in July for reportedly racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, the Chelsea skipper has lost the captaincy of his country and there is a train of thought that Terry may be excluded completely from Euro 2012. Add to this a sending off against Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals for petulantly kneeing Alexis Sanchez, and Terry has had better years.
  • Jermain Defoe – The diminutive striker has proved time and again that he can score goals at the top level, but has simply not been given enough time on the pitch this season. Harry Redknapp’s preference for Emmanuel Adebayor and Rafael van der Vaart could cost Defoe a place at Euro 2012.
  • Jack Wilshere – The talented Arsenal midfielder has not seen one minute of action this season, with consecutive knee cruciate injuries keeping him on the sidelines throughout. Wilshere will also miss Euro 2012 due to injury.
  • Joey Barton – Barton is no doubt talented and able when in the correct mindframe, but stupidity, ill-discipline and a terrible attitude have continued to blight his career. A red card against Manchester City on Sunday cost his team the game and his constant abusive and opinionated Twitter comments should see Mark Hughes ditch his troubled ‘captain’ this summer.

Published – Soccerlens

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