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.


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 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.

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Manchester United’s wingers must show they are up to the job

This was going to be a piece about the worrying decline of Antonio Valencia, whose abject display against Chelsea on Sunday was that of a man who has forgotten what he is good at. But the truth is none of Manchester United’s first-team wingers have had a season to write home about. In fact you would be hard-pressed to recall the last great performance from any of Valencia, Nani or Ashley Young.

When Valencia moved to Old Trafford in 2009, he was talked of as one of the league’s best wide-men, and as he began beating fullbacks and supplying inch-perfect crosses, it was clear why Sir Alex Ferguson parted with £12million for his services. The Ecuadorian made wing-play look easy.  He broke it down to its simplest form – knock it and run. And his speed meant he won the race more often than not.

Antonio Valencia

When Wayne Rooney enjoyed arguably his best season to date, when everyone started referring to his head as a goal-scoring threat as deadly as his feet – that was down to Valencia. There were no tricks in his armoury, no step-overs or showboating. He ran. He crossed. And United invariably scored.
So who was the player wearing number 7 on Sunday? The player who beat himself more often than his opponent? It certainly wasn’t the man who was voted both fans’ and players’ Player of the Year last season, nor the man who came back from a horrific ankle break to become one of his team’s most consistent performers.

It would be easy to say the pressure of the number on his back has got the better of him. But do players really notice what is behind them when they are so focused on what is ahead? Can a number so significantly alter a mind-set?

With the impending arrival of Wilfried Zaha, many expected Nani to make way. But in United’s last two games it was the Portuguese player’s departure (for two very different reasons) that had a detrimental effect on the team. So perhaps Zaha will be taking the place of Valencia next season, a man who has forgotten that in football, if you can win the race, the goal is all but scored.


And yet two brief cameos and being championed in his absence should not disguise the fact that Nani has been equally erratic this season. Unquestionably talented, there came a time – back in 2010 – when it all made sense. Outstanding displays against Manchester City and Arsenal showed a winger of terrifying ability, clinical, incisive, a man very much in tune with his talent.

It seemed that finally the penny had dropped. But three years later, it is clear that Nani is a man for whom the penny drops often, only to be forgotten again shortly after. Both United fans and the wider football world must sometimes wonder what he could achieve with consistency. But perhaps that is a trait to be born with or learnt as much as any other in football.

The last of United’s three wide-men, Ashley Young, is the least so in the traditional sense. A right-footed player on the left, it is his natural and often effective inclination to cut inside and cross. He doesn’t beat a man, he stands up to them and relies on his foot to find the box regardless. It was a skill that led his former manager at Aston Villa, Martin O’Neill, to call him “world class”. And it was a skill that has resulted in some truly outstanding goals for his current club, most notably an unstoppable double in the 8-2 win over Arsenal in 2011.

Ashley Young

And yet the truth is United lack pace; which is something of an indictment on the three men employed to supply it. It is no coincidence that Ferguson did all he could to secure Lucas Moura in the summer. In his short time at PSG he has shown just what all the fuss was about.

Perhaps on his arrival, Zaha will share the fearlessness of the likes of Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, adding directness to his new team and shaking up the old guard.

But whatever happens, if United’s current wingers wish to remain, they need to find the form that some have displayed for seasons and others only for games.

Wigan Athletic and the possibility of last-day roulette

Last season, with just nine games left in their Premier League campaign, Wigan looked doomed to relegation. And then something amazing happened. Winning seven of their last nine matches, the Latics turned the formbook on its head.

A run that included wins over Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle meant Roberto Martinez had yet again worked miracles, maintaining his side’s place in the top flight for an eighth-successive season.

It is for reasons such as this that when you look at Wigan’s current lowly position you still assume they will get out of it. You assume another seemingly impossible run will be masterminded. And you already picture owner Dave Whelan’s euphoric grin on the final day.

James McArthur celebrates for Wigan

But this time it could be different. Because this time the team – arguably the strongest Martinez has had in his time there – are only showing glimpses of what is needed to survive. And that is despite the fact that they are currently clear of the relegation zone, if only on goal-difference.

Where last season they were unified and steadfast, particularly in those final few games, this year they are yet to keep a clean sheet at home.

And while it is wrong to paint a mere tiff as anything more than that, Saturday’s altercation between Emerson Boyce and James McArthur would have been a worrying sight for Martinez, even if publicly he said otherwise.

The disagreement came about following one too many misplaced passes. But that in itself is a concern, as Martinez’s Wigan have always tried to play football the right way. It is an ethos that should have seen them finish higher in the past, but one that may see them relying on the failure of others to survive this season.

With such a small squad, Martinez has successfully utilised tactics and formations that have reaped rich rewards, most notably last year when Shaun Maloney excelled as a playmaker and Franco Di Santo began to understand what he could do.

Yet despite the introduction of Arouna Kone – their most consistent goal-threat since Nathan Ellington and Jason Roberts – they could fall short if plucky late comebacks and last-minute equalisers are not turned into wins.

Of their remaining 10 league games, seven are winnable. And the Wigan who ended last season would achieve that with ease.

But it is their next four that are crucial, as an away match at QPR is sandwiched between home games against Norwich, Newcastle and Swansea. It is a run they are more than capable of navigating, and if they are at least nine points better off afterwards, this article is all but redundant.

Then again, it could all come down to Wigan against Aston Villa on the final day; and what better time than that to keep their first home clean sheet of the season.

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.


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


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


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


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.


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 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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