Ron Vlaar

Weekend Preview and Predictions

@0riginalfooty takes a look at the weekend fixtures for the 27th round of Premier League football. Last time out we got four out of ten predictions right and three correct scores. Will we do better this week?

Saturday

West Ham vs Crystal Palace (12:45)
The Hammers performed well against Spurs but threw the match away in spectacular fashion and their season is in danger of meandering into mediocrity. Palace’s charge up the table has also slowed somewhat in recent weeks but they should avoid relegation and that would be a good achievement for The Eagles. Alan Pardew will probably set his stall up to get a draw and I think they’ll get it.
Prediction: West Ham 1-1 Crystal Palace

Burnley vs Swansea (15:00)
The Clarets returned from Stamford Bridge with a miraculous point and renewed hope of survival. Swansea also earned a shock win over Man United and perhaps their season will not begin to drift as expected. Having said that, this is a very important match for Burnley and the atmosphere at Turf Moor should galvanize their team to earn a vital three points.
Prediction: Burnley 2-1 Swansea

Man United vs Sunderland (15:00)
United stuttered once again and wasted an opportunity to create breathing space between them and their top-four rivals, which leaves them susceptible to dropping out of the Champions League spots if they slip up again. Sunderland couldn’t beat relegation rivals West Brom at home and are struggling to find the back of the net. While United are not at their best, Sunderland are offering little resistance and Louis van Gaal will have no excuse if they fail to win.
Prediction: Man United 2-0 Sunderland

Newcastle vs Aston Villa (15:00)
If I could predict that both these teams would lose then I would. Newcastle’s performance was utterly appalling as they slumped to a 5-0 defeat at the Etihad and Villa’s captain Ron Vlaar gave away the most ludicrous of penalties deep into stoppage time to deny Tim Sherwood his first point for the club and to keep them firmly rooted at the bottom of the table. Sherwood has claimed that Villa need to win six of their remaining matches, having won five all season, and if you look at their fixtures you suspect that if they’re to meet that target then they will have to win here. If Newcastle play as badly as they did last week then the Villans will have a chance but there should be some sort of a response from John Carver’s men and a draw seems the most likely result.
Prediction: Newcastle 2-2 Aston Villa

Stoke vs Hull (15:00)
Stoke nicked a late win at Villa Park and look set for a top-ten finish. Hull, meanwhile, have clawed their way away from the relegation zone with wins against rivals Villa and QPR and are now four points clear of the drop in 15th. They may not be safe just yet but they have shown more mettle than the other sides around them and that will give them a big boost going into the end of season run-in. Stoke are a tough team to get the better of, however, and will keep Hull nervously looking over their shoulders.
Prediction: Stoke 1-0 Hull

West Brom vs Southampton (15:00)
Tony Pulis set his side up perfectly to take a point back to the Midlands from the Stadium of Light and will continue to make sure his side are hard to beat. Southampton may have lost to their top-four rivals but they were unfortunate not to get a penalty early on in the match and were by no means embarrassed. With only one point between them and fourth, it’s important for Ronald Koeman’s men to keep their challenge up and I think they’ll win here.
Prediction: West Brom 0-1 Southampton

Sunday

Liverpool vs Man City (12:00)
Liverpool crashed out of the Europa League on Thursday night after extra time and it will be interesting to see if playing a further 30 minutes will damage their chances against a City side who can close the gap at the top of the table to just two points. Manuel Pellegrini’s team thumped Newcastle but lost at home to Barcelona in the Champions League and are in great danger of failing to win a trophy this season. There is a lot riding on this game and both sides will be desperate to send a message to their top-four and title rivals respectively but City are the stronger side and can apply real pressure on Chelsea.
Prediction: Liverpool 1-2 Man City

Arsenal vs Everton (14:05)
The Gunners’ result against Monaco on Wednesday was one of the most shocking results in Arsene Wenger’s tenure and their Champions League hopes now dangle by a thread. Everton had no such problem as they cruised into the last 16 of the Europa League and their season now revolves around winning that competition. Despite Arsenal’s poor display against Monaco, they have the quality to beat Everton and tighten the grip on a top-four spot.
Prediction: Arsenal 3-1 Everton

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Weekend Preview and Predictions

@0riginalfooty takes a look at the fixtures for the 16th round of Premier League football. Last weekend we got four out of ten predictions right and one correct score. Will we do better this week?

Saturday

Burnley vs Southampton (15:00)
Burnley may be in the relegation zone at the moment but in the last few weeks they’ve given their fans great encouragement through their gritty performances. The loss to QPR away may have dampened the mood around Turf Moor slightly but their results at home are what can keep them in the league this season. Southampton are on a three-match run of defeats but they have played strong sides and were a little unfortunate to lose on Monday against Man United. Burnley’s need to get points at home combined with Southampton’s desire to end a losing run may lead to this one ending as a draw.
Prediction: Burnley 1-1 Southampton

Chelsea vs Hull (15:00)
Chelsea may have suffered their first loss of the season last week but they have been gifted the best possible fixture to bounce back. Hull have endured a miserable run of late and have not won since October. They have slipped into the relegation zone and need to stop the rot quickly but they won’t do it at Stamford Bridge.
Prediction: Chelsea 4-0 Hull

Crystal Palace vs Stoke (15:00)
Both these teams are capable of good performances and results and yet they have disappointed their fans on many occasions this season. Palace have outplayed both Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur in their last two matches but have only come away with one point while Stoke blew Arsenal away in the first half but have disappointed in some of the fixtures that you would expect them to do better in. This game could go either way but Stoke will fancy their chances of returning from Selhurst Park with a point.
Prediction: Crystal Palace 1-1 Stoke

Leicester vs Man City (15:00)
Leicester’s miserable run of form went from bad to worse by losing to relegation rivals Aston Villa and they are now four points away from QPR who lie just above the drop zone. Kasper Schmeichel’s injury is another body blow to their survival hopes as he has been their most consistent performer this season. City, meanwhile, are starting to look like genuine title contenders and have narrowed the gap at the top of the table to just three points. It’s hard to make a case for anything other than a victory for Manuel Pellegrini’s men.
Prediction: Leicester 0-3 Man City

Sunderland vs West Ham (15:00)
Sunderland have won fewer games (two) than any other team in the division apart from the sides in the relegation zone and are proving to be the draw specialists in the league. West Ham are flying high in fourth but need to be careful not to get carried away and complacent. Sunderland know how to grind out a result and The Hammers may have to settle for a point.
Prediction: Sunderland 1-1 West Ham

West Brom vs Aston Villa (15:00)
The Baggies are slowly sliding down the table and are five points behind their Midlands rivals before the derby. Villa have climbed up the table with back-to-back victories and could welcome both Fabian Delph and Ron Vlaar back this weekend. Both of the fixtures between these teams were brilliant spectacles last season and a high-scoring and hotly contested derby should be on the cards again.
Prediction: West Brom 2-2 Aston Villa

Arsenal vs Newcastle (17:30)
The Gunners were very poor in the first half against Stoke last weekend and need to improve defensively. It is hard to predict against Newcastle at the moment given their excellent form and they deserve great credit for being the first team to beat Jose Mourinho’s men this season. Having said that, Arsenal earned qualification for the Champions League this week with another good win and Aaron Ramsey looks as if he could return to his best form over the crucial Christmas period. It will be tight but Arsenal should just edge it.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-1 Newcastle

Sunday

Man United vs Liverpool (13:30)
United played very poorly but managed to win against Southampton on Monday night – a trait that has been missing around Old Trafford since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club. Liverpool’s season took another turn for the worse after their Champions League exit and other teams in the division have worked Brendan Rodgers’ team out. United are in much better form than their bitter rivals and they will see this as a good chance to add further distance between themselves and their top-four rivals.
Prediction: Man United 2-1 Liverpool

Swansea vs Spurs (16:00)
Swansea had their first really poor game of the season last weekend but Garry Monk can generally be delighted with his team this season. Spurs are still yet to get going this season and Pochettino has not been as much of a success as they would have liked. Spurs also lost out on top spot in their Europa League group with defeat against Besiktas on Thursday night. A draw seems a likely result.
Prediction: Swansea 1-1 Spurs

Monday

Everton vs QPR
Everton are another team that have been sussed out this season and their defence has not been as resolute as in previous seasons. QPR have started to look solid at home but have been very poor on their travels this campaign. Everton are in need of a win to boost them up the table and they should get it here.
Prediction: Everton 3-1 QPR

 

 

Top Signing Per Club: A-L

The transfer window slammed shut last night and the Premier League sides will have to make do with what they have until January. Here @0riginalfooty takes a look at the top signing made by each club whose name begins between A and L.

Arsenal
Alexis Sanchez (Barcelona, £30m). Similarly to the capture of Mesut Ozil last summer, this signing has caught the imagination of Arsenal fans and has generated belief that The Gunners can be genuine title contenders once more. He may not have made a flying start to life in the Premier League but the Chilean should prove to be an excellent piece of business.
Other notable signings: Calum Chambers (Southampton, £16m), Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle, £12m), David Ospina (Nice, £3m), Danny Welbeck (Arsenal, £16m).

Aston Villa
Philippe Senderos (Valencia, free). The arrival of the Swiss centre-back was greeted with caution by Villa fans as Senderos had never really proved himself as a totally reliable defender. However, he has struck an instant understanding with Villa skipper Ron Vlaar and Villa’s defensive woes now seem a thing of the past. If he can keep up this form, he will prove to be a marvellous addition.
Other notable signings: Aly Cissokho (Valencia, undisclosed), Tom Cleverley (Manchester United, loan) Joe Cole (West Ham United, free), Kieran Richardson (Fulham, undisclosed), Carlos Sanchez (Elche, undisclosed).

Burnley
Matt Taylor (West Ham United, undisclosed). Burnley have had a tough set of opening fixtures and, despite performing valiantly, they will know how difficult it will be to stay in this league. They were a side who needed to add Premier League experience to their ranks and Taylor certainly fits the bill. His know-how at this level could prove vital to The Clarets survival hopes.
Other notable signings: George Boyd (Hull, £3m), Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea, loan), Matt Gilks (Blackpool, free), Lukas Jutkiewicz (Middlesbrough £1.5m), Michael Keane (Manchester United, loan), Michael Kightly (Stoke City, undisclosed), Steven Reid (West Bromwich Albion, free), Marvin Sordell (Bolton Wanderers, undisclosed), Stephen Ward (Wolves, undisclosed).

Chelsea
Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid, £32m). Costa has been a revelation since signing from La Liga champions Atletico Madrid and has scored four goals in his opening three matches. What has been more impressive, however, is his work-rate off the ball and willingness to battle and make defenders lives a misery. Jose Mourinho will be delighted with his contribution so far and he could easily prove to be the best signing of the season.
Other notable signings: Didier Drogba (Galatasary, free), Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona,£30m), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid £20m).

Crystal Palace
Brede Hangeland (Fulham, free). Hangeland has been a quality performer in the Premier League for many years now and will be an excellent addition to Neil Warnock’s defence. He is a natural born leader on the pitch who is dominant in the air and will happily battle with opposition attackers.
Other notable signings: Fraizer Campbell (Cardiff City, £900k), Kevin Doyle (Wolves, loan), Martin Kelly (Liverpool, undisclosed), Chris Kettings (Blackpool, free), Wilfried Zaha (Manchester United, loan).

Everton
Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea, £28m). Roberto Martinez smashed Everton’s record transfer record by bringing in burly Belgian frontman Romelu Lukaku. He was the top scorer for The Toffees last season and is a constant menace going forward. Everton have put a lot of faith in him with such a big outlay and will hope he can fire them to Champions League football this season.
Other notable signings: Christian Atsu (Chelsea, loan), Gareth Barry (Manchester City, free), Muhamed Besic (Ferencvaros, undisclosed), Samuel Eto’o (Chelsea, free).

Hull
Hatem Ben Arfa (Newcastle United, loan). Hull were very busy on deadline day and surprised many fans with their capture of Newcastle midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa. Ben Arfa fell out with his parent club when he was fined for being overweight but has been given a lifeline by The Tigers. There is no doubting Ben Arfa’s quality if he can stay fit and Hull fans will be eagerly anticipating his debut.
Other notable signings: Michael Dawson (Spurs, undisclosed), Mohammed Diame (West Ham, undisclosed), Tom Ince (Blackpool, undisclosed), Jake Livermore (Spurs, undisclosed), Harry Maguire (Sheffield United, £2.5m), Andrew Robertson (Dundee United, £2.9m), Robert Snodgrass (Norwich City, undisclosed).

Leicester
Leonardo Ulloa (Brighton, £7m). Ulloa, Leicester’s record signing, has made an excellent start to life in the Premier League and scored the equaliser in their most recent draw against Arsenal. He’s a powerful striker who is deadly in the air and The Foxes will be hopeful that his goals can keep them in the Premier League.
Other notable signings: Marc Albrighton (Aston Villa, free), Jack Barmby (Manchester United, free), Esteban Cambiasso (Inter Milan, free), Ben Hamer (Charlton Athletic, free), Matthew Upson (Brighton, free).

Liverpool
Mario Balotelli (AC Milan, £16m). Balotelli has returned to English football, much to the delight of the media, and Liverpool fans will be hopeful that he can produce the world-class form that we know he is capable of on a regular basis. If he can put his troublesome ways behind him and focus on his football then he will be a steal at £16m.
Other notable signings: Emre Can (Bayer Leverkusen, £8m), Adam Lallana (Southampton, £25m), Rickie Lambert (Southampton, £4m), Dejan Lovren (Southampton, £20m), Javi Manquillo (Atletico Madrid, loan), Lazar Markovic (Benfica, £20m), Alberto Moreno (Sevilla, undisclosed).

 

Villa solidity gives great reason for optimism

For the first time since November 2012, Aston Villa have recorded back-to-back clean sheets in the Premier League with their goalless draw with Newcastle building upon their opening day away victory against Stoke.

At the end of last season, Villa’s leaky defence had conceded 12 goals in their final four matches to round off a miserable season where they had shipped 61 goals. However, Paul Lambert has used the resources available to him this summer to strengthen his back line to add some much needed solidity.

Lambert has spent his time this summer addressing Villa's problems at the back

Lambert has spent his time this summer addressing Villa’s problems at the back

Of the back four he largely deployed last season, only Ron Vlaar has retained his place in the side. Bomb squad castaway Alan Hutton has replaced Leandro Bacuna, a winger converted to a fullback last campaign. Although Bacuna offered several moments of attacking magic, he rarely looked comfortable in his primary defensive role and it is a wise move to allow him to return as an option further up the field. Conversely, Hutton has added much needed defensive strength and mettle with defending his primary objective. Hutton deserves particularly wholehearted praise for his incredibly positive attitude on his return having been ruthlessly pushed aside in previous seasons.

Alan Hutton has made an encouraging start to the new campaign

Alan Hutton has made an encouraging start to the new campaign

Aly Cissokho was drafted in as a replacement for the unconvincing Antonio Luna and the equally unreliable Joe Bennett. Cissokho may not have enjoyed the most successful spell at Anfield but he seems to have found his feet at Villa Park. His pace and power are huge assets and he caused Newcastle countless problems in the first half with his overlapping runs and dangerous crosses. Cissokho did unfortunately limp off towards the end of the match but Villa will be praying it’s not too serious.

Cissokho looks like a great addition to the West Midlands side

Cissokho looks like a great addition to the West Midlands side

Most importantly, however, is the addition of Philippe Senderos who has formed a formidable partnership with World Cup star Ron Vlaar. The Dutchman will be delighted to have the Swiss international alongside him rather than the clumsy Nathan Baker. Jores Okore is also regaining full fitness and will be hoping to push both centre-backs for a starting berth.

Senderos has a great understanding with Villa captain Ron Vlaar

Senderos has a great understanding with Villa captain Ron Vlaar

The key element that has been added to Villa Park over the summer is experience. Hutton, Senderos and Cissokho are all internationally capped defenders who have played for some of the top clubs in their respective leagues. Baker, Bacuna and Luna/Bennett are largely unproven and inexperienced. Teams will find it tough to break down this Villa team this term, particularly with the addition of the impressively industrious Carlos Sanchez who will be deployed in front of the back four.

Carlos Sanchez will add some steel to the Villa midfield

Carlos Sanchez will add some steel to the Villa midfield

Villa fan Andrew Philpot was critical of both sides attacking performances during his description of Saturday’s match by claiming: “both teams decided it was best to bring butter knifes to the sword fight today.” He is right in the sense that neither side was particularly fluent in attack, however, he can take heart from the fact that, for the first time in two years, Villa have kept two clean sheets in a row and have a solid base to build upon.

Premier League Preview: Southampton

There are only 3 weeks to wait ‘til the start of the Premier League. Over the next few weeks @0riginalfooty will preview the new season, take a look at each team and offer our predictions as to where each side will finish. Here we take a look at Southampton.

Southampton enjoyed a very successful last season under manager Mauricio Pochettino and finished 8th in the Premier League. All looked well at St Mary’s until this summer when a mass exodus took place. Pochettino has departed, joining Premier League rivals Tottenham Hotspur, and key players Lallana, Shaw, Lovren and Lambert followed him out of the door with Rodriguez and Schneiderlin set to leave the club too. Bright prospect Calum Chambers has also left for Arsenal. Suddenly, Southampton look like a side in free-fall and will be battling for relegation rather than pushing for a place in Europe.

The Manager
Ronald Koeman enjoyed a glittering playing career for the likes of Barcelona and Ajax, scoring over 200 goals which is remarkable for a defender. He has since turned his attention to management and has had spells with Ajax, Benfica and Valencia, to name but a few. He has been relatively successful in his time as a manager, winning the Eredivisie on several occasions and the Copa Del Rey. The Premier League represents a new challenge for the Dutchman.

Koeman enjoyed a stunning playing career

Koeman enjoyed a stunning playing career

Biggest Signing
This summer, Southampton have brought in two new faces; Graziano Pelle from Feyenoord and Dusan Tadic from FC Twente in deals worth a combined £20 million. Pelle will arguably be viewed as the bigger signing by Saints fans as he played under Koeman at Feyenoord for the past two seasons and scored 50 goals. They will hope that he can at least match the goal-scoring contributions of Rickie Lambert.

Can Pelle be an instant hit in the Premier League?

Can Pelle be an instant hit in the Premier League?

Who is tipped to join them?
Koeman has declared his interest in Villa captain Ron Vlaar as a potential replacement for the departing Dejan Lovren. Southampton are also rumoured to hold an interest in Danny Ings, Fraser Forster and Argentine full-back Marcos Rojo.

Koeman has expressed his desire to bring Vlaar to Southampton

Koeman has expressed his desire to bring Vlaar to Southampton

Who should they sign?
With so many key players departing, Koeman is in desperate need of several quality recruits. Vlaar would be a good replacement for Lovren and it may be possible to prise him away from the West Midlands club as he is entering the final year of his contract. If he is unavailable, however, then a move for Younes Kaboul or Michael Dawson could be an option as a makeweight in the Schneiderlin deal. Schneiderlin is tougher to replace. A move for Cardiff’s Gary Medel would be smart, although they would have to fend off interest from the likes of Inter Milan.

Medel would be a great capture for the Saints

Medel would be a great capture for the Saints

Key Player
James Ward-Prowse. Remarkably, the Southampton academy product has already made around 50 appearances for the Saints despite being only 19. He is a player with a very bright future ahead of him and this could be the season for him to step up to the plate, especially with so many of their key players departing.

This could be a big season for Southampton's academy product

This could be a big season for Southampton’s academy product

Prediction
Southampton have lost so many players that it’s hard to see them enjoying a season similar to the last campaign. Koeman has no Premier League experience and will undoubtedly take time to adjust to the rigorous demands. So too will his signings so far and the quicker they adapt to life in English football the better. I see this being a season of struggle for the Saints but believe they are able to survive, although it will be close. Expect Southampton to finish 17th.

Premier League Preview: Queens Park Rangers

There are only 4 weeks to wait ‘til the start of the Premier League. Over the next few weeks @0riginalfooty will preview the new season, take a look at each team and offer our predictions as to where each side will finish. Here we take a look at Queens Park Rangers.

Big-spending QPR are desperate to become Premier League mainstays and are willing to spend what ever it takes to remain in the League. When QPR were relegated from the Premier League the season before last, Tony Fernandes said that he had learnt plenty of lessons concerning what had gone wrong and would not make the same mistakes again. They were, however, disappointing in the Championship last season and only managed promotion through the playoffs when, in truth, they really should have been promoted automatically.

The Manager
Harry Redknapp is an experienced Premier League boss and has previously managed West Ham, Portsmouth, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur in the top flight. He is also the last English manager to win a major trophy, the FA cup with Portsmouth in 2008. The R’s will be confident, under Harry Redknapp’s stewardship, that they can establish themselves as a mid-table Premier League side and then look to build from there.

Redknapp is an experienced Premier League boss

Redknapp is an experienced Premier League boss

Biggest Signing
Redknapp has been unusually quiet in the transfer window so far but the two signings he has made have been strong. Rio Ferdinand has joined QPR on a free transfer having been at Manchester United since 2002. Ferdinand has enjoyed a glittering career and still has plenty to offer for the Hoops. Steven Caulker has also been drafted in from Cardiff City and will most likely partner Ferdinand at the heart of the defence.

Ferdinand brings a wealth of experience with him from Manchester United

Ferdinand brings a wealth of experience with him from Manchester United

Who is tipped to join them?
A deal for Icelandic striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson has reportedly been agreed but news concerning the transfer has gone quiet in the past few days. The R’s were also keen on Aston Villa captain Ron Vlaar but will probably cool their interest now that they have signed Caulker and Ferdinand.

A deal for Kolbeinn Sigthorsson seems to be dragging on

A deal for Kolbeinn Sigthorsson seems to be dragging on

Who should they sign?
QPR will believe that they already have a squad capable of staying in the Premier League and they aren’t too far away from being right. One area they do seem to be a little short is up front. Remy is expected to depart imminently so another option should be pursued with the funds raised. Sigthorsson should be a decent signing but it may take him time to settle so a more proven goalscorer at this level may need to be brought in. Samuel Eto’o has been mentioned as a possible target on a free transfer and would be a very capable addition to their side.

Signing former Chelsea, Barcelona and Inter Milan striker Eto'o would be a smart piece of business for QPR

Signing former Chelsea, Barcelona and Inter Milan striker Eto’o would be a smart piece of business for QPR

Key Player
Joey Barton. Regardless of what you think of the controversial midfielder, he is a good footballer and definitely good enough to be playing in the Premier League. If he can let his football do the talking, rather than his mouth or often-senseless actions, then he will be a key component in keeping QPR in top-flight football.

Barton may have a history of bad behaviour but is an important figure for QPR

Barton may have a history of bad behaviour but is an important figure for QPR

Prediction
The Hoops have got an experienced manager, a good playing squad and money to spend – a good combination to keep you in the Premier League. I’m expecting a couple more quality signings from Redknapp before the window shuts and a mid-table finish; a good achievement considering they’ve just been promoted. Expect QPR to finish 13th.

Premier League Preview: Manchester United

There are only 4 weeks to wait ‘til the start of the Premier League. Over the next few weeks @0riginalfooty will preview the new season, take a look at each team and offer our predictions as to where each side will finish. Here we take a look at Manchester United.

The last year has seen turbulent times for the red half of Manchester. Alex Ferguson departed and was replaced by the so called “Chosen One” David Moyes who endured one of United’s worst seasons in living memory. Moyes has since been sacked and replaced by Louis van Gaal who has just guided the Netherlands to third place in the World Cup. United fans are expecting a big response to last season’s failings and a top 4 place will be the minimum expectation.

The Manager
Louis van Gaal is a very experienced, well-respected and outspoken coach who has won league titles in Spain, the Netherlands and Germany. He is no stranger to managing a club having been in charge of Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich and he looks far more comfortable in this environment than David Moyes ever was.

Louis van Gaal is expected to be an instant his at Old Trafford

Louis van Gaal is expected to be an instant his at Old Trafford

Biggest Signing
United have already spent £56 million on two major signings: Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera. Herrera has been signed from Athletic Bilbao and will be a much-needed new option in the centre of the United midfield. Shaw has moved from Southampton and will replace Patrice Evra, who has completed a move to Juventus, as United’s first choice left-back.

Shaw has joined United for around £27 million

Shaw has joined United for around £27 million

Who is tipped to join them?
The list of players that are linked with United is probably longer than any other Premier Club this summer due to the huge shakeup expected under new management and the numerous weak spots in United’s squad. High profile midfielders such as Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba have been continually linked throughout the summer as the centre of the park has been highlighted as one of their weakest areas. United are also believed to be linked with winger Juan Cuadrado but face a battle with Bayern Munich and Barcelona to secure his services. Finally, Dutch centre-backs Ron Vlaar and Stefan de Vrij have been touted as possible replacements for the departed Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.

Vidal has been heavily linked with United all summer

Vidal has been heavily linked with United all summer

Who should they sign?
Ed Woodward has claimed that United have a large amount of money to be spent on new players this summer and van Gaal will most probably need it all. Replacements for Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand must be near the top of van Gaal’s priority list, as the heart of United’s defence looks particularly weak with their departures. Another area that they appear short of quality is in the centre of midfield so it’s no surprise to see them linked with Vidal and Pogba. In reality, United are 5 players away from challenging for the title: two centre-backs, cover at left-back, a centre-midfielder and a winger. If they can complete the signings of all the players they are linked with, then they will be in a very strong position coming in to the new season.

van Gaal should make replacing Vidic his priority

van Gaal should make replacing Vidic his priority

Key Player
Robin van Persie. Van Persie endured a tough season in Manchester last time around, suffering through injury and loss of form. However, under van Gaal, who named van Persie his Dutch captain, he has felt much more at ease. United will be hopeful he can transfer the form he has shown at international level to club level and return to being one of the world’s deadliest strikers.

United fans will be desperate for van Persie to return to his best form

United fans will be desperate for van Persie to return to his best form

Prediction
I am expecting van Gaal to bring in several new players and to inspire United towards the summit of the table once more. There are many other strong sides at the top end of the table that should still finish above the Red Devils but a fourth place finish would represent good progress and a much desired return to the Champions League. Expect United to finish 4th.

Premier League Preview: Aston Villa

There is only a month to wait ‘til the start of the Premier League. Over the next few weeks @0riginalfooty will preview the new season, take a look at each team and offer our predictions as to where each side will finish. Here we take a look at Aston Villa.

Aston Villa have been in limbo for the past 4 seasons and have faced a relegation battle throughout the majority of each season. Randy Lerner has announced that he is trying to sell the club that has added even more uncertainty to proceedings for the Villa Park faithful. Talismanic striker Christian Benteke is also injured for the foreseeable future and could be ruled out from now until any time between September and the New Year dependent on his recovery rate. Villa will be hoping for a less stressful season at the wrong end of the table but it is hard to see them climbing too high up the table unless there is a takeover in the next few weeks.

Randy Lerner has put Villa up for sale but is yet to find a buyer

Randy Lerner has put Villa up for sale but is yet to find a buyer

The Manager
Paul Lambert has been in charge of the West Midlands side for the past 2 seasons and there has been very little progression. In fairness to him there have been significant restraints and limitations placed upon him during his reign as Villa are still trying to undo the financially damaging aspects of O’Neill’s time in charge. Chairmen Randy Lerner trusts him and his position seems safe until a takeover occurs.

Lambert has endured a tough spell at Villa but still has the backing of owner Randy Lerner

Lambert has endured a tough spell at Villa but still has the backing of owner Randy Lerner

Biggest Sigining
There are limited funds to spend so Lambert is doing his best Harry Redknapp “wheeler-dealer” impression and attempting to bring in experienced performers at low cost prices. He has already lured Joe Cole, Philippe Senderos and Kieran Richardson to Villa Park and seems keen to make a couple more signings to bolster his relatively thin squad. However, Villa’s biggest signing so far has perhaps been off the field. Roy Keane has been drafted in as Paul Lambert’s number 2, a role he will assume alongside his position as Ireland’s assistant manager, and could have a big impact on the club. He has been there and done it all as a player so will instantly gain the respect of the players and could be a catalyst for an improved season for the Villans.

Roy Keane will be hoping to help Villa climb up the table

Roy Keane will be hoping to help Villa climb up the table

Who is tipped to join them?
Nicklas Bendtner has been heavily linked with a move to Aston Villa and is widely expected to sign soon. Swansea’s Ki-Sung Yueng is also tipped to be coming through the door in the next few days. Moreover, a loan deal for Chelsea winger Christian Atsu could be on the cards if he doesn’t feature in Jose Mourinho’s plans for the season.

Bendtner is expected to be wearing claret and blue next season

Bendtner is expected to be wearing claret and blue next season

Who should they sign?
Due to the lack of funding at Villa Park, it is unlikely that they can afford any player that would command a decent transfer fee so they will be scouring the market for bargains; the afore mentioned players wouldn’t be bad pieces of business for them. In honesty, Villa’s best players could be those returning from long absences from the club. Charles N’Zogbia has all the attributes to be a top performer for Aston Villa but there are question marks over his attitude and Darren Bent certainly knows how to stick the ball in the back of the net at this level. If both players are fired up and willing to prove Lambert wrong for casting them out then they could play big parts in the upcoming campaign. The return of Jores Okore from injury is also a huge boost for Paul Lambert and the thought of partnering him and Vlaar at centre-back will be an exciting prospect for the claret and blue faithful.

Can N'Zogbia find the form that persuaded Villa to part with £9.5 million to acquire his services?

Can N’Zogbia find the form that persuaded Villa to part with £9.5 million to acquire his services?

Key Player
Fabian Delph. With talismanic figure Christian Benteke being a long-term absentee, the responsibility to galvanise Villa falls largely upon the shoulders of Fabian Delph. As a midfielder he has it all: the ability to pass, shoot and he’s tenacious in the tackle. He scored a host of wonderful goals last season and is often the driving force behind the side. Villa fans will be praying that there is no serious interest in him this summer and they can cling on to one of their prize assets.

Villa fans will be desperate to keep hold of Fabian Delph this transfer window

Villa fans will be desperate to keep hold of Fabian Delph this transfer window

Prediction
Many will be tipping Aston Villa for relegation this season due to the current issues at the club but I see it rather differently. Villa may have their difficulties off the pitch but there is a decent spine to the side with the likes of Guzan, Vlaar, Delph and, when fit, Benteke. Getting Ron Vlaar alongside a more capable defender than Nathan Baker was a priority for this summer and Lambert has addressed this early on. The return of Okore is a boost and the signing of Senderos means that, all of a sudden, there is some decent competition for places in a position that was desperately weak for the Villans last season. They are proven battlers in the bottom half so a relegation scrap will be nothing new to them should it come to it. I think they have enough to see themselves through another season in the Premier League and hopefully earn a sale along the way. I suspect they will end up in the bottom half but will survive. Expect Aston Villa to finish 14th.

Netherlands vs Argentina preview: Wednesday 9pm

The semi-finals are upon us and what a selection of games they are. Here @0riginalfooty takes a look at the second match between the Netherlands and Argentina.

Both sides come into this match having been involved in nervy contests in the last two rounds. The Netherlands needed two late goals against Mexico and then heroics from substitute goalkeeper Tim Krul in a penalty shootout against Costa Rica to reach this stage. Argentina required a Di Maria goal deep in extra time to secure victory over the Swiss and then a brilliant and instinctive volley from Higuain to give them a lead to hold on to against the Belgians. This will be a far bigger challenge for both sides and it remains to be seen who will step up to the plate and deliver.

Suprising substitute Tim Krul proved a masterstroke from Van Gaal after his shootout heroics

Suprising substitute Tim Krul proved a masterstroke from Van Gaal after his shootout heroics

Argentina have been rocked by the news that Angel Di Maria will miss the match through injury. This is a huge blow for the Argentines as, behind Messi, Di Maria is one of their most creative forces and has the ability to cause problems for any side he faces. Sergio Aguero is due to return but he has been so injury prone this season that it could be seen as a gamble to see him risked from the start. The Netherlands are without Nigel De Jong for the rest of the tournament, a player that really adds bite to their midfield and he could be sorely missed against the Argentines on Wednesday evening.

The injured Angel Di Maria will miss the clash with the Netherlands

The injured Angel Di Maria will miss the clash with the Netherlands

There is one standout player for each side that we can expect to make the difference: Arjen Robben and Lionel Messi. Both players have been vitally important to their respective sides in their path to the semi-finals and will be crucial to both teams’ hopes of reaching the final. Messi will really fancy his chances running at Holland’s three centre backs and they will have to be extremely careful in guarding against his runs from deep, whilst also keeping Gonzalo Higuain at bay. Equally, Robben will happily run at Basanta or Rojo all day long and Garay will have to be mindful to offer cover to his left back whenever he needs it. I’m expecting both players to get some joy in this match so don’t be surprised to see them grab a goal or an assist each. Whoever copes with the opposition’s superstar better will most likely come out on top.

Garay will need to provide extra protection for his left back to help cope with Arjen Robben

Garay will need to provide extra protection for his left back to help cope with Arjen Robben

The Netherlands will be aware that this Argentina side are yet to be behind in the competition and will be keen to change this, placing pressure on the Argentine’s that they are yet to experience in the tournament. Both sides do seem to be full of battle and bite and although reliant on Messi and Robben there have been character-filled performances from the likes of Javier Mascherano and Ron Vlaar who are players who won’t give up without a fight and could play just as important a role as the flair players who are expected to get them over the line. I’m expecting, and hoping, that we will be treated to a thrilling, high-scoring encounter between two sides craving victory frantically. It’s a tough match to call and could come down to a moment of misery or magic but I’m backing Messi and Argentina to scrape through. Messi is desperate for World Cup glory and there seems to be little anyone can do to stop him.
Prediction: Netherlands 2-3 Argentina