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Aston Villa’s backline would become completely solid if they sign this Championship star in the summer

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Mike van der Hoorn would be the ideal solution to Villa’s defensive woes

According to an earlier report from the Sun, Aston Villa were interested in signing Swansea City centre-back Mike van den Hoorn before the transfer deadline but the Lions were reluctant to stump up a staggering £10 million for the Dutchman.

However, Villa are likely to go all out for the 26-year-old in the summer, with the Dutchman set to be available for free upon the expiry of his current contract. Dean Smith’s side struck a deal with Swansea for midfielder Tom Carroll before the transfer deadline but they should make Mike van der Hoorn their top priority in the summer.

A youth product of Dutch club FC Utrecht, Mike van der Hoorn starred for his boyhood club in the Eredivisie, winning the club’s Player of the Season award for the 2012-13 campaign. After helping Utrecht qualify for the Europa League, the Dutchman won the Eredivisie title with Ajax in his debut season at the club. He didn’t really make his mark in the first team due to stiff competition for places and a move to Swansea City in 2016 resurrected his career.

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Van der Hoorn has been a regular at the heart of the defence for the Wales-based outfit in the Championship this term, starting each of the club’s 30 games in the second tier. The former Dutch U21 international has established himself as one of the most solid central defenders in the Championship and a move to promotion hopefuls Aston Villa next summer would help him take his career to the next level.

Standing at 6ft 3in with a towering frame, Van der Hoorn is known for his physicality and aerial prowess as a centre-back. To add to that, he has an extremely calm and composed head on his shoulders, with figures showing that he has been dribbled past only 9 times in the Championship this season.

He is the sort of defender who likes to keep the opposition at bay with his positioning while clearing his lines when deployed in a deep defensive line. Furthermore, he has shown that he is quite adept at playing out from the back, which is certainly an added bonus for the team.

To put things into perspective, he would be a welcome addition to Aston Villa’s squad in the summer irrespective of whether they manage to secure promotion. The Lions currently sit 8th in the standings, just three points behind Bristol City for the final promotion playoff spot.

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The defence has been one of the major areas of concern at Villa Park this season. Dean Smith has done a fair job after taking over the reins from Steve Bruce but he hasn’t been able to stem the flow of goals. James Chester has been too inconsistent at the back while Axel Tuanzebe has also blown hot and cold.

Tommy Elphick has been called upon at times while Mile Jedinak has also been in the mix but neither of them have been able to provide that solidity to the backline.

Read More: Aston Villa have bagged a coup by signing this versatile star and his arrival will be crucial next season

The defenders have not only been caught out of position several times but they have been sloppy in possession as well, allowing the opposition to capitalise on lapses in concentration. Mike van der Hoorn, on the other hand, has had a wonderful season so far and he might turn out to be the perfect man to answer Villa’s prayers. That said, they should go all out to land him next summer.

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Aston Villa

5 players since the turn of the century who have tasted success following the cross-border transfer from the SPL to the EPL

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5 players since the turn of the century to have tasted success following the cross-border transfer from the SPL to the EPL

Over the years since the inception of the Premier League in 1992, we have seen players from England move north of the border to the Scottish Premiership with varying degrees of success.

Focussing on things since the turn of the century, the Scottish top-flight has become an escape route for players in England who fail to make the grade or want to resurrect their career by drifting away from the intense level of competition.

Yet, there have been instances when the sheer reputation and pulling power of Celtic and Rangers have prompted established Premier League players like Neil Lennon, John Hartson, Chris Sutton and Tore Andre Flo to fly north of the border with the hope of pursuing a successful career. 

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However, it is worth mentioning here that the likes of Celtic and Rangers often struggle to keep hold of some top-quality young talents when the Premier League clubs come knocking on the door with big-money offers.

We all know that money doesn’t flow in the Scottish Premiership as easily as it does in the Premier League, meaning that Celtic and Rangers, despite being massive clubs with a lot of history, cannot compete financially with the English clubs. 

While a lot of players from English football, even the aged ones, move north of the border with a lot of success, not too many players manage to do the same the other way round.

Now, it doesn’t require a rocket scientist to figure out as to why this happens. Barring the obvious difference in the quality of football between the two leagues in question, the level of competition in English football is also quite high as compared to the Scottish top-flight.

Interestingly, there have been some marked instances since the turn of the century when players from Celtic or Rangers have actually made a cross-border transfer with a lot of success.

The most recent of those has to be Southampton’s acquisition of Stuart Armstrong from Celtic last summer and while the Scottish playmaker only chipped in with 3 goals and 2 assists in the Premier League this past season, it would be fair to say that he did reasonably well for an underperforming unit in his debut season in England.

Without any further delay, let us look at some of the success stories of players to have moved south of the border from the SPL to the EPL.

Only players who have moved from Scotland to England without any previous experience in any division of English football have been considered for discussion, which eliminates someone like Fraser Forster.

1. Virgil van Dijk

The towering Dutch centre-back has to be at the top of the list simply because he is the greatest cross-border success story ever. Van Dijk is very much a household name in Europe nowadays but he was a completely unknown commodity when Celtic purchased him from Dutch club Groningen in the summer of 2013. 

The Dutchman has hardly looked back since then and established himself as one of the mainstays of Celtic’s backline over the course of his successful two years at Parkhead, guiding the Hoops to back-to-back Scottish league titles and the Scottish League Cup in the 2014-15 season.

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As a matter of fact, van Dijk made it to the Scottish Premiership Team of the Year in each of his two seasons at Celtic.

Southampton manager Ronald Koeman was the man responsible for bringing him to the Premier League and the Saints splashed £13million to secure his services in 2015 and what followed is known to all.

Van Dijk established himself as one of the most consistent centre-backs in the entire division and outgrew his humble surroundings at St.Mary’s before earning a £75million move to Liverpool in January 2018, which made him the most expensive centre-back in the world.

His stay at Anfield has proven to be a resounding success, with the Dutchman playing a key role in Liverpool’s 2nd-place finish in the 2018-19 Premier League season and guiding them to their first UEFA Champions League triumph since 2005.

He has already played in two European finals and Jurgen Klopp will be hoping that there is a lot more to come from van Dijk in the upcoming campaigns.

2. Stiliyan Petrov

Stiliyan Petrov was hardly a superstar when Celtic brought him in from Bulgarian outfit CSKA Sofia back in 1999 but seven seasons of resounding success at Parkhead, which included four Scottish league titles, transformed him into a household name in Europe.

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As a matter of fact, Petrov was a key figure in Celtic’s march to the UEFA Cup final back in 2002-03.

His consistently impressive performances didn’t go unnoticed from the teams south of the border and former Hoops manager Martin O’Neill was the man responsible for bringing the combative Bulgarian midfield enforcer to Aston Villa in the summer of 2006. 

Petrov hardly had any problems dealing with the competitive nature of the Premier League and went on to establish himself as a cult hero at Villa Park, racking up a staggering 219 appearances for the Lions in all competitions over the course of six fruitful seasons before his career ended prematurely due to leukaemia.

3. Victor Wanyama

Wanyama was plying his trade with Belgian club Beerschot in the Belgian top-flight when Celtic snapped him up in the summer of 2011. That marked the Kenyan’s metaphoric rise in football from a complete rookie to a Premier League star.

The tough-tackling midfielder went on to win back-to-back domestic titles with Celtic and earned plenty of plaudits for his daunting and fearless displays, most notably scoring a powerful header to help the Hoops stun Barcelona in the 2012-13 UEFA Champions League.

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Southampton splashed £12.5million in the summer of 2013 to bring Wanyama to the Premier League and he became the first Kenyan international to play in the top-flight of English football.

Wanyama proved himself to be a tailor-made fit for the Premier League and reached great heights over the course of his three-season stay on the south coast, making 97 appearances in the process.

Having helped Southampton to an impressive 6th-place finish in the Premier League in the 2015-16 season, Wanyama completed a transfer to Tottenham for a fee of £11million to fulfil his dream of playing in the Champions League.

In his first season in North London, the Kenyan established himself as one of the key figures in the midfield and operated as a part of manager Mauricio Pochettino’s double pivot midfield.

Wanyama’s influence has gradually waned over the past couple of campaigns due to his struggles with injuries but his cross-border success story remains truly an inspiring one.

4. Mark Viduka 

Mark Viduka made his move to Celtic Park in December 1998 with a lot of goals for Dinamo Zagreb under his belt, and the towering Socceroos centre-forward proved his credentials very soon.

He stayed at Parkhead only for a single full season but that was enough for him to get his name into the history books, as the Australian international racked up 25 goals in 28 league appearances in the 1999-00 season, also winning the Scottish League Cup in the process.

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Viduka’s stocks were rocketing sky-high after his goalscoring heroics at Parkhead. Leeds United manager David O’Leary was the quickest to react, snapping up the striker in the summer of 2000.

Viduka went on to establish himself as a bona fide goalscorer in his first season at Elland Road and struck 22 goals in competitions, including all four in a memorable 4-3 victory over Liverpool at home.

The Australian also racked up 4 goals in Leeds’ march to the semi-finals of the Champions League in his first season, which is still the record for the most number of goals scored by an Australian player in the Champions League.

Viduka’s incredible strike rate at West Yorkshire saw him finish with 68 goals in 158 outings before he made his move to Middlesbrough in 2004 following the financial crisis at Elland Road.

Leeds’ stay in the top-flight came to an abrupt end but Viduka’s success story didn’t. He went on to register 41 goals in 98 appearances at Teesside before a final swansong at Newcastle United.

He didn’t have the pace to bother defences but he certainly won a lot of hearts with his natural finesse and razor-sharp reflexes in front of goal.

5. Shaun Maloney

The diminutive 5ft 7in playmaker broke on to the scene at Celtic in the 2000-01 season under Martin O’Neill but he found regular minutes hard to come by in the subsequent campaigns and was used largely on a rotational basis.

Nevertheless, he spent seven seasons in his first stint at Parkhead and won four domestic league titles before O’Neill, then in charge of Aston Villa, brought him to the Premier League in January 2007.

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Maloney’s stint at Villa Park proved to be a mediocre one as the versatile playmaker netted 7 goals in 33 appearances for the Lions in all competitions. He headed back to Celtic but his second stint at Parkhead coincided with Rangers’ dominance in Scottish football.

Maloney did return to the Premier League, however, with Wigan Athletic willing to offer him a return to south of the border. Maloney moved to Wigan in 2011 and he proved his critics wrong under the guidance of Roberto Martinez, as the Scotsman went on to play a key role in the Latics FA Cup winning campaign in the 2012-13 season.

He even pledged his loyalty to the club following their relegation from the Premier League and plied his trade in the Championship.

Maloney switched boats to join Hull City in the Championship following a brief stint at Chicago Fire in the MLS and subsequently went on to represent the Tigers in the Premier League before hanging up his boots.  

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A look back at the top 5 goal contributors in the Championship last season

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A look back at the top 5 goal contributors in the Championship last season

It is very common to see the top-scorers in the top-five leagues of Europe, namely the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and Eredivisie making most of the headlines in the post-mortem analysis at the end of each campaign.

The scintillating performances of some underrated stars in the lower divisions do not usually enter the post-season talks and rarely gain enough recognition.

There is a reason why the EFL Championship, despite being the second-tier of English football, is considered as one of the toughest, and probably one of the most exciting leagues outside the top-five leagues of Europe. 

Taking into consideration the number of games each team has to play over the course of the season, it is a long and hard slog for everybody involved and the fans would know how difficult it is to survive or secure promotion to the top-flight.

And it was no different last season, as the 2018-19 campaign produced some edge-of-the-seat thrillers, intriguing see-saw promotion battles and of course, some incredible individual performances.

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While the campaign ended in promotion ecstasy for the likes of Norwich City, Sheffield United and Aston Villa, it was absolute heartbreak for teams like West Brom, Leeds United and Derby County, who came tantalisingly close to securing a return to the top-flight but failed to get over the line in the final stages.

Let us take a look at some of the top goal contributors in the 2018-19 season of the EFL Championship. Teemu Pukki, obviously, tops the charts but it is surprising to see that Dwight Gayle, who netted 24 goals, misses out on a place in the top-five in terms of overall contributions, although he boasts of a better goal-minute ratio when compared to all the players mentioned below.

1. Teemu Pukki – 38 (29 goals, 9 assists)

Norwich City secured promotion to the Premier League as the outright winners of the second division for the first time since 2003-04, and Temmu Pukki was the name on the fans’ lips at Carrow Road, week in week out.

The Finnish international was the go-to man for the Canaries in front of goal and arguably the most influential striker in the entire division last season as Daniel Farke inspired his team to an awe-inspiring campaign.

The 29-year-old, who made his move to Carrow Road on a free transfer from Danish side Brondby last summer, took the Championship by storm and racked up a career-best tally of 29 goals, virtually propelling Norwich to the Premier League single-handedly.

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The former Celtic and Schalke man netted braces against the likes of Millwall, Derby County, Sheffield Wednesday, Ipswich Town and Queens Park Rangers, although his most productive outing came in the 4-0 demolition of Bolton Wanderers away from home back in February where he bagged two goals and an assist.

Pukki bagged six man-of-the-match awards in the Championship last season and one does get the feeling that he will once again be Norwich’s best bet ensure survival in the Premier Leauge.

2. Neal Maupay – 33 (25 goals, 8 assists)

The former Saint-Etienne man enjoyed a remarkable campaign at Griffin Park in the Championship last season and proved himself to be a class above most of his counterparts in the division.

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Brentford finished 11th in the table and missed out on a place in the promotion playoffs but the 22-year-old Frenchman strengthened his claims of earning a move to the Premier League this summer.

Brentford were regarded as one of the dark horses to make to it to the playoffs at the start of the season and while the Bees never really looked likely to make it to the top-six, it was Maupay who kept the fans believing for large quarters of the campaign.

The diminutive and versatile striker enhanced his reputation of being one of the most lethal in his position in the second-tier and it won’t be a surprise to see him get an opportunity to ply his trade in the Premier League in the days to come.

Maupay started the season off with a bang, bagging 2 goals and an assist in the 5-1 humiliation of Rotherham United on the opening day, which ultimately proved to be his most productive outing of the campaign.

Other highlights of his campaign include braces against Aston Villa and Wigan Athletic, while the fans at Griffin Park are also likely to remember his incredible display in the 2-0 upset of Leeds United in the penultimate game of the season, where he scored and assisted one apiece.

3. Tammy Abraham – 29 (26 goals, 3 assists)

The Chelsea loanee was Aston Villa’s undisputed promotion hero, as the 21-year-old netted a staggering 26 goals, including an all-important one from the penalty spot in the 2-1 victory over West Brom in the first leg of the playoff semi-finals to propel the Lions back to the Premier League following a three-year exile from the top-flight.

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Abraham caught the eye with his poaching instincts, supreme aerial ability and natural finishing. However, the England U-21 star remained in the second-tier for the entire campaign and was one of the key driving forces behind Villa’s much-awaited return to the Premier League.

The 21-year-old’s exemplary feat of netting four goals in the eventful 5-5 draw at home against Nottingham Forest is bound to go into the history books at Villa Park, while the other highlights of his season included braces against the likes of QPR and Ipswich Town.

4. Jay Rodriguez – 28 (22 goals, 6 assists)

The 29-year-old England international might have been outscored by his teammate Dwight Gayle but he edges ahead of the Newcastle United loanee in terms of overall goal contributions, largely due to his tally of 6 assists.

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Rodriguez could have chosen to depart West Brom following the club’s relegation from the Premier League at the end of the 2017-18 season but he opted to stay at the Hawthorns and once again proved his worth as a bona-fide goalscorer in English football.

However, his exploits weren’t enough for the club to earn promotion back to the top-flight at the first time of asking.

Rodriguez played a key role and scored a double in the 4-3 victory over Norwich City back in August and also took centre stage in the 7-1 demolition of QPR in the following game, with the 29-year-old registering braces in back-to-back games for the Baggies.

He repeated that feat in the 4-2 victory over Bristol City in September and in the 2-0 win against Wigan Athletic at home on Boxing Day. West Brom will be hoping that he stays put to help them reignite their surge for promotion under Slaven Bilic next term.

5. Billy Sharp – 27 (23 goals, 4 assists)

Sheffield United secured promotion to the Premier League for the first time since 2006-07 and Billy Sharp was very much in the thick of things at Bramall Lane, as manager Chris Wilder managed to extract the best out of an ageing forward line to ensure that the Blades completed a much-awaited return to the top-flight.

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Sharp might not be a familiar name in the top-flight but he has always been a prolific goalscorer in the lower echelons of English football. The 33-year-old took his career goal tally up to 238 at the end of this past season.

The fans at Bramall Lane are likely to be ever-grateful to him for his massive contribution in both of Sheffield United’s promotion-winning campaigns in recent times, firstly from League One to the Championship in 2016-17 and then from the Championship to the Premier League now.

The 33-year-old didn’t quite equal his third-tier tally of 30 goals and 8 assists in the 2016-17 campaign but he played a key role, nevertheless.

Sharp bagged a couple of hat-tricks in the 4-2 victory over Wigan and the 3-3 draw against Aston Villa, with braces against Norwich City and Blackburn Rovers (home and away) being some of the other highlights of his truly incredible goalscoring run.

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Ahead of Aston Villa’s new season in the PL, here’s a look at what happened the last 3 times they got promoted

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What happened the previous three times when Aston Villa got promoted

Aston Villa are back in the Premier League three years after they were relegated at the end of the 2015/16 season. This time though, they had to win the playoff final against Derby County to join Norwich City and Sheffield United into the big-time league.

As part of the review, if we analyse their progress from last season, the Villans had a nightmarish start. Finishing in the top-six itself seemed like a herculean task.

Till the festive period, they were languishing at the second half of the table, almost 8-10 points behind the playoff spots. But the change in management in the first week of October did the trick and steady progress was made.

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They eventually won every game from 2nd March to 22nd April, which constituted of 10 games. From then on, it was clear that Dean Smith’s men will contest the playoffs and could return to the Premier League this summer itself.

In the two-legged semifinal against West Brom, the tie was decided in the penalty shootouts where goalkeeper Jed Steer was the hero. In the final, Villa showed experience and quality against Derby to win the game, thus securing their ticket to top-flight English football.

Now, before they get ready to compete in the world’s most competitive league, let’s take a look at the last three seasons in which Aston Villa were promoted to the top-flight. Basically, we would like to take some clue as to how they would perform in their first year after promotion.

1988-89 Campaign

The previous time Aston Villa had to get promoted to play in top-flight English football was in the summer of 1988 when they finished second behind Millwall in the second division table.

During the 1988-89 top-flight season, Arsenal won the league on the virtue of scoring more goals than Liverpool.

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Arsenal 1989 League Champions

This was because both teams were equal on points and goal difference, but the Gunners went to Anfield on the final day and managed to win the game by an exact margin that gave them the title.

Newly-promoted Aston Villa struggled that season and just managed to survive relegation. They finished the season 17th on the table, just a point ahead of the relegation zone. A major escape that!

1975-76 Campaign

Aston Villa got promoted to division one of English football in the summer of 1975 by finishing second behind Manchester United in the second division table.

Liverpool won the league at the end of the 1975-76 top-flight season, with Queens Park Rangers coming second just a point behind the champions.

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Liverpool were the league champions in 1976

Villa finished 16th on the table, nine points away from the relegation zone. They looked like a side that had the credibility of staying in the top-flight and making more progress in due course of time.

1960-61 Campaign

Aston Villa won the second division title in the summer of 1960 and got promoted to Division One.

During the 1960-61 top-flight season, Tottenham won the league, with Sheffield Wednesday coming second eight points behind the champions.

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Tottenham won the league in 1961

Villa fared well throughout the campaign, finishing ninth on the table, 11 points away from the relegation zone. In fact, they were only eight points behind fourth-placed Burnley. All in all, it was a comfortable season in the mid-table for the Villans.

Conclusion

One thing can be concluded from all this – Aston Villa don’t generally get relegated back to the Championship the year after they get promoted.

As a result, Dean Smith and his men must aim to keep that record intact and make further progress to stay in the Premier League for a longer period of time.

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