Villa got back to winning ways last weekend at the Amex, beating Brighton 2-0. It was a sturdy performance, much like that of what we were accustomed to when Steven Gerrard first took over. This Saturday, however, Villa face an in form Southampton side, who will provide a big task for the boys in claret and blue.
A win for Villa would really top off a great 7 days, with an away win at Brighton, preliminary plans underway for the expansion of Villa Park, and the links to Kessie of AC Milan being made (however unlikely the deal may be). 3 points would have the Villa faithful in an ecstatic mood.
This Southampton side have only last 1 in their last 10, winning 5 of them, and scoring in all.One thing that is in favour of us, is being at home. If we can make a fast start and get the crowd on their feet nice and early, we can start to intimidate the Saints. On the other hand, Southampton are no weak outfit at this current time. They're a fierce side, very athletic, and extremely well drilled by Ralph Hassenhüttl.
Southampton set up in a slightly narrower 442, a 4222 if you will. They attempt to stop play progressing into the central areas, and force it to the flanks, where they aim to turnover the ball, or force it out of play. In possession, the wider players (Stuart Armstrong and Mohamed Elyounoussi of late) stay narrower, where they pick up positions in the half-spaces, and in between the lines. This gives them many options for passes within their fast, direct style of play.
Their full backs are encouraged to take up attacking positions to provide the width, while Romeu sits a little deeper to provide some security. However, there is space to be found behind either of the progressing full backs in transition. Villa could exploit that in a couple of ways, whether Gerrard goes for two strikers again, and they run the channels and use that space. Or he uses a more conventional 433, where the likes of either Buendia, Coutinho, or perhaps Bailey could occupy those spaces.
Villa's midfield isn't shy of talent, though, and can be utilised brilliantly to overcome the aggressive, 'at your heels' approach by Southampton. Between McGinn's signature spin, and Ramsey's powerful, athletic bursts from deep, they can open up the game and bring our attackers into play.
3 of each:
I'll start with Emiliano Martinez for Villa. Though it seems negative to choose the keeper as one to watch for us, it's not just his shot stopping ability that will come in handy this weekend. Southampton will press hard, and not make it easy to get the ball out from the back. Emi will play an important role with guiding the ball from one side of defence to the other, and also picking a more direct passing option to beat the press. His reflex ability, and smart saves will definitely be of use to us aswell though.
Next up, I've gone with Douglas Luiz, providing he starts. A player much discussed following the Brighton game. I was quick to criticise him for some poor passes that led to nervy moments, but overall on reflection he actually had a sound game. He will play a big role with progressing the ball through the press. He needs to be fast, decisive, and clinical in the pass. He also needs to adopt good defensive positions to cover gaps that Southampton can play through. Big task ahead for him.
Finally for Villa, I've gone with Coutinho. Again, themed around the press we have to beat, but also around the task of carving open a solid defence. Coutinho can create moments of magic out of absolutely nothing, whether it be a thunderbolt into the top corner, or an inch perfect pass for a player to tuck the ball away. He will be influential in attacking moves, picking up the ball between the lines and creating opportunities.
Mohammed Salisu has caught the eye with some shining performances this season, and will be a big part of Southampton's attempts to thwart Villa's attacks. He's strong in the tackle, with a good reading of the game, and when he's won the ball, he has a brilliant eye for a pass and composure on the ball.
Oriol Romeu isn't the most fashionable name in the league, but is very good at what he does. He sweeps up as the deeper one of the two centre mids, and he keeps the ball ticking in possession. A calm, intelligent head in that Southampton midfield.
James Ward-Prowse is an obvious threat in the Saints side, and he's haunted Villa many times recently with his goal creating actions. With a set piece technique that wields glowing results, and a creative essence to his game, he'll be a player Villa need to stop however they can.
Villa's poor record against the Saints
We don't have a glowing record against Southampton, particularly at home. The last time we beat them at Villa Park was in 2004, since then, 4 losses and 2 draws have followed, with 3 of those losses coming in the last 3 times Southampton have visited B6. Not a very welcome record for us Villa fans.
Last time out against Southampton was Dean Smith's last game in charge, where an early Adam Armstrong rifled effort resigned Villa to a 1-0 defeat at St. Mary's. For all Villa's efforts, we couldn't quite get our hands on that elusive equaliser. Those players will be looking for revenge this weekend, and will no doubt use the reverse fixture to fire them up and prove a point.
When it comes to a predicted lineup, i think we will see an unchanged 11, much to the dismay of Buendia. Emi was unlucky to miss out on being in the starting lineup last weekend as he has been our best player for some time, but what Gerrard opted to go with brought the 3 points back to Birmingham. Cash and Digne will possibly take up more expansive positions at home, but hopefully in turn, and not at the same time.
In terms of the result, I'm struggling to see anything other than a close scoreline. It will be a real battle, and could be quite an open game. I don't think either side will be able to keep a clean sheet, and in saying that, i would go for a 1-1 draw.
A draw wouldn't do much for Villa in the league table unless results elsewhere were favourable, in which case we could find ourselves in 11th by the end of Saturday. However, if we managed to get the 3 points, Villa could be back in the top half of the table providing results elsewhere went our way. On the flipside, if we came out the game with nothing, we would most likely be staying put in 13th, and peering at results from teams below us. A big game ahead for us this weekend, and a chance to show what this squad is made of.