The FourFourTwo Preview: Southampton vs Aston Villa
Saints and Villains seek to reverse November rot.
At the tail-end of last season, both Mauricio Pochettino and Paul Lambert would have given their eye teeth – whatever they are – to be involved in a little comfy mid-table sparring rather than nerve-wrecking relegation death-matches. But expectations shift swiftly, and despite the comparative progress both sides have made this term, recent stutters will be causing minor managerial hand-wringing about whether they’re on a downward spiral.
- Chelsea 3-1 Southampton (Prem)
- Arsenal 2-0 Southampton (Prem)
- Southampton 4-1 Hull (Prem)
- S'land 2-1 Southampton (LC)
- Stoke 1-1 Southampton (Prem)
ASTON VILLA FORM
- Aston Villa 0-0 S'land (Prem)
- West Brom 2-2 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Aston Villa 2-0 Cardiff (Prem)
- West Ham 0-0 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Aston Villa 0-2 Everton (Prem)
Pochettino will be the less clammy-pawed of the two: Southampton performed valiantly in the defeats to Arsenal and Chelsea, and spanked Hull in November, so those suggesting that his October Manager of the Month gong was a curse should think twice.
Southampton have conceded only twice in six St Mary’s fixtures this term, and it is taking collective imagination or individual brilliance to breach their backline at the moment.
This will bother Paul Lambert. Nil-nil specialists Aston Villa were involved in one of the most nil-nilly nil-nil draws of all time against Sunderland on Saturday: Gabriel Agbonlahor’s pace and graft aside, the Midlanders looked toothless.
They have won only one of their last seven, and 2012/13’s revelation, Christian Benteke, is suffering a dip in form. Lambert’s men will need to recapture some of the occasional verve they showed against Cardiff and West Brom in order to leave the south coast will anything more than nil.
Southampton stopper Artur Boruc, ever present this season, and having conceded just 10 goals, is out after breaking his hand in the 3-1 defeat by Chelsea on Sunday. With Kelvin Davis also sidelined, 21-year old Argentine Paulo Gazzaniga will don the gloves.
For Villa, Fabian Delph, Andreas Weimann and Agbonlahor are all fit again, but Charles N’Zogbia remains sidelined.
Player to watch: Christian Benteke (Aston Villa)
Every striker suffers lean spells in front of goal, and the Belgian battering ram – who thumped home 23 times last season to save Villa from the drop and was wooed by a number of bigger clubs in the summer – now finds some Villa Park grumps with misfiring memories on his back.
“It’s important to build his confidence up, you don’t chastise him in any way – he’s only 22 years of age,” says Lambert. “When you're a on top of your game you just play instinct football. Now maybe you’re thinking about too many things.”
But should Benteke be effectively shackled by the Saints defence, summer signing Libor Kozak may take his place.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Villa 0-1 So'ton (Prem, Jan 13)
- So'ton 4-1 Villa (Prem, Sep 12)
- So'ton 2-3 Villa (Prem, Apr 05)
- Villa 2-0 So'ton (Prem, Aug 04)
- So'ton 1-1 Villa (Prem, May 04)
This is the first meeting between the two men; Pochettino was appointed shortly after Nigel Adkins oversaw Saints’ 1-0 away win over Villa back in January. Both gaffers remain predictably upbeat despite recent wobbles.
“It was fairly even-sided,” said Pochettino’s translator after the Chelsea defeat. “There were a number of decisions that did not go our way, but there was no doubt that the players will react positively.”
Lambert admitted that their Sunderland showing was “not a classic” (much in the same way that 2004 Brit-com Sex Lives of the Potato Men was not a classic), but scrabbled around admirably for a couple of positives, including such chestnuts as: “it is another clean sheet” and “we had some lads back from injury”.
Facts and figures
- Aston Villa have drawn the most away matches in Premier League history (129), including the last three in a row.
More facts at FFT's Southampton vs Aston Villa Stats Zone page
Tips and trends
TIPS & TRENDS
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- Southampton conceded three goals for the first time since April on Sunday.
- The Saints have opened the scoring in 13 of their last 20 home games, a record only bettered by Manchester City and Chelsea.
- There have been three or more goals in nine of Aston Villa's previous 10 away matches against top-half teams, while six of those have had over 3.5 goals.
- Villa have conceded first in six of their last 10 encounters with top-half opponents.
Find the best odds with Bet Butler
Saints should bounce back from their bashings by the big boys to maul the moribund Midlanders. 2-0 to Southampton.