The FourFourTwo Preview: Aston Villa vs Southampton
The chance for Villa to end a bad week on a good note.
Aston Villa fans will be glad to see the back of this latest lamentable season, but they could do with one more win to ensure it does not end catastrophically.
ASTON VILLA FORM
- Palace 1-0 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Aston Villa 1-2 Fulham (Prem)
- Man Utd 4-1 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Aston Villa 1-4 Stoke (Prem)
- Aston Villa 1-0 Chelsea (Prem)
- So'ton 0-1 Cardiff (Prem)
- Man City 4-1 So'ton (Prem)
- So'ton 4-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Spurs 3-2 So'ton (Prem)
- So'ton 4-2 Norwich (Prem)
It was only four games ago that this correspondent was mulling the chances of Paul Lambert’s men achieving a top-10 finish as they prepared to take on a Stoke side that had never won a Premier League match at Villa Park.
Since toppling title-chasing Chelsea on March 15, Lambert’s lads have seemingly been unable to raise their games for the so-called lesser sides of the league – they have also beaten Arsenal and Manchester City and drawn at Anfield – and the wheels have proceeded to fall off, both on and off the pitch.
Four successive defeats, including their 10th league loss at Villa Park in 2013/14, this time to previously doomed Fulham, leave the Villains looking precariously over their shoulders with just four points keeping them from the drop zone.
And to make matters that little bit worse, the week has been hogged by headlines surrounding Lambert’s backroom staff; assistant manager Ian Culverhouse and head of football operations Gary Karsa are suspended pending an internal investigation.
Not for the first time this season, chief executive Paul Faulkner has backed Lambert, issuing a rallying cry for the club to “pull together”, while chairman Randy Lerner has publicly thanked Gordon Cowans and Shay Given for stepping up to assist the manager.
With tricky away trips to Manchester City and Spurs concluding Villa’s campaign, the emphasis is on picking up points sooner rather later. Although their home record is down there with the worst in the division, Saturday’s showdown with an out-of-sorts Southampton would help restore a sense of calm around Villa Park.
"We know the fans are disappointed, as are we," said goalkeeper Brad Guzan. "Everyone at the club is desperate for a win and to end this run of defeats. For us as players and as a club we have to keep fighting and we are definitely going to do that.”
Saints’ successful season is in danger of petering out, with Mauricio Pochettino’s men left with little to play for and ruing the cruel knee injury to England World Cup hopeful Jay Rodriguez.
A spirited but fruitless display at Man City was followed by a surprise home loss to struggling Cardiff, with Pochettino bemoaning his side’s ‘useless’ possession.
"We created plenty of chances, but weren't able to finalise them," he said. "Lots of possession is useless if you don't actually make use of it and that was what happened. We were not aggressive enough - we were moving forward and creating chances, but we weren't clinical enough in front of goal. We played our way - the same way that we have throughout the season. It was just that we lacked efficiency."
Eighth place is where the south coast club lie and realistically as high as they can aspire to be, with Manchester United nine points better off in seventh – although David Moyes’ men visit St Mary’s on the final day.
Revenge may be the best incentive for the Saints as they look to avoid a league double; Villa leaving St Mary’s with a 3-2 win in December, just four days after Southampton had held Man City.
A not-so-magnificent seven Villa players currently frequent the treatment room: Leandro Bacuna, Gary Gardner, Nicklas Helenius, Christian Benteke, Libor Kozak, Jores Okore and, er, yeah, Charles N'Zogbia.
Saints will have do without Rodriguez as well as Gaston Ramirez, Maya Yoshida, Artur Boruc and Kelvin Davis.
Player to watch: Grant Holt (Aston Villa)
In the absence of injured strike duo Benteke and Kozak, Lambert will once again be leaning on his former Norwich charge to form the focal point of Villa’s attacks and help his team-mates push up the pitch. The Wigan loanee started up front alongside Gabriel Agbonlahor in last week’s loss to Crystal Palace, winning 50% of his aerial duels and setting up 2 chances for his colleagues.
Holt hauled his side level in Villa’s last home outing against Fulham and was the most fouled player on the pitch, having been impeded on 5 occasions. However, the former Rochdale and Shrewsbury goal-getter got little change in the air from Messrs Hangeland, Heitinga and Amorebieta, winning just 3 of 14 aerial battles.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Saints 2-3 Villa (Prem, Dec 13)
- Villa 0-1 Saints (Prem, Jan 13)
- Saints 4-1 Villa (Prem, Sep 12)
- Saints 2-3 Villa (Prem, Apr 05)
- Villa 2-0 Saints (Prem, Aug 04)
Lambert, who may not be to every Villa fan’s liking after another under-par campaign, particularly at home, has received the full support of chairman Lerner this week; the American stating the Scot has shown "total loyalty and commitment" to the club for his handling of "some unexpected issues" over the past seven days.
"I couldn't ask for more from people who are up for this challenge and the very real obstacles we have to overcome," said the Villa chief.
The future of Saints supremo Pochettino continues to provide subject for discussion on the south coast. However, chairman Ralph Krueger has this week insisted the club will do everything in their power to keep the Argentine at Southampton, despite several admirers reportedly being keen on his services.
"He took his time at Espanyol, which was really important," he said. "What really great managers do is stay in one spot until they cannot evolve there any more. If you see managers go one year, one year, one year and then, suddenly, they are in a top league, they don't have the foundation, possibly, to do the job. Mauricio has very carefully planned his career. We are doing everything in our power to keep this group together."
Facts and figures
- Villa have lost 10 of 17 home games this season (only Fulham have had more home defeats).
- Villa have lost all 8 home games against the teams placed 4th-12th.
- Villa have failed to score in half the last 8 matches Benteke has failed to start.
- Southampton have won 5 of 8 trips this season to the current bottom half.
- 72% of the 18 games Rodriguez has not started since the start of last season have produced fewer than 3 goals compared to 43% of the 54 matches he has started.
- Southampton’s last 8 away wins have all come to nil.
Villa do enough to avoid yet another home defeat, but not enough to prise all three points off the visitors, as nobody departs entirely satisified. 1-1.