Saturday marks Villa’s first cup final in the next two weeks, and it is essential that we kick off this vital run with a win against the Saints. Anything else would only exacerbate the gap that is beginning to appear between Aston Villa and the teams hoping to avoid a relegation battle. Everton currently sit 3 points ahead of the Villa on 18 points but if they do get Ancelotti on board then this will likely change.
After three league losses in a row, there may not be a better Christmas present than returning home to host a club lower down on the table when you’re already sitting in seventeenth, and that’s what Villa are getting as 27/20 favourites over the Saints Saturday afternoon.
For Villa, form does not make good viewing. Our league form (or lack of) actually stretches back further than the three games; since Targett’s last minute winner against Brighton, we have 4 points from 8 games. This run did involved a string of challenging games; Dean Smith’s side played 7 of the top 8 teams in the league during this period; the only win came against Newcastle who now sit in 11th. As a result, whilst this form could have an impact on the players confidence (and has certainly changed the mood of fans) it is perhaps less concerning when the difficulty of our matches is accounted for.
Southampton go into this match level on points with Villa but with a lesser goal difference. They are also out of form having lost their last two games; against West Ham and Newcastle respectively. This brings me onto a vital difference between the sides that does give me some confidence for Saturday and this is Southampton’s record against teams that Villa have achieved good results against. In games against Newcastle, Everton and West Ham, Saints came away with 0 points; Villa got 7 from the same set of fixtures and outplayed all of the above.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side are good on the road though, winning four games away from home in all competitions this year. Danny Ings has notched 9 goals so far this season and is a clear sign of the value that a proven Premier League striker can be to a struggling side. It will be vital to limit Ings chances infront of net if we are to get the result we so desperately need. Ings’ form is in stark contrast to that of Wesley, who has 4 goals thus far. A few bad performances have seen Villa fans begin to pile pressure on the newlly signed Brazilian striker; many would even prefer Kodjia starting despite the fact that he could barely get a kick in the Championship last season. Kodjia was at the double midweek before Wesley slotted home with minuted to go; it will be fascinating to see which striker Smith opts for on Saturday. In all honesty though, I don’t hold much faith in either making the difference; it is likely that we will have to rely on our midfield once again.
Villa should boss the game by taking control in the middle of the park; we have midfielders worthy of a far higher league position and they have impressed so far this campaign. Southampton usually line up in a 4-4-2 with Ward-Prowse and Højbjerg in the middle. The former is basically a right footed Conor Hourihane and the latter is yet to bag a goaol or assist this season. Individually, our central midfielders should have this battle all tied up, especially with Grealish floating inside to get involved, and that is before tactics and shape are given impetus. Our midfield three also gives us a numerical advantage in the middle of the park; making this count will likely be a deciding factor on Saturday.
In terms of injuries, Villa will be without Mings and Davis whilst Southampton’s Boufal remains a doubt. Romeu makes his return to fitness this weekend but it is unlikely that he will make the starting XI.
With injuries in mind, here is how I would line up this weekend:
With strikers, I believe form is virtually everything and Wesley has looked incredibly short on this; Kodjia consequently gets the nod by default as there isn’t really another option. El Ghazi narrowly pips Trezeguet to the starting place for me; both players have impressed me so far and have scored 3 goals in the process but El Ghazi has also managed to assist 4 goals and is a little more consistent.
In midfield, I would start Luiz at the base of the three ahead of Nakamba and the logic behind this is quite simply ball retention. Nakamba is fantastic at winning the ball back but he also seems pretty talented at giving it away again. Conversely, Douglas Luiz is a Rolls-Royce in the centre of the park and is technically an elite level footballer. A home game against Southampton requires a positive, attacking mentality; this midfield three (with Grealish too) certainly ticks that box.
Defensively, the loss of Mings is huge. Last week saw Hause get a start and whilst I do like Hause and saw him receive plaudits online, I find it hard to ignore the fact that both of the Blades goals came down his side. Infact, I believe Mings would have stopped the cross that led to the first goal and would have done more to put off Fleck from bagging his second of the match. I have been very impressed with Konsa so far and would be surprised if he is not starting.
Aston Villa 3-1 Southampton
I’m hopeful that we will simply have too much for Southampton in midfield on Saturday. This was the case against similarly able opponents this season and the home advantage should further aid this.
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By Callum Richardson