On Saturday, a vital bottom-six clash between Aston Villa and Southampton takes place at Villa Park. Without defensive stalwart Tyrone Mings, Villa may well find it tough to stop the in-form Danny Ings, however, Southampton have struggled this season and are ripe for the picking of a Villa team seeking to bounce back from poor recent results. To get an opposition perspective, we spoke to The Southampton Page.
1) Southampton have lost their last two games by single-goal margins against Newcastle and West Ham. What happened in those games and do you think they were deserved losses?
Newcastle was simply one of those games where we take the lead and can’t hold onto it. It’s something that’s been happening far too often for us to truly distance ourselves from the bottom three. First, a Carroll cross into the box and Shelvey was given far too much space to get enough of a run-up to head past McCarthy. The winner comes from poor goalkeeping; a shot from distance that should’ve been collected is instead palmed into the path of Fernandez. We should’ve gotten more from that game judging by the stats, but all credit to Newcastle for exposing our weaknesses.
A similar story with West Ham, though it’s hard to bottle a lead you don’t have. Another habit we have is being the side for strikers to end their goal droughts against and that’s exactly what happened with Haller. With how few meaningful efforts we had on West Ham’s goal, it’s hard to argue we deserved anything from that game.
2) What are Southampton’s main strengths? Who’s the ‘danger man?’
Danny Ings has been our saving grace this season. Not that it’s been enough to drag us out of the relegation zone unfortunately, but he’s on 11 goals in all competitions ahead of this game. Nobody’s scored more than that since 2015-16, so he’s one to look out for. Another strength has been creating chances from set pieces, typically thanks to a James Ward-Prowse delivery. Give away too many corners or free kicks around the box and we may just score from one of them.
3) What is Southampton’s biggest weakness? Do you think that Villa will be able to exploit it?
We’re painfully bad at defending crosses at the moment, so if you’re to start someone like Wesley, you could absolutely capitalise on that weakness if you keep knocking on the door and asking questions of our defence.
Another issue we have is being able to make the most of our chances. I wouldn’t worry too much even if you are a bit shaky at the back because it’s rare that you’ll see us take advantage when we identify a weakness in our opposition.
The last weakness I’ll mention is how often we get hit on the counter from our own attacks. Time and time again, our fullbacks will overcommit all too often and find themselves too high up the pitch. Any team with pace or technical ability on the flanks can exploit that, yourselves included.
4) How do you rate your form this season? Is it down to Hasenhuttl or the players? Otherwise what’s behind your lacklustre start?
It’s hard to watch in all honesty. I think part of it is due to lack of financial support from our owner. He insists on us being self-sufficient and only spending what money we can make, but I’m not convinced that’s a sustainable model in this day and age with teams such as Villa being able to spend in excess of our record signing coming straight up from the Championship and looking far more refined than us as a result.
While Ralph has to take at least some blame, it’s easy to forget that he’s only responsible for a few of the players he currently has at his disposal. This current mess of a squad is a cacophony of the flawed ideas and mistakes of our previous four managers (Hughes, Pellegrino, Puel and Koeman), and making that transition into a more refined squad that he can progress with may take a handful of transfer windows.
I feel our season depends on what defensive signings we can make in the January window, and whether our attack can start yielding more goals from the chances they get.
5) What do you make of Villa? Do you think we’ll stay up?
Absolutely. I’ll be the first to admit I had reservations over whether the sheer amount of players Villa signed in the summer would gel together and work as a unit – but that doesn’t seem to be a problem. It’s easy to look at Fulham last season and lazily draw parallels, but your spending was a necessity rather than a luxury.
6) How do you see Southampton lining up on Saturday?
Ralph hasn’t diverted from the side that got us vital wins against Norwich and Watford, however it’s also the same side that lost our last two games. We will have to make some changes as Moussa Djenepo has picked up an injury this week, but I don’t think that will force us to change from Ralph’s favoured 4-2-2-2.
Djenepo’s absence may just mean Ward-Prowse gets pushed into the front four and someone like Stuart Armstrong pairing Pierre-Emile Højbjerg or Oriol Romeu in the spine of midfield. A lot of fans are crying out to see Che Adams get more time on the pitch, so this game may be an opportunity for him to show the goalscoring form he possessed in the Championship last season, and in pre-season for us too.
That said, Shane Long has been preferred as Ings’ strike partner in recent times, so I feel that’s a more likely strike duo.
Predicted XI: McCarthy; Bertrand, Stephens, Bednarek, Cedric; Højbjerg, Armstrong; Redmond, Ward-Prowse; Long, Ings.
7) At our last meeting at Villa Park, Southampton won 4-2, with Sadio Mane amongst the scorers and Virgil Van Dijk starting the game! How do you envisage this fixture going?
Christ, those were the days where we could score 4 goals in a game… I’d like to think we’ll score the first goal, but we love nothing more than to bottle a lead. It’s well-reported that we dropped more points from winning positions than anybody else in the league last season, and that’s continuing into this season as well. If anyone’s scoring for us, it’ll probably be Danny Ings. Of course Villa got a big 5-0 win in the week so you’ll likely be full of confidence ahead of the game.
As much as I’d love to say we’d take this win, we’re making a habit of losing to teams just above us. I reckon that’ll continue here, 2-1 to Villa.
Once again, thanks to The Southampton Page for agreeing to discuss the match on Saturday with us -z and I myself am going to predict a Villa win also, except I think it’ll be 3-1. I don’t trust our defence without Mings, but we’ll be raring to go after Tuesday and keen to bounce back from the disaster at Bramall Lane. Kodjia and Wesley both in scoring form too, Grealish up for it, Anwar rested, I think this game won’t be the nightmare before Christmas Villa fans may well be dreading. 3-1 to the mighty Villa for me.