By Dean Gregory
Southampton vs Aston Villa
A gut-wrenching last minute loss saw Villa lose the chance to put another point between them and the drop. Thanks to some fortuitous results, however, they remain in 17th and safe, for now. Next up is a trip to Southampton, in what is now surely a must-win game (when have we heard that before?).
Can Villa turn their fortunes around?
Southampton – W L W L L
Aston Villa – L D W L L
Ralph Hasenhüttl on how to win this game
“It’s a big, big, game. They have had a good turnaround after our last game, when we won there in a good way, and then they changed their shape and now they play differently and are better organised.
“We will need every supporter, every voice, to get an atmosphere where they feel that it’s very, very tough to get something here and this is what we try to create.
“We know what we have to look at, and the spaces that we have to use better than the last game. I think we had a few chances to score and didn’t do it – being more clinical at home would be helpful and defensively we must be better organised for 90 minutes, because they also have quality in front and it’s always dangerous.”
Dean Smith on team fitness
“Tyrone is fine. He had tonsillitis but he was back training on Wednesday.
“He’s a big player for us so it was a big miss on Sunday. He has the qualities to be a real leader.
“Keinan Davis will start training on Monday, John McGinn has been running on the Alter-G and will be looking to run on the grass at the weekend, but we’re taking it day-by-day.”
On Southampton’s home record
“Their home record hasn’t been great. They seem to have prospered away from home this season.
“Their head coach himself has said it has been tough to play at home. There has been an awful lot of pressure on the first 15 minutes of games.
“There is an expectation on them and the players have not handled that expectation as well as they could have.
“But we have to concentrate on ourselves. We have to make sure we put that pressure onto Southampton and their supporters.
“Hopefully that is something we can play on and if we play to the capabilities we have got we can be a match for anyone.”
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Southampton’s preferred formation this season has been a classic flat 4-4-2. The prolific Danny Ings is usually joined by Shane Long, with Nathon Redmond and Stuart Armstrong flanking them. Jan Bednarek and Jack Stephens partner each other in defence.
Their average possession this season has been 47.8%, while their overall pass success rate sits at 71.7. These stats together suggest that while they don’t get dominated in games, they do struggle to find and maintain a foothold in them.
They have scored 32 goals from 37.50 xG, which implies that they are capable of creating a solid amount of high quality chances, but they don’t always manage to make the most of them. Adding the fact that Ings has scored 15 of them, the situation starts to look like a delicately balanced house of cards for Southampton.
Danny Ings’ personal xG of 10.25 further highlights his importance to the team. It is an over-performance of 4.75 xG, which on a personal level is highly commendable. However, for the rest of the team, that means they have scored 17 goals from 27.25 xG – meaning players other than Ings should have scored 10 more than they have with the chances they have made.
Meanwhile, their defence has so far shipped 48 goals from an xGA (expected goals against) of 39.04, meaning they have conceded eight more goals than they should have from chances their opponents have made. As a defensive unit, they have made seven total errors leading to goals, four of which have come from their preferred centre backs. This suggests they do not cope well under sustained pressure, despite actually doing enough most of the time to prevent goals.
It seems, then, that the key to beating Southampton is to press hard and cut out passing lanes to Ings. Do that, and Villa have a chance of winning this one.
One to Watch
Jack-of-all-trades midfielder James Ward-Prowse sits behind the strikers and is very much the driving force for most of Southampton’s good work.
Defensively, he makes 2.5 tackles and 1.2 interceptions per game. Offensively, he has six goal contributions including four goals, making him the team’s second highest scorer. He also provides 1.6 key passes per game and boasts a respectable passing accuracy of 77.7%.
Truly, he is the engine that powers the team.
Southampton 2-3 Aston Villa – 04-12-2013
A tightly contested match ultimately decided by Fabian Delph’s 80th minute goal.
Aston Villa 1-3 Southampton – 21-12-2019
Jack Grealish grabbed a late consolation goal after Ings scored two, charitably allowing somebody else to have a go at scoring for a change in between. This was meant to be a golden opportunity for Villa to move up the table and out of sight of their rivals, but instead it is Southampton who have managed to do that.
How it could play out
Like Grealish for Villa, it is beyond any sort of doubt who the real threat in the Southampton squad is. This match is shaping up to be a clash between two sides defined by a talismanic player – and who has the better supporting cast?
Aside from the six point gap, there is little to seperate them. No team has conceded more goals than Villa (50), but Southampton are the next closest (48), level with Norwich. On the flip side, Villa’s 34 goals scored is the most out of any team in the bottom half of the table, with Southampton having managed only two less.
This is an evenly contested match, then – and Villa will be going into it with a different striker, one who perhaps better suits the style they want to play. Samatta has shown his worth already with his clever runs, aerial ability and all-round centre forward play. He did everything but score against Spurs, although it could be argued that he caused the own goal from Alderweireld.
Southampton are undoubtedly lesser opposition. The new boy looks like he has settled into the physicality of the league already, although it is still early days, and perhaps Southampton will provide the ideal stage for him to fully demonstrate what he’s capable of.
The Saints have the worst home record of any team in the league, with 11 points – If Samatta really is the real deal, he will be licking his lips in anticipation.
A potential boost for Villa is the fact that Nathan Redmond, one of Southampton’s key players, is likely to miss the game. He is second to Ward-Prowse in terms of creativity for the team, providing 1.2 key passes as well as his three goals this season, making him their third highest scorer. He more than anyone else in the team relieves pressure from Ward-Prowse.
Villa are of course still without John McGinn, however, and his temporary replacement has not filled the hole he has left in the team. Villa’s midfield still looks suspect, and it is hard to say who should be starting in it.
Luiz and Nakamba, the defensive duo? Luiz and Hourihane, who can both provide magic? Should Drinkwater be given another chance to start, or are his chances running out?
This will be an evenly matched game. Both sides have their personal demons – frankly, the victor will be the one with the smaller monkey on their back.
Southampton 1-2 Aston Villa
The bottom line is that Villa needs to start winning regularly if they plan on surviving. They’ll go into this game knowing how important three points are, and how few more games against opponents of similar quality are left. Labelling any game as a must-win seems like desperation, but at this point, that is exactly what this game is.