Southampton vs Aston Villa
By Dean Gregory
A bitterly disappointing result against Burnley leaves Aston Villa entrenched in mid-table coming into the trip to Southampton. Only goal difference separates the clubs at the moment. If both teams have designs on gatecrashing the European places this season, the result of this match would carry some weight to such ambitions.
Southampton – D D W L L
Aston Villa – D L L W L
Ralph Hassenhuttl on Aston Villa
“Even if we weren’t on level points we would want to win this game. I think Villa have shown us what a strong season they have had and they have played one less game than we have.
“They are a good team, a good side, good players. We played one of our best games against them in the first game [a 4-3 away win]. For 60 minutes we were fantastic. In the end, we defended not so good but it important for us to have a few more alternatives. We have players back so we can now go for it with the right game plan.
“They made a few very good signings in the summer and they spent a lot of money. They are making the team better now, definitely. They have Grealish and other players who can hurt you, they’re a high-quality team who have had some spectacular results this season.”
Dean Smith on Burnley result
“It felt like we threw three points away – that was my emotion after the game. You come back, you reflect, you review the game, and we were very good in the game and we deserved to win the game.
“I’d have been disappointed coming away with a point. Sometimes you have games like that, where you’re so much better than the opposition for large periods.We didn’t take the game away from them as well as we should have. As I said, it could have been 3-0 at half-time and probably should have been.
“My biggest disappointment was the goal we conceded from the corner. We have to defend that better and I spoke to the players about that.”
Southampton use a flat 4-4-2 formation with Che Adams and Danny Ings partnering up front, Stuart Armstrong, James Ward-Prowse, Oriol Romeu and Moussa Djenepo in midfield and a defensive lineup of Kyle Walker-Peters, Jan Bednarek, Jannik Vestergaard and Ryan Bertrand.
Southampton average 53.1% possession and 79.4% passing accuracy so far this season. They are capable of controlling games against lesser opposition, but are able to cope with absorbing pressure when they need to.
They are set-piece specialists – of the 27 goals they have scored, just 15 have come from open play with the remaining 12 a result of one set-piece or another. Excluding penalties, this equates to 10 goals from 54 attempts, an 18.5% success rate. Preventing free kicks in dangerous areas is key to beating them.
Those 27 goals have come from a total of 19.03 xG, a significant over-performance of 7.97 xG. This is most likely because set-piece situations tend to result in low xG chances (with the exception of penalties); normally such a drastic over-performance is unsustainable, but while they continue their impressive set-piece ability, it could continue. It further highlights the importance of not defending recklessly against them.
Defensively they have conceded 24 goals from 25.13 xGA. They are a capable unit when under pressure, often proving to be difficult to break down. They are notably weak in the air, which is perhaps their only significant weakness.
Southampton are a well balanced side that are tipped by many as outside top six contenders. They sit just in the bottom half of the table at the moment, but they are the type of team that could easily go on a good run of form at any time.
One to Watch
Southampton have established themselves as set-piece specialists, and their chief dead ball expert, James Ward-Prowse, is key to that. His nine goal contributions (four goals and five assists) is second only to Danny Ings in the squad. He provides 1.6 key passes per game, 1.9 tackles per game and boasts a passing accuracy of 86.9%.
Southampton 2-3 Aston Villa – 04-12-2013
Gabby Agbonlahor, Libor Kozak and Fabian Delph were on target the last time Villa beat Southampton on their home turf.
Aston Villa 3-4 Southampton – 01-11-2020
A spirited fightback came much too late as Southampton took away all three points. Villa fans will be painfully aware of Ward-Prowse’s ability over a dead ball with two brilliant direct free kick goals and one additional free kick assist. Danny Ings notched the fourth with another brilliant strike, bringing their total xG up to just 1.00. Two of the four goals were nominated for Goal Of The Month in November.
An interesting fact for some – Jack Grealish’s last minute strike was perhaps the best in the game, with an xG of 0.01. It was truly a fantastic game for anyone other than a Villa fan.
How it could play out
Both teams are in a very similar situation coming into this game. Separated only by goal difference in the table and both in a rock patch of form at the moment, this will be a crucial game where each team will be looking to get their top six bid back on track.
Villa’s capture of Morgan Sanson may have come at just the right time, then. At first glance, without him having pulled on a Claret and Blue kit yet, he seems a potential rotation option for all three midfield spots; he is able to break up play and pick a pass like Luiz, he can run forever and carry a ball like McGinn and he has good vision going forward and an eye for goal like Barkley.
It seems very unlikely Sanson will start against Southampton. Luiz and McGinn have been playing very well over the last few games, the second half of the Burnley game aside. One game in isolation should not define a player’s ability however, and it would seem unfair to drop either one of them based solely on that.
On the other hand, Barkley is still on the road to full fitness after a significant injury layoff, something that has been starkly clear in his last few outings. He is yet to return to his best, and if anyone is likely to give way for Sanson it will probably be him, for now at least. This would be ideal for Sanson; Barkley is a loaned player, and if he can prove that he is a fit and ready replacement for him then securing Barkley’s permanent signature in the summer will be less of a pressing concern.
Besides, the prospect of two McGinn-like players in the same team should worry just about every midfield in the league.
Southampton have proven themselves to be a difficult side to deal with this season, with a genuine ability to pull a result out of nowhere. Villa will need relentless tenacity to force them back, with extreme discipline to not give away fouls in danger areas. Free kicks are their strongest weapon by far, as Villa learned the hard way in the reverse fixture. Don’t allow them enough of those and they will be a much more comfortable prospect.
Southampton 1-2 Aston Villa
Despite only winning one in their last six in all competitions, predicting a loss for Villa is still difficult, given they have proven themselves capable of going toe-to-toe with every team in the league. This is another game they should be able to win – they outplayed Southampton in the reverse fixture, and if they can learn from the mistakes they made then, they can do so again. It won’t be easy, though.