By Jonathan Parkin
A decent enough performance, but gut-wrenching loss, against Tottenham gave many fans hope of a good showing against Southampton. Dean Smith made two changes from the side that took on Spurs, with Drinkwater and Engels dropping to the bench, and Mings and Nakamba taking their place. This game was considered by many a ‘make or break’ match, with a good result vital in keeping the Villans away from the drop zone.
While against Spurs, Villa played some of the best football they’d played all season, against Saints the opposite could be said. Shane Long put the hosts ahead early on, with his traditional goal against the Villans, and the chances kept coming.
Villa failed to have a single shot until a good while after the half time break. Consistently losing every second ball in the midfield, hitting passes short, and even the reliable Pepe Reina shanking passes to opposition players, there was little reaction.
It’s hard to put any kind of positive spin on the display, which has to go down as one of the worst in recent times. Jack Grealish didn’t get on the ball often enough, and when he did, he looked far from his best. A change in formation after 58 minutes provided a bit of impetus for the boys in claret and blue, but moves still continued to break down in the final third.
Southampton did their best to give Villa a way back into the game, by missing chance after chance after chance. Despite this Villa only mustered up four shots in the 90 minutes, compared to Southampton’s 28. This will have got many of the Villa faithful thinking the Villa are destined for the drop. One thing is for sure, if the performances continue to be this bad, ‘Yazz’ got it wrong, because the only way is down.
Pepe Reina – 6
Pepe Reina did make several good saves to keep Villa in the game, but two or three of the chances leading to them were created by the Spaniard’s distribution. While usually Reina’s passing is pinpoint and accurate, his pass completion was just 54%. Some of the ball’s he played were just downright dangerous. He attempted 22 long balls in the 90 minutes, six were accurate, though this wasn’t helped by the extremely windy conditions.
Frederic Guilbert – 4
There was a worrying amount of strapping on one of Fred Guilbert’s knees. Whether this contributed to his bad performance we don’t know. That said, this was easily the Frenchman’s worst performance in a Villa shirt. Moussa Djenepo, down the Southampton left, had the beating of him every time he took the 25-year-old on.
For much of the game, he looked as if he couldn’t pass to a teammate, and he committed more fouls than anyone else. The infuriating thing was where these fouls were taking place, when Villa had pressure on Saints and could press, and the fouls just released all the pressure. He also gave the ball away five times on top of this, an awful day at the office for the full-back.
Ezri Konsa – 5
Before being substituted in the 58th minute, Ezri Konsa hardly inspired much confidence in his defensive abilities. Southampton got in time after time down the Villa right-hand side and Konsa did nothing to stop the onslaught. The 22-year-old was incredibly slow in reacting to Djenepo’s run in behind that created the opener, if he had been fully alert and less lethargic, Saints wouldn’t have gone 1-0 up.
Tyrone Mings – 6.5
Tyrone Mings was the only member of the back three that looked fully committed to the cause. Early on Mings was getting on the end of every ball into the box and heading it away, an he continued to make blocks and interceptions throughout the 90. Unfortunately for Mings, the defenders around him really let him down.
Kortney Hause – 4.5
Like Konsa, Kortney Hause was very poor defensively. He wasn’t as dominant in the air as usual, and thus the less impressive areas of his game stood out. Whenever the ball was played into the centre-backs feet it took him an age to get it under control and get it moving again. This really slowed up Villa’s play going forward and caused it to stall on multiple occasions. Hause also got himself into some real messes, including once where he tried to leave the ball for Pepe Reina, which resulted in an open goal attempt for Che Adams. Thankfully for Hause, he got back to block the former Birmingham man’s shot.
Matt Targett – 6
While on the opposite side Guilbert had a shocker, Matt Targett put in a reasonable performance. By no means was the left-back fantastic, but he was one of the main reasons that Villa had any attacks at all. He put in six crosses, though no one was ever there to meet them, and fed the ball into Jack Grealish whenever he could. The Villans looked at their most threatening on the one occasion that Grealish, Douglas Luiz and Targett linked up in the final third.
Douglas Luiz – 4.5
After some really good performances from Douglas Luiz in recent weeks, he regressed massively in this game. The Villa midfield was cut through easily by Saints, and Douglas made one tackle in the entire game. In the first half Luiz played some real hospital passes, which allowed saints to grab the ball back and keep up the pressure on the Villa goal.
Marvelous Nakamba – 5
Once again, Marvelous Nakamba tried his hardest to stop the opposition driving through the Villa midfield, but he was fighting a losing battle. The Zimbabwean made three interceptions and four clearances in the time he was on the pitch, but the midfield still looked like it wasn’t there.
Anwar El Ghazi – 6
Anwar El Ghazi looked pretty dangerous until he was poked in the eye and had to go off. He had the beating of Ryan Bertrand once or twice, and the loss of the Dutchman definitely hurt Villa’s chances of getting back into the game. Was the challenge on El Ghazi a soft one? Should he have shook it off? It’s tempting to take points off, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Ally Samatta – 6
Ally Samatta was powerless to do anything as he watched the players behind him bumble about for the whole game. He got one good chance and put it away, unfortunately for the Villans he was offside. His hold up play was good when the ball actually got to him, but the Tanzania international was starved of service.
Jack Grealish © – 5.5
It was easy to tell that Jack Grealish was frustrated with how the team was playing from very early on. He didn’t help things by having an uncharacteristically bad game. Southampton doubled up on the Villa skipper, and he had the ball robbed from his feet in several instances. His passing was loose and he simply didn’t look as dangerous as in other games. When Grealish can’t carry the team when it’s playing badly, it’s not a good sign.
Off the Bench
Trezeguet (27) – 5
It was another poor game for Trezeguet. The Egyptian ran about, but didn’t really do much. The opportunities on the break that fell the way of him, he failed to make the most of, and his lack of pace in attack really hurts Villa when they try to counter.
Conor Hourihane (58) – 5.5
Villa had a bit more about them when Conor Hourihane initially came on. This soon faded however, and the Irishman wasted Villa’s best attack by blasting the ball into the legs of the Southampton defender, when Grealish was free on his left.
Borja Baston (80) – n/a
Borja Baston was an extra body up the pitch late on. He closed down the Saints defenders well once, but failed to contribute anything else of note.
Dean Smith – 4
While Dean Smith stood on the touchline in the first half, looking like he was chewing a wasp, it was easy to think ‘they’ll be better in the second half’. Smith’s fury has little effect, and it was much the same. Deano can say he’s disappointed with the result and performance, but he has consistently failed to get the players up and ready for games against the teams around Villa in the table.
Fruitless good performances against the big six don’t matter, if you can’t perform against the teams around you, you will be relegated. Eventually the games will run out and three teams will be relegated. Unless Smith can pull out some more inspiration from somewhere, Villa look as if they will be one of those three teams.