By Jonathan Parkin
The phrase ‘relegation six-pointer’ was legitimately banded about before the kick-off, with Villa sitting perilously above the relegation zone and Southampton just below them, by goal difference.
It was a game Villa could ill-afford to lose, considering the psychological blow of dropping into the relegation zone, instantly three points adrift.
Ralph Hassenhuttl’s men had recovered somewhat since their 9-0 loss to Leicester over a month ago, and Danny Ings came into the tie in hot goalscoring form. Dean Smith was looking for some kind of bounce back after a dire performance against a hard-battling Sheffield United team.
The League Cup Quarter-Final against Liverpool’s youth provided some relief and confidence. In reality however, this game was much more important. Winning in this would provide a springboard for the next two relegation scraps against Norwich and Watford.
The Villans managed to completely not turn up, in what was one of the worst performances to grace Villa Park in a good while. Minus Jack Grealish, I don’t think a single one of the players could genuinely be happy with how they played.
The midfield was far too open, and certain players floated through the game as if it were a friendly and not a turning point game in the season. The defence was bullied and consistently beaten by a hungry Southampton frontline. The injury to John McGinn and the inept refereeing display didn’t help matters, but that’s no excuse for the limp excuse of an effort put in by the players.
Much work is needed to improve, but it’ll be a surprise if Villa win all six points from the next two games.
Tom Heaton- 6
Tom Heaton made a few simple saves and his distribution was consistent. The issue was most of what he had to do was picking the ball out of his net. Heaton must be feeling very let down by the defence in front of him.
Frederic Guilbert- 4
Frederic Guilbert was erratic. He was over committed when bombing forward far too often as well as being weak in the air against Long and Ings. He also committed more fouls than any other member of the defence, showing that he was lacking in the tackling department too. He needs to learn to not commit forward as much when he has a defensively weak winger like El Ghazi in front of him.
Bjorn Engels- 4
Bjorn Engels was destroyed by Ings and Long all the way through the game. He was ineffective in the air when he needed to be and his lack of pace helped contribute to the scoring of the first goal.
Kortney Hause- 4.5
Kortney Hause was slightly better than Engels, but still not very good. His passing was below his standard of last season, mainly one dimensional aimlessly hoofs of the ball up the pitch, when no one offered him a simple pass. His aerial ability is decent and markedly superior to Engels, but he still wasn’t effective enough at getting the ball clear when Saints pumped it long.
Matt Targett- 4
Much like Guilbert on the other side, Matt Targett was particularly erratic. He had the poorest passing completion of any of the defence and the Villa faithful didn’t even get to see the positive attacking side of his game.
Douglas Luiz- 3
When he has space and the team is on the front foot, Douglas Luiz is a good player to have in the team. When everyone needs to dig in and defend, and show some grit, he is unbelievably ineffective. The Brazilian is still having a hard time adjusting from the amount of time he had on the ball in Spain, and it’s half way through the season. Every tackle Luiz attempted was a foul, which just about sums up the defensive side of his game.
Conor Hourihane- 2.5
Someone better put some posters up to help look for an Irishman by the name of Conor Hourihane. He was last seen at Villa park at three o’clock and then disappeared. He offered nothing to stop Saints storming through the pathetically weak midfield and he couldn’t even put in a good delivery from set pieces when needed.
John Mcginn- n/a
John McGinn went off with an injured ankle after seven minutes, and it looks like it could be a long-term injury. It’s not good news for the boys in Claret and Blue, who are desperate for some inspiration. No one else in the midfield does what he does. It’s a shame because in the opening five minutes he looked really up for it.
Anwar El Ghazi- 1.5
It was pretty shocking that Dean Smith selected Anwar El Ghazi in the first place after his dismal performance against Sheffield United. This showing was somehow worse. He showed little to no effort when tracking back, leaving Guilbert stranded, and no desire to press. When he finally mustered up enough energy to get back and make a tackle just before being substituted, he gave away a foul on the edge of the Villa box. He put in one good cross in the game and tends to just run with his head down into players instead of looking up and offloading the ball.
Jack Grealish © – 7
Jack Grealish was having to do everything all by himself. It’s never a good sign when Jack is dropping between the centre-backs to collect the ball, it means the team can’t get the ball forward with any pace at all. His seven key passes and goal highlight how all the creativity in the team was coming from him. He must be feeling very frustrated right now.
Until Jonathan Kodjia came on, Wesley had very little support. He was putting in a real shift up front and it was actually one of his better games. The Southampton centre-halves were there for the taking and the Brazil international tried his best, and at times the ball was sticking to him. He really should have finished his chance early on in the first half however.
Off the Bench
Marvellous Nakamba (7) – 6.5
Marvellous Nakamba was having to run the midfield all on his own. He was putting out fires left right and centre, but he is one man at the end of the day. The midfield was weak, but that wasn’t down to a lack of effort from the Zimbabwean. He made a crucial error in passing to Ings for the third, but the ball should have been cleared much earlier before Marvellous came in and played it.
Jonathan Kodjia (55) – 6
Jonathan Kodjia actually showed a bit of desire and didn’t look too bad after he came on. He provided a bit of support for Wesley but it still wasn’t enough. The Villans attack after Kodjia came on consisted of lumps forward to Wesley and the Ivorian. It would be good to see Smith start with two up-front against Norwich.
Trezeguet (67) – 6
The substitution of Trezeguet for El Ghazi was greeted with ironic cheers from the stands, as most could see it was a much-needed change. While there is much room for improvement, Trezeguet offers effort as well as skill and if he’s allowed to start more games, he could become a real threat for Villa on the front foot. He tracks back well and has proved he has a goal in him.
Dean Smith- 5
Apart from the baffling decision to start El Ghazi over Trezeguet, I think Dean Smith got his selection mostly right. He made the right changes also, besides McGinn as that was forced, but made them much too late. There doesn’t seem to be a solid plan b for the team and though McGinn’s injury threw a spanner in the works, it shouldn’t completely cripple the team’s ability to play. Smith needs to have a bit of a rethink.
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