The inevitable demotion of Aston Villa has finally been confirmed with four matches to spare, and the first of those sees them take on a Southampton team that needs points to remain in contention for a European place.
From a very early stage this season, there was little doubting Aston Villa’s fate as a squad with varying levels of experience has looked well below the standard required to compete in the Premier League. They have lacked intensity, application and indeed quality as a nine-game losing streak has underlined their inferiority, leaving much of the attention to veer towards the unity that does at least seem to exist within the stands, albeit in the form of protest.
With two permanent managers having parted company with the club this season at has been left to Eric Black to oversee the final nail being hammered into the coffin, and it arrived at Manchester United last weekend, where some late chances nearly saw them emerge with a shock share of the spoils. While no club has the right to say that they are too big to go down, the manner of Villa’s demise this season has been very sad, and the objective now is to plot a way in which to bounce back.
In their quest for a top-six finish, Southampton are unlikely to show a great deal of mercy to the beleaguered hosts and come into the game playing well. As a result, their frustration was palpable as they could only manage a draw at Everton in their most recent outing despite dominating the majority of the game. Twice Ronald Koeman’s team were frustrated by the woodwork, and in the end they had to come from behind as Sadio Mane finished off an intricate passing move.
Dusan Tadic was the top performer on Merseyside as he showcased his fine range of passing and continually linked up well with Shane Long, whose intelligent runs in behind were not rewarded. Whatever happens between now and the end of the season it has been another very good year for the Saints as in spite of more upheaval within the playing squad and a slightly inauspicious start in terms of results, they are set to replicate the achievements of last season.
Ciaran Clark and Kieran Richardson are both doubts for a Villa side that has been thrown into further turmoil as Gabriel Agbonlahor has been suspended by the club while defender Jores Okore is refusing to play.
Southampton pair Jose Fonte and Victor Wanyama should be fit despite requiring hospital treatment following the game at Everton, but Charlie Austin and Florin Gardos are still out with knee injuries.
Last Meeting: Southampton came into the meeting in November 2014 in third place, but never really the heights as they had to come from behind to earn a point at Villa Park. A mix-up at the back allowed Aston Villa to take the lead in the first half with their only real chance of the game, but despite lacking in end product for much of the evening, Southampton did find a leveller as Nathaniel Clyne powered home with nine minutes left.