Aston Villa vs Southampton; a festive six pointer.

Saturday marks Villa’s first cup final in the next two weeks, and it is essential that we kick off this vital run with a win against the Saints. Anything else would only exacerbate the gap that is beginning to appear between Aston Villa and the teams hoping to avoid a relegation battle. Everton currently sit 3 points ahead of the Villa on 18 points but if they do get Ancelotti on board then this will likely change.

After three league losses in a row, there may not be a better Christmas present than returning home to host a club lower down on the table when you’re already sitting in seventeenth, and that’s what Villa are getting as 27/20 favourites over the Saints Saturday afternoon.

For Villa, form does not make good viewing. Our league form (or lack of) actually stretches back further than the three games; since Targett’s last minute winner against Brighton, we have 4 points from 8 games. This run did involved a string of challenging games; Dean Smith’s side played 7 of the top 8 teams in the league during this period; the only win came against Newcastle who now sit in 11th. As a result, whilst this form could have an impact on the players confidence (and has certainly changed the mood of fans) it is perhaps less concerning when the difficulty of our matches is accounted for.

Southampton go into this match level on points with Villa but with a lesser goal difference. They are also out of form having lost their last two games; against West Ham and Newcastle respectively. This brings me onto a vital difference between the sides that does give me some confidence for Saturday and this is Southampton’s record against teams that Villa have achieved good results against. In games against Newcastle, Everton and West Ham, Saints came away with 0 points; Villa got 7 from the same set of fixtures and outplayed all of the above.

Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side are good on the road though, winning four games away from home in all competitions this year. Danny Ings has notched 9 goals so far this season and is a clear sign of the value that a proven Premier League striker can be to a struggling side. It will be vital to limit Ings chances infront of net if we are to get the result we so desperately need. Ings’ form is in stark contrast to that of Wesley, who has 4 goals thus far. A few bad performances have seen Villa fans begin to pile pressure on the newlly signed Brazilian striker; many would even prefer Kodjia starting despite the fact that he could barely get a kick in the Championship last season. Kodjia was at the double midweek before Wesley slotted home with minuted to go; it will be fascinating to see which striker Smith opts for on Saturday. In all honesty though, I don’t hold much faith in either making the difference; it is likely that we will have to rely on our midfield once again.

Villa should boss the game by taking control in the middle of the park; we have midfielders worthy of a far higher league position and they have impressed so far this campaign. Southampton usually line up in a 4-4-2 with Ward-Prowse and Højbjerg in the middle. The former is basically a right footed Conor Hourihane and the latter is yet to bag a goaol or assist this season. Individually, our central midfielders should have this battle all tied up, especially with Grealish floating inside to get involved, and that is before tactics and shape are given impetus. Our midfield three also gives us a numerical advantage in the middle of the park; making this count will likely be a deciding factor on Saturday.

Starting Lineup

In terms of injuries, Villa will be without Mings and Davis whilst Southampton’s Boufal remains a doubt. Romeu makes his return to fitness this weekend but it is unlikely that he will make the starting XI.

With injuries in mind, here is how I would line up this weekend:

With strikers, I believe form is virtually everything and Wesley has looked incredibly short on this; Kodjia consequently gets the nod by default as there isn’t really another option. El Ghazi narrowly pips Trezeguet to the starting place for me; both players have impressed me so far and have scored 3 goals in the process but El Ghazi has also managed to assist 4 goals and is a little more consistent.

In midfield, I would start Luiz at the base of the three ahead of Nakamba and the logic behind this is quite simply ball retention. Nakamba is fantastic at winning the ball back but he also seems pretty talented at giving it away again. Conversely, Douglas Luiz is a Rolls-Royce in the centre of the park and is technically an elite level footballer. A home game against Southampton requires a positive, attacking mentality; this midfield three (with Grealish too) certainly ticks that box.

Defensively, the loss of Mings is huge. Last week saw Hause get a start and whilst I do like Hause and saw him receive plaudits online, I find it hard to ignore the fact that both of the Blades goals came down his side. Infact, I believe Mings would have stopped the cross that led to the first goal and would have done more to put off Fleck from bagging his second of the match. I have been very impressed with Konsa so far and would be surprised if he is not starting.

Match Prediction:

Aston Villa 3-1 Southampton

I’m hopeful that we will simply have too much for Southampton in midfield on Saturday. This was the case against similarly able opponents this season and the home advantage should further aid this.

Please send in your Lineups, score predictions and thoughts on Twitter.

Thanks for reading and UTV!

By Callum Richardson

Chelsea vs. Villa: Across The Dugout Preview

After Sunday’s hard fought point at Old Trafford, it’s a quick turnover and another tough away trip to Chelsea and Stamford Bridge. Old Trafford hadn’t been a happy hunting ground over the years, and Stamford Bridge hasn’t always been one either; both of Villa’s worst Premier League defeats have come at the hands of Chelsea (losing 7-1 and 8-0 on those occasions), but it’s equally been the sight of some notable wins (our last victory being a 3-1 victory back in 2011) and some hugely entertaining draws (3-3 also in 2011, and 4-4 on Boxing Day 2007). Whatever the result, the common theme is goals.

And given Villa and Chelsea’s combined abilities to score goals this season and play some entertaining attacking football, that seems unlikely to change this time around. In head to head terms, Dean Smith has a comprehensive advantage over Frank Lampard, leading 3-0 as things stand – a 3-0 and 4-0 victory over Derby before the 2-1 victory in May which brought us back to the Premier League. Lampard will feel he has a score to settle this time, and with his impressive youth centered team he has all the weapons at hand to strike back. Including our top scorer from last season (and the previous 40+ seasons) Tammy Abraham – an injury doubt (thankfully) for this clash.

Needless to say we wield our own threats, and with Grealish growing into this division with every passing game, and the team continuing to gel, there’s more than enough reasons for us to believe we can go and cause Chelsea problems if we can raise our levels of performance once again and seek to build on the 4 points from the last 2 games since returning from the international break.

As the old adage goes, ‘there’s no easy games’, but some are certainly tougher than others, and given Chelsea’s excellent – albeit slightly unexpected – start to this season, this can be filed under the ‘tougher’ category. Chelsea have played an exciting brand of energetic football, with a neat blend of youth players with a point to prove and experienced heads helping lead them. Captained by ‘Mr Consistency’ – César Azpilicueta, and fired up the table by the goals of our hero from last term, Tammy Abraham, Chelsea find themselves firmly established in this season’s Top Four battle.

Villa are going to have to rally apply themselves to the task at hand here, and show that they can learn from the disappointments of leads taken and leads lost against the big names in this division (Spurs, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United) this season. Whilst Sunday was a sign of maybe turning a corner in those fortunes with us fighting back to geta draw after surrendering another lead, the pattern of scoring then conceding continued. It’s a problem we have to resolve, because the fact is we’re looking down rather than up in league table terms at the moment because of it. It’s been said on a few occasions this season but if we could shore up defensively and cut out our lackadaisical and laissez-faire moments at the back and combine that with our healthy goalscoring ability we would become a very decent side and begin to climb the table quickly.

This may seem like another tricky week of fixtures, but looking at it from a glass half full perspective, it’s a great opportunity to show what we can do and the problems we can cause any team. We’ve come a long way very quickly under Smith, and sometimes we might forget where we were just in February alone, our rise has been rapid, but we have shown that we can belong back in the Premier League, but now is the time to try and kick on and show that we can really do it for 90 minutes against the best sides in the league this season.

We’ve pushed Liverpool all the way, we were close against Spurs and we should have had more from Arsenal and Manchester United, but we can’t feel sorry for ourselves, we just need to build on the positives and believe we can get to the next step and beat theose teams. West Ham showed that Chelsea aren’t unbeatable – as impressive as they’ve been so far – and hopefully we can be the second team in Claret and Blue to cause them problems this week.

I said at the start of this week, that getting draws out of these three fixtures would be positive and I still hold to that. Smith will play to win as that’s his mentality (and I like it), but the realist in me still thinks a point would be decent from a good Chelsea side. My prediction is for another 2-2 draw, but I’m hoping for a defining away win to show that we’re developing and adapting to this league.

By Jamie Yapp

UTV

Match Preview: Aston Villa vs West Ham

It’s been a tough start to life back in the Premier League for Villa so far this season. One win and three losses – although one of these would have been a draw, had we not seen one of the worst refereeing decisions in Premier League history – sees Villa currently sitting in 18th place, just inside the relegation zone.

It’s no time for panic though. One win would see us significantly climb up the table and would supply the team with a lot of confidence. And what a time it would be to get it!

Read More »