Aston Villa and Martin O'Neill parted ways in August of 2010, and it was apparent very shortly thereafter that a difference in philosophy was the driving force behind the split. Since that time, the club has been in a constant state of rebuilding. Roundabout the same time, Southampton was reeling thanks to an administration-related relegation all the way to League One. Now, the Saints sit above Villa in the table, and appear to have at least a theoretical path to the Premier League title.
There's no two ways about it; this sucks. Southampton is, by many estimates, the Perfect Club To Root For. They're the Oakland A's of the Premier League, and having to come to terms with the fact that they're better than you is pretty damned annoying Thing is, though, that for the moment Southampton very much is better than Aston Villa. They've made much better purchases on the transfer market, made better use of their scouting department, and just generally shown themselves to be more well equipped to overcome their financial disadvantages and take a charge towards relevance.
And the reality is, Southampton is a better team. The Saints transfer strategy makes it significantly more difficult to land a talent like Christian Benteke, but perhaps more importantly it makes it more difficult to find themselves in a position to start a player like Yacouba Sylla. (Sorry Yacouba.)
None of this is to say that Villa's current path is bad, but it is to say that Southampton's current path is better. The Saints are doing everything I've hoped to see Villa do for several years, and though they're certain to run into difficulties at some point, as of now they're hitting it out of the park. Villa's probably good enough to sneak three points out of St. Mary's, and while that would be great it wouldn't change anything on a fundamental level; Villa's piecing things together from a higher floodline, and they're doing pretty well. But Southampton has thrown caution to the wind, and they're doing much better.
Perhaps we'll look back at things in a few years and the Saints will be a modern day Portsmouth (trollolol) but it certainly doesn't seem that way; Southampton looks to be a formidable club for years to come, and their reinvention has been remarkable. What's more, it seems sustainable. It's a slightly riskier version of Villa's approach, and it's paid off in spades so far. But I'm kind of tired of talking about how awesome these guys are. Whether or not Christian Benteke was a lucky find, or whether or not the return on investment has been as high as it possibly could have, Villa's going to war with the team they have, and it's one that's capable of taking three points from Southampton.
So, in short, my message is "Southampton is a lot smarter than Villa and also probably a better team, but Villa could still win." This is a very sill sport, and team, and league.