Aston Villa travelled to Southampton today in a match where a point would have been a good result. Then, in the 15th minute, Gabby Agbonlahor scored his first league goal of the season and gave Villa an unexpected lead. I say unexpected because Villa were playing a 5-3-2 and absolutely giving up the possession battle, to the tune of 78-22 around the 20-minute mark. I wasn't around to watch at that point, so I emailed our writers and asked what was up. Aaron gave this helpful response:
Southampton isn't great at unlocking defenses, and they push tons of guys forward. Villa's playing a 5-3-2, just kinda hanging out while Southampton bounce it around and then pouncing when they get the ball.
And that seemed to be Villa's strategy for the entire match. When the final whistle blew, Villa had managed just 23% possession, but none of that really matters because they made the most of their ~23 minutes with the ball.
When the second half kicked off, Villa were without Ron Vlaar (who picked up a calf injury) and it immediately showed. Southampton's Jay Rodriguez scored in the 48th minute. Villa kept at their plan, but it looked as if they needed a spark up front. So Paul Lambert had Christian Benteke (who didn't start) ready to come in for Libor Kozak at the next break in play around the 64th minute. Kozak decided that he wanted off quickly, so he made the break in play himself by scoring a lovely, chaotic goal at that very same time. The ball was swung into the box by Karim El Ahmadi, and it was placed perfectly for Kozak to nudge it in with his head:
In true Aston Villa fashion, however, they gave up the lead a mere four minutes later when Southampton put together one of the better team goals I've ever seen:
What strikes me as interesting about that is that there really isn't a single Villa player to blame there. Every part of that goal worked perfectly for the Saints and it was just beautifully done.
Anyone watching the match, though, knew that another goal was in the offing. Things were just too free-flowing for this to end 2-2. It seemed as if Southampton would pull out the winner, but then Fabian Delph was suddenly sprinting up the pitch by himself and then he was 25 yards out and then his leg was swinging and oh god it's all so beautiful just watch it:
GOD THAT IS WONDERFUL.
And guess what? Villa didn't give up the lead again. IT ENDED 2-3! That's not for lack of trying though. The refs added 5 minutes of stoppage time, and then with about 30 seconds of that left, Andi Weimann started a fight with a bad tackle. He got a yellow. Dani Osvaldo got a yellow for retaliating. Then Rickie Lambert got one on Southampton's final effort for barreling into Brad Guzan.
I'm sorry if this is a bit coherent, but here's the long and short of it: Villa barely had the ball, but when they did, magic happened. And there were yellow cards. And Southampton had some fun too. And this was probably the most fun match we've had to watch in years.
Let us know what you thought in the comments. I'll be babbling about this to anyone who will listen for days!