Aston Villa haven't won a game since September 13th. They have one point from their last seve games, are one point ahead of the relegation zone, and are one of three clubs to have a double-digit-negative goal difference. Things aren't going so well, in other words. Today they'll host a Southampton side that were playing in League One when Villa's downward slide began and are now quite clearly in an infinitely better and more sustainable position.
There's a lot to admire about the Saints; they've endured a great deal of turmoil at the top, they've lost more talent since winning promotion than Villa have had on the squad at any one time over the same period, and they've just gotten better. They were positively raided in the offseason, losing several of their best players as well as their manager, and they've gotten even better. They're second in the league and though it seems unlikely that they'll be able to stay in such a high position all season long, it's difficult to see the season ending without their having taken a major step forward and announcing their arrival as a club to be taken seriously in the coming years. And they've done it all without spending at an unsustainable level.
Those are all reasons to respect them. And if you're anything like me, those are also reasons to completely and totally loathe them. Few things about last season were more enjoyable than going to St. Mary's and beating them 3-2 despite having just 22% of the possession, completing only 52% of their passes, and being outshot 21-6. It was an absolute garbage performance by Villa, probably the worst of any win they've had in the Paul Lambert era, and it was wonderful in every way.
Is any of that rational? It absolutely is not. Is all of that petty? It absolutely is! But when you don't have a lot of hope for the future, you take what you can get. The problem, of course, is that winning games in that manner isn't really sustainable. The bigger problem is that Villa don't seem capable of winning games any other way. When it actually works it's amazing. But it usually doesn't, and when it's the only proven strategy a team has, it means they're going to lose a lot of games in pretty embarrassing fashion.
That's the way it is for many of the clubs near the bottom, so it's not like Villa are alone in this. But Villa don't really have the same excuses a lot of those clubs-including Southampton, not so long ago-can fall back on. Southampton are an example of a club doing nearly everything right and performing well above their means and reasonable expectation; Villa are the polar opposite. That's why beating them would feel so, so good. It's also why it would ultimately be so, so hollow.