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Villa's defensive midfield is key against Southampton

An impact in the centre of the park must be made by Aston Villa if they are to have any hope of winning a difficult match away to Southampton.

Carlos Sánchez could be the key man for Aston Villa
Carlos Sánchez could be the key man for Aston Villa
Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Villa have conceded a lot of sloppy goals this season. When you've allowed 27 (joint-third most in the league), there are bound to be a fair share of ugly ones.. While some of this blame undoubtedly falls upon goalkeeper Brad Guzan and his backline that includes Kieran Richardson and Alan Hutton, they aren't responsible for all of the miscues at the back.

Defending as a unit is something that brought success for Rémi Garde's Lyon side. Everyone has to contribute. The new boss praised Jordan Ayew's work rate this week, as well as mentioning that "he's scoring." Would Ayew be better served playing alongside a target man that could nod the ball down to him? There are two options with Libor Kozák and Rudy Gestede both available, and their size also means they can help out when defending set pieces.

Presumably, Garde sticks with the 4-5-1 until Villa are inevitably down late in the match at which time he throws on an additional centre forward. For this to work, the wingers must be some of the hardest working players on the pitch. Especially so if the Villans are to have more of an attacking presence against Southampton, who won't let Villa boss possession like last time against Watford (66 percent).

Jordan Veretout is enjoying an extended run in the team, and is starting to settle in. Idrissa Gana was solid before he tired and was replaced, completing 64 out of 70 passes and making four interceptions. Carlos Sánchez needs to be in there to anchor the midfield and help protect the backline.

Scott Sinclair should keep his spot on the left wing. Leandro Bacuna might be worth a shot on the right of midfield, if only because of his work rate. Carles Gil is someone that probably needs to be playing every match, but if he isn't able to go for 90 minutes it's not easy to start him.

Defensively, we're stuck with Richardson at left back. Hopefully Jores Okore gets a chance to play alongside Micah Richards, provided Richards isn't shifted out to right back. He really should be, as the attacking potential of Villa's captain, combined with his work rate that is required of a fullback, may be the spark this team is missing. That means either Ciaran Clark or Joleon Lescott will occupy the left centre back position, as I refuse to believe Tiago Ilori exists until he starts for the first team.

Regardless of which players take to the pitch for Villa, they'll have to be at the top of their game to stop Southampton's attack. Bitter memories still linger of Sadio Mané's three minute hat trick last spring, and Graziano Pellé is a dangerous frontman in his own right. Sánchez sitting deep could help to protect the backline, provided fellow midfielders Gana and Veretout do due diligence. Saying it's a team game and everyone needs to contribute may seem obvious, but it really is. When mental errors are made and the shape of the team is bent out of position, good teams find ways to finish passing moves with the ball in the back of the net.

The Saints defensive unit is stout too, with summer signing Virgil van Dijk doing more than his fair share, and developing into a star. One positive may be that Ronald Koeman's side was thoroughly dismantled in the League Cup by Liverpool on Wednesday, 6-1. However, the Reds only had six shots on target, with all of them finding their way past Maarten Steklenburg. If only Villa had such luck.

Possible Lineups:

Southampton (4-2-3-1): Maarten Steklenburg; Cédric Soares, José Fonte, Virgil van Dijk, Ryan Bertrand; Victor Wanyama, Steven Davis; James Ward-Prowse, Sadio Mané, Dušan Tadić; Graziano Pellè.

Aston Villa (4-1-4-1): Brad Guzan; Alan Hutton, Micah Richards, Ciaran Clark, Kieran Richardson; Carlos Sánchez; Leandro Bacuna, Jordan Veretout, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Scott Sinclair; Jordan Ayew.

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