It’s been four straight losses and, barring an abrupt turnaround in form and attitude, a fifth could see Aston Villa and Dean Smith part ways. Southampton are a good (2-0-1 over the last three, with 1-0 wins over Watford and Southampton and drawing against Burnley 2-2), but nowhere approaching great, team. The kind of team that Villa should beat given the talent in the squad, but the current run of form for the Villans places this game very much in the toss-up column.
Saints players to watch out for will be the one-time Villa transfer target James Ward-Prowse in the midfield, Valentino Livramento at right-back, and Mohammed Salisu at center-back. Che Adams and Adam Armstrong make up the Southampton strike force, with both players registering a goal a piece on the season.
On the Villa side of things, it could go a variety of different directions. The safe bet is that the Villans will line up in a 4-3-3 and Emi Martinez will be in goal, but things are less certain elsewhere on the pitch. The back four should feature Tyrone Mings at center-back after riding the bench for a good chunk of the West Ham match. He’ll likely partner with Axel Tuanzebe, with Matt Target to his left and Matty Cash to his right. Ashley Young could start in place of Targett, but my preference is Targett for the time being. Things are no less concrete in the midfield. Marvelous Nakamba should start in place of an injured Douglas Luiz, with John McGinn and either Jacob Ramsey or Carney Chukwuemeke. The chances of Chukwuemeke starting are admittedly slim, but he needs to see more time on the pitch. Further up the field, Ollie Watkins should start as the lone striker, with Danny Ings out via injury, while Leon Bailey flanks his left and Emi Buendia his right.
PREDICTION: Aston Villa are very capable of winning this game and Southampton are equally capable of being beaten, but that betrays the current form of each squad. As a fan, this is the worst kind of gut-wrenching given what’s apparently on the line. I doubt I’m the only person that genuinely thinks Dean Smith has been fantastic for Aston Villa. A loss in this one and the writing is already on the board. Every now and then as a fan you get a gut feeling, sometimes good and sometimes otherwise. My gut is telling me the latter for Friday’s match. As much as I’d hate to see it, Southampton 1-0 Villa.