Strikes from Ollie Watkins, Douglas Luiz, Philippe Coutinho and Danny Ings help Villa to a superb, dominant win over Southampton in the Premier League. A fantastic team performance from Steven Gerrard’s side allow for consecutive victories and clean sheets, despite first-team absences within the squad. Let’s take a look at the main talking points from an enjoyable afternoon at home...
Defensive Woes? What defensive woes?
Following the break of the team news an hour before kick-off, many Aston Villa fans were shocked and surprised to see both Lucas Digne and Ezri Konsa’s names missing from the squad sheet. The two were pictured in training photos during the week, and did not appear to pick up any niggles or concerns in the previous victory at the Amex Stadium against Brighton & Hove Albion. It is believed the pair miss out through COVID reasons, and it was Calum Chambers and Ashley Young who stepped up and started in Villa’s back four this weekend.
Naturally, many people were concerned as the ever-reliable Konsa and Digne are recognized starters in the side and felt their absence on the pitch would be felt, but the replacements were excellent, and showed they could come in and contribute when called upon.
This demonstrates the quality in depth at the club, and highlights the sheer progression the club has made over the last couple of seasons. In times past, if there was an injury to a key player, it would be drastic, and the team would be worse off and suffer as a result.
Ashley Young is a man that Steven Gerrard can rely upon, and the veteran’s solid performance at left-back this weekend supports the faith and trust from the Villa boss. Young, alongside his defensive counterparts, were ruthless at the back in the first half and forced Ralph Hasenhüttl into a half-time tactical change. The Austrian manager changed his team’s shape and replaced the struggling Mohamed Elyounoussi with wing-back Kyle Walker-Peters in an attempt to affect the game in the second showing.
Calum Chambers, partnering captain Tyrone Mings, kept the in-form duo of Ché Adams and Armando Broja quiet throughout the 90 minutes and also contributed magnificently at the other end of the pitch after sending a elegant ‘trivela’ pass through to Coutinho, who teed up Douglas Luiz for the tap-in.
The performances from the men who came in will install new-found trust and reliance into the Aston Villa fans, and if both Ezri Konsa and Lucas Digne miss the next fixture at Leeds United, they can feel comfortable knowing the replacements will fill in just fine.
Pay the money!
Ever since he made his debut in the comeback-inspiring performance at home to Manchester United in January, Philippe Coutinho has impressed each time he has pulled on a claret and blue shirt. Of course, the footballing world knew all about the capabilities of the Brazilian, but after a stunted numbers of years at FC Barcelona, there were questions at to whether or not the €143 million man could perform to the levels seen during his time at Liverpool.
However, under former teammate Steven Gerrard’s stewardship, the ‘little magician’ is back to his best and as his boss describes in his post-match interview with VillaTV: “he is a top, world class player”.
"I think when the game demanded that we needed to be physical and work hard, we stuck together, put our bodies on the line; the players gave that and more."— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) March 5, 2022
Steven Gerrard reflects on a stunning win. ️ pic.twitter.com/eqRkPIYnTo
With three goals and three assists in his seven Aston Villa appearances, he can certainly be described as a fan favorite at Villa Park. The crowd take to their feet whenever the number 23 is in possession of the ball, with the expectation of something great stemming from his feet.
Everything turned to gold when the man on loan graced the ball, with each pass effortless and each touch mesmerizing. It was yet another vintage display from Villa’s new star-man, and the scintillating statistics from his display against Southampton can be seen in the media input below...
Philippe Coutinho’s game by numbers vs Southampton:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) March 5, 2022
100% long balls completed (3/3)
100% final third passes completed (14/14)
91% pass accuracy
5 ball recoveries
4 attempted take-ons
2 successful take-ons
2 chances created
He’s still got it. pic.twitter.com/gREHeoWuk4
Steven Gerrard knew exactly what he wanted when he brought his man to the club in the January transfer window, and Coutinho has delivered, and then some. That added technique, precision and flair was just what this Aston Villa side needed in their attacking third, and Philippe Coutinho was the answer to these concerns.
It will be difficult, both financially and realistically, to keep the Brazilian on a permanent basis, but with the ambition shown and money already pumped into the club, joint owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens will surely be negotiating and working hard behind the scenes to weigh up the right deal and make the Villa faithful’s wishes their command this summer.
So it does work?
The topic of conversations that seems to always split opinion and gets widely discussed each week, is that of the attacking partnership of Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings.
On the whole this season, it hasn’t worked, but players typically need time to integrate into a new squad and a new system under a new manager. On paper, the two appear a deadly duo, with both possessing many qualities and the technical abilities to work well together and score a high number of goals. This, unfortunately, has not been the case, and the two are often isolated at the top end of the pitch together, and struggle to generate any kind of attack or chance.
There has been the occasional glimpse of a successful and effective relationship developing, but nothing concrete, until the previous victory at Brighton and the recent triumph over Southampton, which has sparked some hope for the two. Watkins and Ings started up top together in these two wins, and with six goals scored and impressive combination play, maybe just maybe the ‘Watkings’ partnership does work.
Ings registered a goal and two assists in the latest victory at Villa Park, and his strike partner also contributed heavily with a well-taken goal of his own. Both players seem to thrive off confidence, and Watkins’ finish against the Seagulls last week appears to have him playing some of his best football of the season. Danny Ings’ form also seems to have improved in recent weeks, and this weekend’s goal and general display will only benefit him from here.
Steven Gerrard will be encouraged by his forward’s play in these much needed wins, and will hope it can continue into next week’s big game at Elland Road against Jesse Marsch’s Leeds United.