The draw against Manchester City, and if we’re being honest this draw was worth more than the one point given in terms of intangibles, could be the start of something new and brilliant. It could also be the cruel dawn of a false spring. Whichever it ends up being, things are decidedly less restless than they were heading into that September 3rd match. This Friday brings Southampton to Villa Park. Sitting 12th in the table to Villa’s 17th, the Saints will prove a stiff enough test. Over the last three matches, Southampton have lost 1-0 at Wolves, 2-1 at home over Chelsea, and a 1-0 loss at home to Manchester United. Key players to watch for include striker Che Adams, right-back Kyle Walker-Peters, and midfielder James Ward-Prowse.
Against City, Gerrard went with the Christmas tree 4-3-2-1 and, much to my pleasant surprise, it worked. With that in mind, I’d expect to see that formation again. The other option, given the influx of Leander Dendoncker to the squad, would be to play a 4-2-3-1. Going with the later would employ Emi Martinez as keeper, Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konza partnering at center-back, Lucas Digne at left-back, and Ashley Young in for Matty Cash (injured) at right-back. There is some concern regarding Martinez’s availablity, as the Argentinian “hasn’t been feeling too good overnight” per Gerrard, but he is expected to play. In midfield, a defensive partnership of Dendoncker and Boubacar Kamara, with John McGinn or Jacob Ramsey in the number 10 position would be interesting. Leon Bailey would play to the right and I’d give Philippe Coutinho another chance on the left. Ollie Watkins though, he’s dealing with similar issues as Martinez, would start at striker.
Gerrard’s presumed lineup will be a 4-3-2-1, with the same backline and keeper. The midfield should showcase Kamara holding and flanked by Douglas Luiz and John McGinn. Leon Bailey is a near certainty to start on the right and Watkins should be healthy to start (maybe Cameron Archer if necessary?), but the third attacking spot is up for debate between Jacob Ramsey and Philippe Coutinho. I’d give the edge to Ramsey, but we’ll see what Gerrard does there.
PREDICTION: While this doesn’t have the existential dread that the City match had, there is reason to be on guard this Friday while maintaining optimism. A 1-0 victory to the Villa.