Tactical Battles That Will Shape Southampton's Clash with Aston Villa

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Tactical Battles That Will Shape Southampton's Clash with Aston Villa
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Aston Villa travel to the south coast as they face Mauricio Pochettino’s high-flying Southampton today.

The Saints were, up until recently, sitting as high as third in the Premier League, but recent defeats to Arsenal and Chelsea have seen them slip back to a very respectable seventh place.

Villa on the other hand lie in 11th place after a somewhat up-and-down season that has seen them collect a number of fantastic wins among a couple of very disappointing defeats.

Despite those losses, Villa fans are cautiously optimistic this year following the disaster that was the 2012/13 campaign, but they will be wary of the wounded Southampton.

In an interview with The Independent, Saints boss Pochettino stated that his side are not thinking about their recent defeats and will look to get back to playing the style of football that has seen his side collect six wins from a possible 13.

We may have suffered two defeats, but overall we competed very well against two very tough sides.

We did make some mistakes which meant it was not possible for us to win those games, but in none of those cases were Arsenal or Chelsea superior to Southampton

...

All we can do is recover, to get our energy back and try to fix the mistakes we have made in the past to make sure they do not happen again.

The fixture at St. Mary’s certainly won’t determine where either side will finish this season, but a victory would provide a solid base for a busy festive period in which both sides feature six times in less than a month.

With three important points at stake, we take a look at the tactical battles that will shape the matchup.

 

Jay Rodriguez vs. Ron Vlaar

Young England international Jay Rodriguez is having the season of his life. The Southampton striker netted on four occasions so far this year, but it is his overall contribution to the Saints that makes him such a threat.

The former Burnley striker can play in any position further upfield and has gained many plaudits this campaign for his tireless work rate, ability to bring others into play and for the few goals he has chipped in, too.

Rodriguez has played as an out-and-out striker, in behind the front man and, on occasions, out wide for the south coast side this season and has caused problems for the opposing team’s defence.

Tony Marshall/Getty Images

Villa defender Ron Vlaar will be the man trying to stop the in-form Rodriguez. Dutch centre-half Vlaar has been one of Villa’s standout players this term and is making a good case for a starting berth in the Netherlands’ World Cup squad.

Vlaar may lack a pace, but his ability to read the danger—often several phases of play before it arrives—his strength and determination make him one of the more astute defenders in the Premier League.

Villa ended a run of 26 league matches without a clean sheet during their 1-0 win over Norwich toward the end of September, and Vlaar has since helped the Claret and Blues to four more.

Rodriguez is Southampton’s main attacking threat, and it will be up to Villa’s captain to stop him in his tracks if Villa are to return to the Midlands with anything from the game.

 

Adam Lallana vs. Fabian Delph

Along with Rodriguez, Adam Lallana has been Southampton’s key figure so far this year and was rewarded for his stellar performances with his first England cap during the recent international friendlies.

Often preferred in a more attacking role, Lallana has provided support for England teammates Rickie Lambert and Rodriguez and has also helped the Saints in their hunt for goals—his excellent solo effort against Hull City emphasizing his composure in the final third.

Lallana remains busy whenever he plays, constantly making himself available, and will look to manoeuvre in and around Villa’s midfield three, should Paul Lambert opt for his usual 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation—though that depends entirely on whether winger Andreas Weimann is fit to play.

Villa’s Fabian Delph will be the man in charge of keeping tabs on Southampton’s midfield maestro. The 24-year-old, like this evening’s counterpart, was tipped for an England call following exemplary performances in the early stages of the season, but Delph’s call never came.

Villa’s all-action midfielder has finally taken responsibility in the heart of the Villa team after an injury-hit start to his career in the Midlands. Delph has played all but two games for Lambert’s side this season, ruled out only through illness, and will aim to maintain his usual lofty standards against the Saints.

Lallana and Delph will, of course, be given the freedom to play within their respective midfields, but will be keeping a close eye on each other throughout the 90 minutes.

 

Christian Benteke vs. Southampton Defence

Aston Villa frontman Christian Benteke started this season where he left off last—scoring goals. The Belgian striker notched 19 league goals during his debut season and was just one shy of matching Peter Withe’s 22-year goal-scoring record of 20 at Villa.

Many have suggested that Benteke would suffer “second-season syndrome” by not being able to continue in such a rich vein of form, but it was evident from the opening match of the 2013/14 campaign that probably wasn’t going to be the case.

The 23-year-old netted twice in Villa’s 3-1 win over Arsenal at the Emirates before scoring against Chelsea and then Newcastle—taking his tally to four goals in four games.

Stu Forster/Getty Images

A hip flexor injury ruled Benteke out of Villa’s following two games as he fell awkwardly in the Claret and Blues’ 1-0 win over Norwich. He has since struggled to find the net in six consecutive games upon his return, but he is looking his usual menacing self.

The Southampton back line has been pretty astute this term, conceding just 10 goals—the joint fewest in the league. The way they performed against Chelsea at the weekend, however, will give Pochettino plenty to think about.

The Saints failed to adapt when Chelsea changed their tactics. The likes of Luke Shaw and Nathaniel Clyne continued to bomb on down the flanks, carelessly acting as if Chelsea were playing with just the one striker, despite the introduction of Demba Ba.

Instead, the two should have tucked in alongside their centre-halves in the hope of more stability at the back.

Benteke is Villa’s main attacking threat, but Lambert’s formation sees the Belgian allow other members of the team to move forward—and do so with real pace.

Andreas Weimann may be deemed unfit to play, but the likes of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Aleksander Tonev could cause the Southampton defence real problems if they perform in the same naive manner.

 

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