Tactical Watch: Saints must utilise left flank


Sam Tighe previews Southampton's Premier League trip to Aston Villa under the Friday night lights at Villa Park. It's Tactical Watch, in association with

Villa had the sort of summer that made you think they were ready to explode out of the blocks: big new signings brought in nice and early, good pre-season performances and results, and a general wave of optimism running through the fanbase.

But in football things can go very wrong very fast, and a set-piece goal conceded just two minutes into the season opener against AFC Bournemouth saw things unravel frighteningly quickly.

Even their sole league win so far against Everton has come at a mighty cost – new defensive signing Diego Carlos tore his Achilles in it – and although a point against Manchester City last time out can only be a positive, 17th in the league after six games obviously wasn’t the plan.

It’s hard to escape the feeling that Steven Gerrard is yet to find his best XI or formation; there’s been plenty of chopping and changing in 2022 as he searches for the answers, but nothing has crystalised so far.

There’s a good case to be made that Villa play their best football as a team in a narrow formation – either in a diamond 4-4-2 or a Christmas tree-esque 4-3-2-1 – but whichever one is chosen, at least one excellent attacking player has to be left out, so they’re struggling to make full use of some talented resources.

The midfield balance hasn’t quite looked right either no matter the personnel used, while the full-backs have looked a touch exposed at times – particularly when there’s no natural wide man ahead of them to double back.

Like many teams in the Premier League, Villa can be targeted in transition. The home crowd will roar the players forward and they’ll commit bodies ahead of the ball – but when they lose it, Boubacar Kamara (who is having a very good individual season) is left with a lot of space to cover.

The right side of their defensive line has been a concern so far this season too, with three different centre-backs occupying the RCB role to date. That lack of consistency, plus the difference in the three players’ profiles, has naturally led to some uncertainty. Add in the fact that Ashley Young will have to stand in for injured right-back Matty Cash and there’s an obvious area for Saints to probe.

Although it hasn’t quite gone to plan for Villa so far, the attacking talent they have makes them a clear threat and their results are significantly better at home. Bailey has electric pace and a penchant for a golazo, Watkins causes trouble in the channels and in Philippe Coutinho and Emiliano Buendía, Villa have game-breaking creative options.

Recently, with Douglas Luiz back in the team, they’ve controlled games better – and he’s also scored twice directly from corners this term, against Bolton Wanderers and Arsenal. Watch out for that!

Martínez, Young, Konsa, Mings, Digne; Kamara, McGinn, Luiz; Ramsey, Bailey; Watkins.

- Bednarek, signed on loan from Southampton, is not eligible to make his Villa debut against his parent club, so it’ll be Ezri Konsa or former Saint Calum Chambers next to Tyrone Mings

- Cash is out until after the internal break, so Young is expected to step in at right-back. Carlos is a long-term absentee.

- Depending on the shape used, one or more of Emiliano Buendía, Philippe Coutinho, Leon Bailey and Danny Ings have to make do with a place on the bench. It’s a nice luxury to have and gives Gerrard ammunition to change the game if needed.