The official Aston Villa site recently ran an interview with Ashley Westwood, in which he talks about how much he has improved since his debut – a 4-1 loss to Southampton two years ago.
I agree with him and think he has become one of our most important players but his progression since that game made me think about the two teams’ successes since that day.
We actually finished on equal points at the end of that season (41), although the Saints had a superior goal difference. The manner of their victory over us that day will have done wonders for their confidence and gone some way to convincing them that they belong in the Premier League even though they lost nine of their first ten mataches, again proving that Villa is the ultimate pressure relieving team. How could we not only lose to a team who can’t buy a win but get thumped by them?
Of course, Adkins was still in charge at the time of their 4-1 victory but, since then, Pochettino was brought in and, having kept them up, took the Saints to the dizzy heights of eighth the next season. The exodus of the manager, Lallana, Lambert, Shaw, Chambers and Lovren followed and things looked bad for the club. However, they brought in Koeman and backed his signings and now they are flourishing in a very much-deserved second place.
It doesn’t make easy reading when you compare the Saints’ march up the league with our back-to-back fifteenth place finishes. Last season we actually had two points fewer than in Lambert’s first year. Also difficult is seeing Koeman’s success signings from the Dutch league like Tadic and Pele compared to our flops of El Ahmadi and Holman, for example.
Southampton Football Club has made serious progress since returning to the Premier League. The Saints now boast a classy team aand their ‘second choice’ players have stepped up to the plate in the face of the mass exodus of their top players. Such a desire to prove themselves, and success in doing so, is something that the Villans have been seriously lacking. Since the Martin O’Neill years and the exit of big names like Barry, Young and Milner, the team has simply not been as good.
There are arguments to be made that the manager has had no money to play with compared to the millions brought in for Southampton’s big players – but they weren’t always big. Southampton’s academy is of course famed for all the great players it produces but Aston Villa Football Club has had more players capped by England that anyone else. We must have been doing something right; we just need to find the formula again.
The game against Southampton will be a tough one as our opponents are flying high. Despite thi,s I actually think we may get a draw as we are better against teams that may allow some element of complacency to enter their game. Whatever happens, we will be playing a team that has been getting it right for a number of years now – and perhaps we could learn a thing or two from them.
The progress at Southampton over the last three years is something I would love to see Villa replicate. If this is to be done any time soon, however, something needs to be changed quickly. Let’s start with some points on Monday.