Preview: Southampton (v) Aston Villa – Garde has to find a win. #avfc #saintsfc

I don’t know what it is about our great football club, but we keep coming back for more.  We somehow retain our interest, despite the calamitous years of under-achievement & even in the aftermath of our latest debacle against Watford.

However, Villa are fast approaching the point of no return.  The tipping point.  The unenviable reality of dropping into the Championship.  Ahhh, I can almost smell the waft of a Balti Pie, lingering across a foggy pitch at the Banks’ stadium on a Tuesday night.  We may joke about the absurdity, talk about all the “great” away grounds we might visit, but the reality would be grim.  The Premier League is the only place to be; not Wolverhampton, Brentford or Norfolk.

With a fixture list being regarded as a farewell tour, Villa really need to wake up to the fact that relegation is not acceptable.  Our performances completely deserve and warrant the position we are in, but, I do not accept that we should resign ourselves to it before many have got their Christmas tree out of the loft.  By some miracle, it is still in our hands, if we can muster the fight to reverse our fortunes.

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We are now beginning to see the problems that Garde has inherited.  An unsettled, unbalanced & uncoordinated defence.  A midfield with no leader, no “bosser” of games, no consistent stand out figure.  A tame, lethargic and indifferent array of attacking options.  Throw in a goalkeeper who impresses about as much as an English wine & our demise isn’t such a surprise.

Garde must approach Saturday differently.  We know enough about our players weaknesses, we have watched some of them for years.  Why do we not play to our strengths?  Why do we repeat the same mistakes & act surprised that no improvement resulted?

Is it right that Grealish be demoted to the youth set up owing to his conduct?  Completely.  Should this be indefinite, no.  He remains barred again this Saturday & whilst I must reiterate he fully deserves his omission – I do wonder whether Jack could, or indeed should, deliver a suitable apology on the pitch.  Let him be judged on what he delivers.  If that is petulance, bin him.

Where is Libor Kozak?  A man who looked a useful option before his horrendous training ground injury remains unable to get near a squad bereft of a goal threat.  I don’t profess for one second that he’s the answer to all our problems, but all he seems to do is score in friendlies.  

The counter balance to this is Agbonlahor’s repeated recalling into the side after squalid, laughable performances & years of abject underachievement.  The man is the personification of Aston Villa’s modern celebration of the sub-standard.  No other football club would tolerate or reward such incompetence so lavishly.

I am no advocate of the “back to basics” approach in all but dire circumstances.  However, we are there, buried in our own mess.

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The adoption of a straightforward 4-4-2 might afford protection to our woefully inadequate fullbacks.  It would also give us natural width, provided by players who at least train to attack defenders and cross a football.  Up front, it would enable a supporting striker to play off a “big” man.  The constant perseverance of isolating a lone attacker is a failed experiment we repeat.  I don’t see what the current formation delivers for us other than trouble.

Villa go to St Marys in rough shape.  [No sh!t, eh?]  I just hope that Garde makes changes, learns from the mistakes he witnessed at Everton & Watford and can fashion a win.  I am confident that pulling off a win at Southampton would renew hope & provide a springboard into a huge away tie at Newcastle in a fortnight.

A defeat would be numbing in many ways.  It would be another nail in the coffin & ahead of a fixture with Arsenal sets the mind racing about how realistic survival is.  Many will say the task is already too great, but I’m an optimist.  For now.

Southampton come into the tie after a monumental drubbing at the hands of Liverpool in the Cup.  A 6-1 thrashing no less.  Villa of course were on the receiving end of this from Saints on the closing day of last season.  Many point to this as the beginning of the end for Sherwood, & the capitulation at Wembley which followed.

I spoke to two Saints fans to gather their thoughts.  They were pretty damning in their assessment of Villa (quelle surprise) but also spoke that Southampton lack a balance for the first time since their return to the top flight.  A particular gripe was Koeman’s apparent reluctance to blood youngsters as willingly and an open criticism of the academy system at the club.  This, apparently has led to a reliance on the remnants of the “old” squad and hoping new signings “come good”.  The cracks are beginning to appear, maybe Villa can take advantage?  …

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So, to sum up;  This is a tricky away tie, Villa desperately need the points and there is no time like the present to get them.  If Garde makes the changes to both tactics and personnel we may have a chance.  If it’s the same approach, with the usual offenders, then every Villa fan will know the outcome.  Here’s to Hope.