Southampton make three changes, with Bertrand back from suspension and slotting in at left-back instead of Vokins, Romeu returning for Valery, who played at right-back last week – it looks like Ibrahima Diallo will be there tonight – and Redmond replacing Che Adams. Villa are unchanged, with their new signing, Morgan Sanson, on the bench.
The team sheets have been handed in, and the names upon them were these:
Southampton: McCarthy, Diallo, Bednarek, Stephens, Bertrand, Redmond, Romeu, Ward-Prowse, Armstrong, Walcott, Ings. Subs: Watts, Long, Adams, Djenepo, Valery, Ramsay, N’Lundulu, Forster, Jankewitz.
Aston Villa: Martinez, Cash, Konsa, Mings, Targett, Douglas Luiz, McGinn, Traore, Barkley, Grealish, Watkins. Subs: Heaton, Taylor, Trezeguet, Nakamba, El Ghazi, Engels, Sanson, Elmohamady, Davis.
Referee: Lee Mason.
Aston Villa have lost four of their five games in 2021, only beating Newcastle which doesn’t really count, and suddenly their excellent season is in danger of turning average. “We’re comfortable with how we’re playing and how we’ve attacked a lot of the games,” says Dean Smith. “It’s been rare that I’ve walked away from a game and thought ‘we haven’t competed today’.”
Meanwhile this is Southampton’s sixth game of January 2021 and five of them will have been played at home, a statistically unlikely run – which has required a couple of home draws in the Cup – that will be followed by five away games in seven (though that could change if they win at Wolves in round five of the FA Cup). The Saints come up against the league’s second-best defence – only Manchester City have kept more clean sheets than Villa – having scored only two goals in their last six league matches, a pretty rubbish run that Ralph Hasenhuttl insists isn’t bothering him. “I’m never scared,” he said. “As long as we have chances to score, everything is okay for me. Sometimes you score more, sometimes not. If we wouldn’t have any chances then I would be worried.”
It’s an intriguing match this one, between two teams that have tended to entertain me when I’ve seen them this season. Welcome!