Aston Villa Finally Click Into Gear as Philippe Coutinho Shines and Douglas Luiz Still Polarises

Good, Bad and Ugly of Southampton

By Phil Shaw

After a scintillating performance against Southampton, you’d think I’d be happy. But there’s still some Bad and Ugly to chew over.

The Good

Aston Villa’s attacking talent finally clicked into gear against Southampton, while being backed up by a more disciplined and balanced midfield.

It was the most complete performance across the team since Steven Gerrard took over, and you could argue since the 3-0 away win at Arsenal last season.

Southampton are no mugs and rocked up to Villa Park with the swagger of a team that has only lost one game in their last 10.

Older Aston Villa fans, know only too well, what happens when a team are expected to win, and it came to pass again. This time in Villa’s favour.

From the first goal, you could tell that Villa’s team were ‘on it’ as the ball fizzed into Ings from Coutinho and then in turn was reversed to Watkins.

When Ollie Watkins got it, the turn and finish was unrecognisable from the Watkins of this season so far. He was back to his best of last season and then some. 

Thereafter, Southampton had a couple of openings, but you could tell Villa were on song.

To a man, the Villa team, minus Lucas Digne and Ezri Konsa, all played their part in taking the game away from the Saints.

So, after two excellent performances, you have to wonder what the difference is from a few weeks ago? 

Villan of The Week – Philippe Coutinho

You could make a case for any of the starting eleven, and Danny Ings can count himself unlucky not to be chosen this week. 

Coutinho, was simply untouchable against Southampton. If his finishing had been as good as the rest of his performance, he’d have scored four goals on his own.

The one he did score, through a crowd of defenders, was the hardest chance of the lot.

It remains to be seen if he will be a Villa player next season, so enjoy him while you can.

The Bad

Most football fans are guilty of the team sheet meltdown. 

When 2pm rolls around and the line-ups hit social media, you’d be a liar if you said it didn’t give you an instant conclusion for the game ahead.

‘I’ve got a bad feeling about this…’ or similar, must be saved in drafts. 

The last two Villa games have been prime examples.

Against Brighton, it was the dropping of Buendia, against Southampton, the absences of Konsa and Digne due to COVID-19.

The games that followed were two of the best this season.

So, why are there still meltdowns every week?

When I saw the teams, I thought the absence of Konsa and Digne would make it harder for Villa, and it may have done. 

Fans will never know now, as the understudies Callum Cambers and Ashley Young excelled.

Chambers’ pass, in the build up to the second goal, had just the correct level of insanity and skill to cut the opposition open.

It was a genuine double take moment, from a player who had already been written off in some quarters after giving away a free kick against Newcastle.

Ashley Young, who was partly to blame for the goal against Watford, was faultless against Southampton.

Every so often, you need to trust the squad as much as the manager does.

Just because a line-up looks bad on paper, doesn’t mean it will be bad on the pitch. 

Social Media is great for getting fast news, but even better for exposing premature bad takes. 

The Ugly

Douglas Luiz is a polarising figure.

Ever since he dummied a ball, allowing Bournemouth to score on his home debut, he has divided opinion.

The rocket he scored later in that game gave everyone a glimpse of what he could be.

Douglas Luiz is a risk-taker, for good or bad.

In the previous two games against Watford and Brighton, he was so careless with his passing, that he needed to be replaced.

The goalscoring performance against Southampton, was everything his previous games hadn’t been.

Simple, sensible and logical. 

If a Saints’ player hadn’t blocked a shot in the second half, he might have had two goals.

Luiz simply did his job, and looked every bit the player who helped save Villa from relegation during project restart.

But his previous ugly performances led most sane people to call for change.

With Marvellous Nakamba injured, next in line should be the enigmatic French midfielder signed in January 2021.

Morgan Sanson, showed enough against Chelsea in the League Cup defeat to suggest he has a future at Aston Villa. 

However, in every, admittedly brief, appearance since, he has been anonymous on the pitch. 

He looks a tidy player, but if he can’t displace Luiz after the unforced errors the Brazilian has made, then he has little chance when Nakamba is fit again.

The current visible difference between Sanson and the Luiz, looks to be ambition on the pitch.

You can see that Luiz wants to play further forward and get involved in attacks, sometimes to the cost of the team.

I’ve yet to see anything from Sanson except sideways passing in midfield and a mistake against Manchester United.

The Southampton game was another missed opportunity for the Frenchman. Coming on, with your team four goals up, should be the dream scenario for a substitute.

The pressure is off, and you should be able to show off what you can do.

Unfortunately, Sanson was again invisible in midfield, only managing seven touches in his twenty plus minutes.

For comparison, Emiliano Buendia had ten touches in half the time.

That potentially suggests that Sanson is cruising along and not doing enough to break into the team.

I want to see Sanson do something in his minutes on the pitch that you remember when the game is over.

For all Luiz’s inconsistencies, he is a talking point for Villa fans and pundits. He’s a player that frustrates because he can be better.

Morgan Sanson, will need to take risks and show, what it is he offers the team. 

He’s not a young player who had to find his feet like Jacob Ramsey, and he doesn’t have credit in the bank like John McGinn.

It’s no use being tidy, football and the competitive nature of a squad means that sometimes you have to risk looking ugly to succeed. 


Follow Phil on Twitter at @prsgame

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