Afternoon, all. Aston Villa
's season is threatening to fall apart at just the wrong time, with off-field issues now adding to their poor form. Southampton
are the visitors to the West Midlands today.
Assistant manager Ian Culverhouse
and Gary Karsa
were suspended this week "pending an internal investigation", with accusations of bullying during training sessions since surfacing in the press.
This was the last thing that Villa needed considering that four straight defeats have seen them dragged back into relegation trouble, but they will be hoping that the reshuffle will have a positive effect.
and veteran goalkeeper Shay Given
have been promoted to act as Paul Lambert
's deputies, starting against the Saints in one of today's four 3.00pm Premier League kickoffs.
Team news from Villa Park coming your way shortly...
VILLA: Guzan; Bacuna, Vlaar, Baker, Bertrand; Westwood, Delph, El Ahmadi; Albrighton, Agbonlahor, Weimann
SUBS: Steer, Sylla, Tonev, Lowton, Clark, Holt, Robinson
SOUTHAMPTON: Boruc; Clyne, Fonte, Lovren, Shaw; Wanyama, Schneiderlin, S. Davis; Ward-Prowse, Lallana, Lambert
SUBS: Gazzaniga, Cork, Guly, Chambers, Hooiveld, Reed, Gallagher
There are four changes for the visitors, with Pochettino handed a major boost by the return of regular number one Artur Boruc
in goal. His understudy, Paulo Gazzaniga, has made a couple of errors during the Pole's two-match spell on the sidelines because of a muscle strain.
There is a recall in midfield for Victor Wanyama, who started the season brilliantly after joining in a £15m deal from Celtic. He has gone off the boil somewhat since returning from a three-month injury layoff, but is preferred to Jack Cork in the centre of the park this afternoon.
James Ward-Prowse is another who has not managed to repeat his pre-Christmas form in the second half of the campaign, but he gets a chance from the off today at the expense of Gaston Ramirez.
He will play in a slightly more advanced position than usual on the right wing, just ahead of restored full-back Nathaniel Clyne as Pochettino continues to rotate between him and Calum Chambers.
Villa boss Lambert makes three changes himself as he switches back to a 4-3-3 formation, having played with three central defenders in the 1-0 loss to in-form Crystal Palace last weekend.
Both Ciaran Clark and Matt Lowton drop out of the side, with Leandro Bacuna fit to start at right-back after missing the trip to Selhurst Park. There are also two alterations up front for the hosts...
Grant Holt is left out as Lambert reverts to a forward line full of pace, with Andreas Weimann and Mark Albrighton
picked to play on the flanks and Gabriel Agbonlahor asked to operate centrally.
The life-long Villa man, who has only contributed a disappointing tally of three goals this term, is more comfortable on the wing, but Lambert's hand has been forced by Christian Benteke
The Belgian international, Villa's top scorer with 10 Premier League goals in 24 appearance this season, will miss the World Cup and six months of action in total with an Achilles problem.
Southampton are also without their leading marksman, though, with 15-goal forward Jay Rodriguez
seeing his World Cup hopes dashed by knee ligament damage a fortnight ago.
WORLD CUP WATCH:
With Rodriguez absent, Southampton's England quartet is reduced to a trio, with Adam Lallana
a probable starter in Roy Hodgson's XI. Rickie Lambert
and Luke Shaw could also be included in the squad and will be hoping to press their claims in the remaining games. The impressive Fabian Delph of Villa may yet get a look in, should there be a heap of injuries in midfield.
REFEREE WATCH: Lee Mason is the man in the middle this afternoon. Southampton drew with Arsenal the last time that he officiated them, while Villa lost 3-0 to Manchester United.
is probably as surprised as anybody that he finds himself assisting a manager who has been trying to offload him from the Aston Villa squad since taking over in 2012.
The 37-year-old has been out of consideration at Villa Park this season and even spent some time on loan at Middlesbrough, but is now back in the West Midlands to perform an important coaching role. Whether that is Lambert's decision or not remains to be seen...
Just under 10 minutes until kickoff at Villa Park...
ONE TO WATCH: This World Cup comes too soon for James Ward-Prowse, but he is certainly an England international for the future. Technically gifted and hardworking in equal measure, the teenage midfielder is also a master at dead-ball situations and has been compared to a certain Mr. Beckham.
PREDICTION: The first goal is so important in this match. If Villa get it they will be able to play on the break as they love to do, but if it is the Saints who open the scoring, then the home crowd could get anxious considering their position in the table. I'll plump for 2-1 Southampton.
We are underway in the West Midlands and across the rest of the country...
CHANCE! Shaw bursts with real pace down the left and Delph cannot keep up. He crosses to Lambert at the near post, but the forward's relatively unmarked header is straight at Guzan.
Southampton are knocking on the door already. Steven Davis, playing against his former club, makes a smart run beyond the Villa defence and collects a lofted ball inside the left half of the box. He squares for Lambert, who tries to steer the ball into the bottom corner, only for Nathan Baker
to slide in and block behind for a corner. Lambert could have had two after only five minutes!
This has been a very bright start from the Saints. Even before his two chances, Lambert could have had a sight of goal had he ran onto Clyne's cross following a good move involving Lallana on the right.
The visitors have had a remarkable 90% of possession in the opening 10 minutes, but we know how much of a threat Villa can pose on the counter attack. They break through Weimann, who slips in Agbonlahor down the left edge of the box, but his return is just ahead of the Austrian.
Again, Villa burst forward with pace after a Saints attack breaks down. Agbonlahor beats the offside trap to get free in the right channel, but a couple of heavy touches allow Dejan Lovren to come across and make a smart sliding tackle as the forward threatened to get a shot away.
Villa have speed on both flanks and the overlapping Bertrand gets involved down the left. The cross is a good one, but without the aerial threat of Benteke, Lovren clears while taking a knock.
The £8.5m signing from Lyon has had a fine debut season in the Premier League and is okay to continue here after receiving brief treatment for a clash of heads with Agbonlahor.
No goals in the opening 20 minutes of this afternoon's four Premier League games. I shall keep you updated to any changes in the scores at Cardiff City, Newcastle United and West Ham United.
Here is Lambert going close for the second time in the opening five minutes:
A better 10 minutes from Villa, who have certainly tightened things up at the back after being cut open far too easily in the early stages. Boruc remains unworked as of yet, though.
Lallana runs from deep and is found by Davis. The PFA Player of the Year nominee gets the ball slightly stuck under his feet, allowing Bacuna to make up the ground and jockey him. The move loses momentum and the ball eventually comes back to Schneiderlin, who crosses for Lambert to challenge with Ron Vlaar, and although the Saints man wins it, the ball loops straight up for Guzan to claim.
Villa have picked up more yellow cards than any other side in the Premier League this season and they are lucky to escape without adding to their 70-plus tally as Karim El Ahmadi fouls Ward-Prowse.
SAVE! Ward-Prowse wanders over to the left flank and cuts back to cross with his right foot. Guzan initially comes off his line to claim, only to change his mind, leaving himself in no man's land when the ball bounces off Baker and into the feet of Davis. The American reacts superbly, though, to dive to his right and palm the first-time shot away, but he would have been struggling had the effort been less central.
That was a lucky escape for Villa, and they had, only seconds before, been given another warning of Southampton's attacking prowess down the left. The Saints showed that they too were a danger on the break as Shaw powered forward before delivering a cross which was cleared for a throw.
Wanyama, who is starting his first game since December, trips El Ahmadi to give Villa the opportunity to throw bodies forward to compete for a free kick which is fairly deep and central. Bertrand lumps into the box, but the delivery is over both centre-backs and drifts behind.
Albrighton has his first impact on the game in an attacking sense, running at Shaw down the Villa right and forcing Fonte to scramble the ball behind with a cross into a decent area.
Manchester United boss David Moyes and Hull manager Steve Bruce are interested spectators in the stands. The Tigers play Villa next week, while United go to Southampton on the final day of the season, but maybe Moyes is here to look at a couple of possible summer targets also.
Saints pair Shaw and Lallana have both been linked with moves to Old Trafford, and they nearly combine here. The left-back again shows electric pace to gallop forward, and then some vision too, finding a clever, but ambitious pass inside for the breaking Lallana. It is just in front of his skipper, though, and Guzan is quick to spot the danger and beat the England man to the ball on the edge of the area.
Bertrand is keen to show that, like his opposite number, he can be an attacking threat. He gets to the byline and does well to wrap his foot around a cross which Boruc and Fonte bundle behind.
In the only minute of first-half stoppage time, Villa's delivery is again excellent, with Albrighton creating space for a lovely ball to the back post which El Ahmadi cannot direct goalwards.
HALF-TIME: VILLA 0-0 SOUTHAMPTON
An opening period in which visiting Southampton started much the stronger and Villa finished just about on top comes to a close in the West Midlands with the two teams goalless.
Rickie Lambert spurned two chances in the first five minutes, heading straight at Brad Guzan
from eight yards before seeing a close-range shot blocked by the recovering Nathan Baker.
Villa have yet to test Artur Boruc in the Saints goal, but have looking dangerous in the wide areas, producing the type of service that the absent Christian Benteke
would thrive on. Several excellent crosses have been well defended by Jose Fonte or marginally evaded their target.
LATEST: We are 0-0 here, and at Upton Park, where West Ham are at stalemate with Crystal Palace. Newcastle and Swansea City are also level, with Wilfried Bony cancelling out Shola Ameobi's goal to create a 1-1 scoreline at the break. Finally, relegation-threatened Cardiff are trailing 1-0 in their huge match against Stoke in Wales, courtesy of a 45th-minute penalty from Marko Arnautovic.
STATS: Southampton have had a whopping 71% of possession in the first half, and have called Guzan into action on two occasions. Villa have yet to register a shot at all, but that is not quite reflective of their performance as they have at times looked dangerous when breaking down the wing.
We are back underway at Villa Park, with both side's unchanged...
SHOT! El Ahmadi links up nicely with Weimann before twisting and turning to create room for a 20-yard shot which does not have enough bend on it to finish the right side of Boruc's post.
CLOSE! El Ahmadi has half a sight of goal again as the ball drops for him in the box. His hopeful poke hits the leg of Lovren, loops up and lands on the roof of Boruc's net. A good start to the second half for Villa, but still the Saints keeper remains untested. He was worried for a minute there, though!
Lallana does really well to turn away from Bacuna near the left byline. He is so skilfull, continuing his dribble into the box before Vlaar stretches out a leg to make an important tackle.
MISS! Schneiderlin plays a clever ball inside Bacuna for Shaw to run onto. Lallana goes with him and is free in the centre, but the cross is slightly behind him and the England international can only miscue a shot into his own heel, and Villa clear the danger. That's the best chance of the match so far!
LATEST: Huge goal at the Cardiff City Stadium, where the Bluebirds have pegged back Stoke with a spot kick of their own. Peter Whittingham was the man who kept his cool from 12 yards to make it 1-1.
Lallana travels with the ball before releasing Davis with a smart reverse pass. The return ball is behind Lallana and not strong enough to reach Lambert as the Saints see another chance go by.
BOOKING: Lovren becomes the first man to be cautioned this afternoon for tripping Agbonlahor as the forward looked to be running clear on the right. Some sections of Villa Park were calling for red, but Lee Mason got it spot on with yellow as it was never a "clear goalscoring opportunity."
CHANCES! From the resultant free kick, Westwood's delivery is deep towards El Ahmadi and although the Egyptian cannot get anything on it, his presence puts pressure on Fonte, whose knee would have knocked the ball into the goal had Boruc not been well positioned. Moments later, Albrighton brushes off the challenge of Schneiderlin to unleash a left-footed shot which Boruc catches at the second attempt.
Lallana has the ball in the net, but it won't count. It was superb control from him to pluck a lofted ball out of the sky and then slot through Guzan's legs, but the offside flag had been correctly raised.
SUBSTITUTION: Ward-Prowse, who has seen little of the ball since the break, makes way for Southampton as Sam Gallagher enters the action as a substitute for the ninth game in succession. Someone who is coming into the game more and more, though, is Albrighton, and his turn of pace forces a foul from Shaw which results in the Southampton full-back being shown a yellow card.
Villa are forced to defend an excellent cross from each flank as Lambert, who has moved over to the right to accommodate Gallagher, delivers to the near post, where Guzan gathers under pressure from the substitute. On the other wing, Shaw plays a one-two with Schneiderlin before fizzing a pacey ball towards the six-yard box, but Vlaar is on hand to steer the ball behind for a corner.
This game may be goalless, but is poised for an exciting finish. Southampton are moving through the gears and I expect that they will push Villa back deeper and deeper as the final 18 minutes plus stoppage time unfolds. That will suit the hosts, though, as the counter is their best bet.
Albrighton continues to be Villa's bright spark, skipping past Wanyama with ease. This time, though, his delivery may have been too early as Weimann is a few yards away from challenging in the air.
PENALTY APPEAL! Southampton want handball against Bertrand after Clyne's cross is blocked by the left-back's outstretched arm. Referee Mason does not point to the spot and neither does his perfectly-positioned assistant, but I think that Villa and Bertrand have had a lucky escape there.
Striker Grant Holt has the final 10 minutes to try and find a winning goal as he is introduced at the expense of El Ahmadi in an attacking change from Villa boss Paul Lambert
SUBSTITUTION: The Saints finally make a change that they have preparing for some time, with Pochettino swapping Wanyama for the fresh legs of Jack Cork in the centre of midfield.
Clyne's forceful pass into the feet of Davis is superbly controlled by the former Villa man, whose pass on the turn nearly found the rampaging right-back, who had continued his run into the box.
SUBSTITUTION: Lambert makes another change and it is one that is greeted warmly by the Villa faithful as 19-year-old homegrown forward Callum Robinson comes on for Weimann.
Around four minutes plus added time remaining in the West Midlands. Will their be a late hero for either side? Will it be Premier League debutante Robinson for the home team?
Robinson hovers on the shoulder of Fonte and makes a promising dash in behind. He gets on the end of Westwood's chip only to blaze his 25-yard shot wildly over the crossbar.
Another half chance, and it is only that, for the teenage substitute. Albrighton's cross is into the centre of the area, and Robinson is backtracking when he gets up to head the ball tamely at Boruc.
SUBSTITUTION: There will be a minimum of THREE minutes of stoppage time. As he often is, Lallana is hauled off in the final stages to be replaced by young midfielder Harrison Reed.
FULL-TIME: VILLA 0-0 SOUTHAMPTON
Neither side can find a late winner, but Villa may consider this to be a decent result as it ends their four-match losing run. The single point means that they are not quite ensured of safety yet, though.
RESULTS: Swansea will feel that they have secured survival after a late Bony strike saw them beat out-of-form Newcastle 2-1. Their Welsh rivals Cardiff rise a place to 18th, but could only draw 1-1 at home to Stoke, while it was a club-record equalling fifth straight win for Palace at West Ham.
Here in the West Midlands, it was Southampton who came the closest to breaking the deadlock, with Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Steve Davis
all squandering good chances. The result means that the visitors remain eight in the table, while Villa drop to 15th, five points clear of the drop zone.
That's it from me. Thanks for joining Sports Mole this afternoon and be sure to stay with us for live coverage of Chelsea versus Sunderland from Stamford Bridge. Until next time...