Dec 4, 2013, 2:25 PM EDT
Suddenly struggling Southampton welcome Aston Villa to St. Mary’s this afternoon, wary of the danger that the visitors can bring on away trips (2:45 p.m. ET, watch live online via NBC Sports Live Extra).
After spending the majority of the season in the top four, the Saints have crashed back down to earth — and to seventh place — after back to back losses at Arsenal and Chelsea. Perhaps even worse for Mauricio Pochettino, however, is that his side’s once stingy defense conceded five in the last two matches. Southampton remain tied with Arsenal for the league’s best defense, but now the opposition has figured out that they’re not invincible.
But it won’t be Villa’s big Belgian that’s seeking to punish the hosts’ defense. Paul Lambert warned this week that, after seven games without a goal, Christian Benteke might be dropped to the bench, and sure enough, he sits, with Libor Kozák taking his place. Andi Weimann also drops to the bench, with Lambert favoring pairing Agbonlahor with Kozák in his 3-5-2 formation.
Southampton are without starting goalkeeper Artur Boruc, who came off injured in the loss to Chelsea and is replaced by Paulo Gazzaniga. Up top, Pochettino has dropped Pablo Osvaldo in favor of Rickie Lambert, who starts in front of James Ward-Prowse, Adam Lallana, and Jay Rodriguez.
Rodriguez opened the scoring against Chelsea with a goal inside the first minute. Can Southampton do it again? And if so, will Villa, who’ve had a couple remarkable comebacks already this season, be able to fight back?
Southampton Starting XI: Gazzaniga, Clyne, Yoshida, Lovren, Shaw, Wanyama, S. Davis, Ward-Prowse, Lallana, Rodriguez, Lambert
Subs: Cropper, Fonte, Osvaldo, Cork, Chambers, Hooiveld, Gallagher
Aston Villa Starting XI: Guzan, Bacuna, Vlaar, Clark, Baker, Luna, El Ahmadi, Westwood, Delph, Agbonlahor, Kozák
Subs: Steer, Lowton, Albrighton, Sylla, Tonev, Benteke, Weimann
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