7th-placed Southampton are to host 14th-placed Aston Villa at St Mary’s Park in their English Premier League encounter on Saturday.
A victory for the Saints will move them to sixth in the table with 60 points before the other fixtures are played, but manager Ronald Koeman believes his side need a better start to the match than in their last two league defeats away at Leicester City and Sunderland if they are to take the three morale-boosting points.
“The start in the game is always important, that makes a lot a difference. If you start well and start aggressive then it’s more difficult for the opponent,” he told the club’s official Youtube channel.
“We didn’t start well in the last two games, we have to start better than we did.
“The mood is good, but of course, after the last two defeats it was not good. I don’t think we played well, we didn’t deserve a better result in the last two games but we know our situation.”
With Swansea City trailing by just one point of Southampton and Stoke City a further six points behind the former, Koeman’s men still have a great deal to play for, according to Tim Sherwood, whose side travel to Southampton in pursuit of securing a Premier League place for next season being currently four points above the relegation zone with two games left to play this season.
The Aston Villa boss said: “I think it would be a great achievement if they got into Europe this season.
“They’ve got a realistic chance of that.
“For a club like Southampton to play European football next season will be a huge achievement.
“They’ve come this far. Why not try and get over the line?
“It’s a very important game for us.
“We need the three points and we know it will be a very difficult task going down there against a very good Southampton side.”
Former Liverpool defender and BBC pundit Mark Lawrenson has told BBC a 1-1 draw is his prediction to be the end result at St Mary’s this weekend, and said: “Southampton’s lack of goals is an obvious problem for them at the moment but, other than that, I don’t know why they are struggling now compared to the first two-thirds of the season when they played so well.
“Flip their season round and everyone would be talking them up for next year but because they have faded it is threatening to overshadow what has been an excellent campaign.”
“Aston Villa, in contrast, are flying and picked up another huge win against West Ham [United] last week.
“They are not mathematically safe yet, but I do not see Tim Sherwood’s side being relegated.
“He is a very positive coach and that has rubbed off on his players – they look like they are enjoying themselves again.”
Former Arsenal midfielder and Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson has suggested that Southampton are to win 2-1 over Villa despite Koeman’s men’s wobbly form.
Merson wrote on Sky Sports: “I think this will be a hard game for Villa.
“I know Southampton are having a bit of a wobble at the moment, but I am going to go for them to win this one 2-1, even though that goes against the form book.
“Both sides still technically have things to play for this season, but Villa may just have one eye on the FA Cup final now and so I am going to go for Southampton here.”
In the two side’s previous six meetings Southampton and Villa have emerged victorious twice, while having to share the spoils on two occasions, with this season’s opening encounter in the Premier League ending in a 1-1 draw at Villa Park.
The Saints last two home games have been far from disastrous, winning 2-0 over Hull City and drawing 2-2 with Tottenham Hotspur.
However, away form has been poor, losing all of their last four league matches on the road, most recently a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Leicester.
Aston Villa, on the other hand, have had a string of good results with three wins, one draw and one loss – a narrow 3-2 defeat at Manchester City – in their last five league matches, as well as a English FA Cup final having being booked after their 2-1 semi-final win over Liverpool.
Coming to St Mary’s after a 1-0 win over West Ham, Villa’s team morale will be high, but their away form has been less convincing, with four losses and two wins in their last six away league matches.
With Southampton have a superior goal difference of +18 to Villa’s -20, first-team goalkeeper Fraser Forster, Saints assist-leader Dusan Tadic and key midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin are for Southampton, along with Jay Rodriguez and Emmanuel Mayuka.
Villa’s injury list consists of key centre-back Ciaran Clark, Chris Herd and Libor Kozak, with Nathan Baker a doubt for their encounter with Southampton.