Ronald Koeman has warned that Southampton cannot take victory for granted when they visit already-relegated Aston Villa in the Premier League on Saturday.
Villa were consigned to the Championship by a 1-0 defeat at Manchester United last weekend, and problems off the field continue to pile up at Villa Park.
Gabriel Agbonlahor’s suspension over newspaper allegations, the departure of directors David Bernstein and Mervyn King and the threat of 500 job losses have left the club under a growing cloud.
If every cloud has a silver lining, the Villa Park ground staff’s Premier League Grounds Team of the Year award will do little to placate a sizeable contingent of disenchanted fans.
But Koeman believes Villa’s players will be determined to win back the support of their followers this weekend, with the pressure of a relegation battle now over as they prepare for life in the second tier.
“This Saturday, it’s a difficult one for several reasons,” he told his pre-match news conference on Thursday. “They are already relegated, it will be a different atmosphere in the stadium, but more than ever we need to focus on ourselves.
“We need to take the motivation out of ourselves to play on a good level and to win the game.
“If you don’t win, nobody is happy. If you win, maybe for most people it is [expected]. It’s always the most difficult to play.
“It’s not easy because they play at home, they need to win the support of the fans back and they will start the game seriously.
“It’s all about ourselves and how we go into the game. That’s the work we’ve had to do this week to prepare for the game.”
Southampton have suffered just one defeat in their last six matches and remain in the hunt for a European qualifying berth, sitting five points adrift of sixth-placed West Ham.
Graziano Pelle has been central to Southampton’s recent form, scoring four goals in his last five matches and weighing in with three assists, and Koeman is delighted with the Italian’s contribution.
“He’s scored goals, he was important in providing assists for the team,” he added. “That’s always good for the competition with the strikers.
“I’m happy with his performance in the last few weeks.”
Southampton – held to a 1-1 draw in December’s reverse fixture – remain without the services of Charlie Austin (knee), while Agbonlahor looks set to be Villa’s only absentee of note.
Key Opta stats:
– Aston Villa have won just one of their last seven Barclays Premier League matches against Southampton (W1 D3 L3).
– Last season, Sadio Mane scored the fastest hat-trick in Premier League history when they played against Aston Villa at St. Mary’s Stadium (2m 56s).
– There have been just seven goals scored in the last six Premier League meetings between Villa and Saints at Villa Park.
– Shane Long has scored five goals in his last six Premier League appearances against Aston Villa.
– Aston Villa have won just two of their last 18 Premier League home games (W2 D4 L12) and lost the last five in a row. They have never lost six consecutively at home in their history.