May 14, 2015

It's become a bit of a crisis at Southampton, as the Saints desperately try to stop the rot and re-ignite their European hopes Saturday at home against last-place Aston Villa at St Mary's Stadium.

Southampton have dropped three in a row across all competitions since the international break, with each defeat successively worse. The Saints (5-5-4) dropped a 1-0 verdict at home to Stoke City on Nov. 21 and were outclassed 3-1 at Manchester City last Saturday.

Wednesday night, though, was a disaster on all counts as Ronald Koeman's team were left in tatters following a 6-1 thrashing at home by Liverpool in the quarterfinals of the League Cup. Sadio Mane staked the hosts to a first-minute lead with a snap header, but it all went pear-shaped for Southampton as Daniel Sturridge bagged a brace in a four-minute span of the first half to open the floodgates.

By the time the final whistle blew, Divock Origi recorded a hat trick and Jordon Ibe also netted for Liverpool, sending Southampton 180 degrees since heading into the break on an eight-match unbeaten run.

"It's important we pick ourselves up now and hopefully get back to winning ways on Saturday, and make sure we get a reaction and that's the most important thing," captain Steven Davis told Southampton's YouTube account. "We don't want it to happen again. It's making sure it doesn't happen again, and how you go about that is making sure we work harder."

Koeman shouldered the blame for the final 45 minutes, as his defence was overrun following his switch to a three-man backline in a bid to jump-start his team.

"I took the risk to play with three at the back to change the system and try to come back in the game," the manager said. "They punished us from incredible high quality in the space, which they had more of in the second half."

Thankfully for Southampton, their next opponent has lacked such quality since an opening-day victory. Aston Villa (1-2-11) are mired in a club record 13-match winless drought in league play, during which they've also lost nine of their last 10.

Manager Remi Garde saw Villa net their first goals since he took over the team, but the defence again proved leaky in last Saturday's 3-2 home defeat to Watford. Micah Richards and Jordan Ayew scored for Aston Villa, who could not find a late equaliser after Ayew's 89th-minute tally despite 10 minutes of injury time in the second half.

Garde is hoping the Ghana international will provide more offence as the Villans face what likely will be a season-long fight to avoid the drop for the first time since the inception of the Premier League in 1992.

"I'm very happy with Jordan's performance," Garde told the team's official website. " ... It's not easy to play in his position because he has to run a lot everywhere - defensively, offensively - and for me he's shown the right way to the other players as well."

Villa are trying to avoid joining the 2005-06 Sunderland squad as the only club to have five points through their first 15 matches in the Premier League era. And in terms of remaining in the top flight, history does not augur well for the Villans. The only three Premier League teams with five points through 14 matches - the aforementioned Sunderland squad, Queens Park Rangers (2012-13) and Swindon Town (1993-94) all finished last.

Southampton already have a home win over Aston Villa to their credit, advancing to the League Cup quarterfinals with a 2-1 victory Oct. 28. Graziano Pelle, who sat out the Saints' loss to Man City due to a yellow card accumulation, and Maya Yoshida scored second-half goals while Villa got a late consolation from the spot by Scott Sinclair.

In last season's corresponding fixture, Mane set a Premier League record for fastest hat trick, scoring three goals in a three-minute span. Shane Long added a brace in a torrid 25-minute stretch of the first half as Southampton thumped Aston Villa 6-1.

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