Coutinho responds to Brazil snub in style as Villa impress
Brazilian was omitted from Tite’s final pre-World Cup squad but bossed things as Steven Gerrard’s side saw off Southampton
Philippe Coutinho took his international frustrations out on the domestic stage as Aston Villa punished woeful Southampton.
The 30-year-old Brazilian looked to have proved a point after his omission from the latest Brazil squad left him with wounded pride.
Coutinho used his first start in three games to be the best player on the pitch as he set up Jacob Ramsey’s goal and twice went close to one himself.
Villa’s second win of the season was also a triumph at the other end of the pitch as they climbed to 13th and moved level on points with their opponents.
Steven Gerrard’s side kept their first clean sheet of the season, and followed up a solid draw against champions Manchester City on their last outing at Villa Park.
Coutinho released Leon Bailey to set up the first chance as Villa probed for a breakthrough. But the winger’s finish didn’t match the outrageous looping pass as it trickled wide of the near post.
Coutinho and Ollie Watkins then combined to tee up Bailey but the Jamaican paused and seemed to be caught in two minds as the chance was lost.
With the game still to come to the boil, Saints’ intentions and Villa’s indecision was underlined when Adam Armstrong charged down a goal kick from Emiliano Martínez for a throw-in.
Coutinho was having a growing influence on the game. He had the crowd on its feet with a moment of magic in the 34th minute then was hugely instrumental in the build-up to Villa taking the lead seven minutes later.
The former Liverpool and Barcelona star pirouetted around James Ward-Prowse only for his vicious, rising drive to flash over the crossbar.
Then his stooping header – after he was picked out by Ashley Young’s cross – forced goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu to shovel away at the near post.
Coutinho’s cross was then hooked home by Ramsey off the underside of the bar from four yards out after Watkins towering header had only been pushed upwards by Bazunu, then partly flicked away by Mohammed Salisu.
Southampton made a double substitution at half-time – including a debut for 18-year-old Larios López – but it was Villa who continued to look for goals.
Ramsey’s shot cannoned off Salisu’s calf after Tyrone Mings laid off Watkins’s cushioned header as Villa threatened a second.
In time added on at the end, substitute Danny Ings blazed wide from an ambitious attempt from just inside his own half with Bazunu stranded way upfield for a corner.