As he walked around the Villa Park pitch following his substitution, Philippe Coutinho was given the kind of reception usually reserved for a club’s greatest players.
The Brazilian, brought to Aston Villa on loan from Barcelona by his former Liverpool team-mate Steven Gerrard, was applauded and serenaded as he returned to the bench, and responded by blowing kisses to the supporters.
Coutinho, remember, has been at Villa for only seven matches, claiming three goals and three assists in that time. Most players are not treated like this even after seven seasons.
Philippe Coutinho showed all his class with a Man of the Match display to beat Southampton
The Brazilian was given a rousing reception as he came off during the rampant 4-0 victory
Ollie Watkins netted for the second game in a row as he broke the deadlock after nine minutes
Former Southampton striker Danny Ings (middle) wrapped up victory to ignite Villa Park
ASTON VILLA (4-3-1-2): Martinez 7; Cash 8, Chambers 8, Mings 7, Young 7; McGinn 8, Luiz 7, Ramsey 7 (Bailey 78); Coutinho 8 (Buendia 81); Watkins 8, Ings 8 (Sanson 71, 6).
Subs (not used): Olsen, Traore, Hause, Chrisene, Iroegbunam, O’Reilly.
SOUTHAMPTON (4-2-2-2): Forster 7; Livramento 5, Bednarek 5, Stephens 4, Perraud 4 (Walker-Peters 58, 6); Ward-Prowse 5, Romeu 5 (Diallo 77); S Armstrong 6, Elyounoussi 4 (Valery 46, 5); Adams 5, Broja 5.
Subs (not used): Caballero, A Armstrong, Redmond, Djenepo, Smallbone, Walcott.
Referee: P Bankes (Lancashire)
Coutinho turns 30 in June and would represent a significant investment in wages if he joined Villa permanently.
Though his future remains uncertain, one thing is clear: Coutinho and Villa had far too much for Southampton here, as they delivered their best performance since Gerrard replaced Dean Smith as manager last November.
Goals from Ollie Watkins and Douglas Luiz had the home side 2-0 up by half-time and it was 4-0 within 10 minutes of the restart as Coutinho and Danny Ings – on his first appearance against Saints since leaving them to join Villa for £25million last summer – also found the net.
‘We’ve got Philippe back fit and in a really good place,’ said Gerrard.
‘He was back to his Liverpool form and he was a touch above.
‘When Phil is in the mood he is a world class player. He probably finished my career a couple of years early. He’s the reason I’ve got six screws in my knees and my groin. The other players have got a lift from him.
‘At times he showed a level that was above the level of the game, and it was a pleasure to be in the stadium. He was man of the match.
‘I am trying to build an exciting team here to make the fans proud and happy. We could have scored six or seven today but I am perfectionist and I wanted us to show more personality and character on the ball in the second half.’
Douglas Luiz doubled Villa’s advantage with a straightforward finish in the centre of the box
Coutinho was a delight with the ball at his feet while Ings also silenced the taunts of his former supporters. As well as scoring the fourth, Ings set up Watkins’ and Coutinho’s goals. It has been a difficult beginning to life for Villa for Ings but this was the day it all clicked.
‘Danny’s partner is due to give birth so you could understand if he wasn’t focused,’ added Gerrard. ‘But he has been very good in the last couple of games.’
Even though they were without Ezri Konsa and Lucas Digne due to Covid-19, Villa did not miss a beat as they registered back-to-back wins under Gerrard – the first time they have done so since the victories over Brighton and Crystal Palace at the start of his tenure.
Ings was facing Saints for the first time since his move and the barracking from the visiting fans was as loud as it was predictable – but the forward helped silence them after only nine minutes.
Coutinho (left) made it three as he pounced on a loose ball and hammered it into the net
Ings’ clever through-ball found Watkins, who spun expertly away from Jack Stephens before finding the net via the fingertips of Fraser Forster.
Saints just about managed to keep Villa at bay until shortly before the interval, when their defence fell apart. Coutinho went close after Cash’s cross fell kindly for him inside the box, and then playmaker shot straight at Forster from six yards following superb work from Watkins, who had danced away from Tino Livramento and crossed.
Coutinho quickly made amends by latching on to Calum Chambers’ brilliant lofted pass and rolling it into the path of Luiz, who supplied a simple finish.
Remarkably, there was still time for Coutinho to miss another chance as he ran on to Watkins’ flick-on and drew Forster but guided his finish past the post.
Villa began the second half as they had ended the first and quickly went 3-0 up. When Luiz’s shot was blocked, John McGinn reached the loose ball first and outmuscled Armando Broja before finding Ings. Ings’ touch presented the ball to Coutinho, who spun away from James Ward-Prowse and found the net via a deflection off Jan Bednarek – his third Villa goal.
Ings then wrapped up the victory for Steven Gerrard’s side by scoring against his former club
Number four arrived when Matty Cash made yet another charge down the right and his cross was cleverly guided beyond Forster by Ings, who declined to celebrate despite an afternoon of stick from the travelling fans.
‘It was simply not good enough,’ admitted Saints manager Ralph Hasenhuttl.
‘You could feel Villa wanted it more than us. All the bad things came together in one game and the team are very unhappy with what they showed, but we now have the chance to start the next run.’
Nothing could spoil Villa’s day and the challenge now for Gerrard is to build on this. Having invested the better part of £500million, owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens will expect plenty more days like this next season.