Southampton v Villa: Dependable Clark ready for big role
With the games now coming thick and fast WhoScored.com, who offer the largest online database for detailed football statistics, are back with their statistical look at Wednesday night's game in Southampton, with a focus on a player that has gone from strength-to-strength this season.
In terms of their defensive record, no Premier League side have made such dramatic improvements as Aston Villa this season, who kept their third clean sheet in four matches at the weekend.
Paul Lambert's backline will no doubt need to be at their very best once again when they make the trip to Southampton on Wednesday, with the Saints remaining unbeaten at home thus far. This Villa side relish a challenge on the road, however, and will look to extend their own unbeaten run of 4 away matches, with only reigning champions United able to match that feat at present.
Their success away from Villa Park this season has been based on a solid defence, which is evident in the fact that only West Ham have conceded fewer goals away from home than the Villans this season (five). Meanwhile, only six sides have restricted their opponents to fewer shots per game away from home (13) this season - all of whom are among the current top seven sides in the league - with that average representing a vast improvement on the 18.7 shots Villa conceded per game when travelling last season.
One player that has certainly proven to be a rock on the road this season is Ciaran Clark. The Republic of Ireland international has started four games away from home at centre-back this season and was introduced as a substitute at the heart of the defence in the opener against Arsenal after the Gunners had already taken the lead. In fact, when Clark has been positioned at centre-back away from home this season, no opposition player has scored.
An unfortunate Antonio Luna own goal opened the scoring for Chelsea before Clark was withdrawn through injury in that game, while Shane Long's brace came while the Villa graduate was fielded at left-back at West Brom. Indeed, later on at the Hawthorns Villa switched to a back three with Clark moving infield and Lambert's side kept the Baggies out thereafter.
Villa have certainly needed their centre-backs to be ready to step up this season, with Clark one of those to have been sidelined along with Nathan Baker and Jores Okore at one stage or another. The 24-year old has been very dependable in that sense thus far, and has certainly come into his own in recent months.
His statistical ratings from WhoScored.com support this progression, and when excluding substitute appearances since the start of October, Clark's rating from five starts is up at 7.62. Only three Premier Leagure centre-backs have a better starting rating in that time (Winston Reid, Phil Jagielka and Danny Gabbidon) so it's clear that the Villa man is bang in from.
With their hosts on Wednesday night having won their last four league matches at home, scoring 10 goals in the process, it will take more of the same from Clark and co. for Villa to continue their impressive run away from home. On current form, however, there's little reason to believe that Lambert's backline won't be up to the task.
Find yet more statistics on Aston Villa and the rest of the Premier League, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings at WhoScored.com. Follow @WhoScored and their editor-in-chief @martinlaurence7 on Twitter.