MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19: Steven Davis of Southampton celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Southampton at Etihad Stadium on August 19, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Okay, enough about the Swansea win. It was wonderful, and Aston Villa fans have every right to feel encouraged, but the trouble with early season wins is that there's still a whole lot of time for those good feelings to be extinguished. We've seen two good performances from this side, but we've also seen two not so good performances; while there are plausible reasons to think the quality shown in Villa's most recent games is more representative than the lack thereof in their first two, we don't have a large enough sample size to feel anything close to confident in that being the case. That's why Saturday's clash with Southampton feels more important than it would seem at this point in the season; there's very little reason to think the Saints are an especially good team, and if Villa struggles then the needle of perception could very quickly move back in the opposite direction.
And though Southampton are the only Premier League side yet to earn a point, it isn't as though they've looked horrendous every time out. Both Manchester City and Manchester United had to claw back from 2-1 down with under 20 minutes remaining to secure 3-2 victories. A 2-0 home loss to Wigan and a 6-1 drubbing at the Emirates were less encouraging, but in spite of the lack of results at the end this is a side that has shown an ability to battle against some very good teams.
I don't really subscribe to the belief that Southampton are any more dangerous now than they otherwise would be because they are "desperate" for a win; good teams win a lot of games, bad teams lose a lot of games, and many teams in a worse position than the Saints have lost games that carried significantly more weight than this one. It will be a handy narrative device if the home side is able to pick up their first points of the season, but from Villa's perspective there's no getting around the fact that such a result would be a major letdown. The schedule takes a pretty sharp turn towards the brutal here shortly, and avoiding dropped points in games such as this one could be vital in keeping the positive momentum rolling forward.
Southampton's style of play isn't too much of a secret; they fought their way to the Premier League by playing attacking football, and they've shown little inclination towards changing that approach any time soon. There are some quality attacking players in this side, with Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Jason Puncheon, Jay Rodriguez and Steven Davis all more than capable of hurting teams in various ways. Their struggles have been largely at the back, with long spells of opposition possession exposing their weaknesses. If a team can keep the ball against Southampton, pull out a bit of creativity at opportune times, defend set pieces adequately and keep the counter-attack in check, they're probably going to be in pretty good shape.
From Villa's perspective, the interesting thing will continue to be how Paul Lambert chooses to go about things. Was Christian Benteke's performance against Swansea enough to earn him a place in the starting lineup next to Darren Bent? Is Barry Bannan going to shift permanently out wide? Will we see Joe Bennett make his debut, or has Eric Lichaj done enough to earn a regular starting spot? The new players have been with the team for long enough now that there's little reason to expect that they wouldn't play if Lambert thought they were good enough to do so.
And of course, it will be interesting to see how Villa respond to putting together such a good performance last week. Confidence is a tricky thing; too little is clearly a problem, but too much (or, perhaps more accurately, the wrong kind) can be even worse. A little swagger and self-belief is almost a prerequisite in a decent side, but it's important not to put the cart before the horse. Southampton can and probably should be beaten, but until Villa show that they're capable of winning games such as this one on a regular basis then they don't have much of an excuse for big-headedness.
Luckily, that's the kind of thing that Paul Lambert seems quite good at preventing. That's a good thing in a big-picture sense, obviously, but it's also a good thing in the immediate sense. Aston Villa are good enough to beat Southampton, and if they play well they probably will. Pretty simple stuff, really. And a win in this game means seven points, three straight positive results, and some momentum headed into the League Cup clash at the Etihad on Tuesday. Win that one and West Brom doesn't seem like quite so daunting a task next week. But then, maybe it's not the players that ought to worry about getting ahead of themselves.