Steven Gerrard is back in the Premier League. The Liverpool legend and Champions League winner has been announced as the new manager of Aston Villa, following Dean Smith’s inevitable sacking.
Steven Gerrard's first words as the new Head Coach of Aston Villa Football Club. 🗣️ pic.twitter.com/RwOQFqckU0
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) November 11, 2021
Having guided Rangers to the Scottish Premiership title last season with an undefeated campaign and breaking Celtic’s stranglehold in the process, this can be considered a sort of coup by the Villans. The club is teetering above the relegation zone on the back of five consecutive defeats as their summer signings have not had the desired impact yet.
🦁 Steven Gerrard has left Rangers to become Aston Villa manager.
— Sporting Life Football & Infogol (@InfogolApp) November 11, 2021
Though everyone is excited about Gerrard going up against Liverpool in December, the task facing the former midfielder is immense in revamping the mood around Villa. FootTheBall outlines the immediate problems and worries that Gerrard has to sort out.
For a manager whose team only conceded 13 goals in 38 games last season, Villa is a horror show already. Having already let in 20 times, they are the league’s third-worst defence, only ahead of Newcastle United and Norwich City. Gerrard has been using the 4-3-3 and occasionally the 4-3-1-2, which he is likely to stick with.
3 – Aston Villa have conceded 3+ goals in three consecutive league games for the first time since December 2012. Diminished. pic.twitter.com/qUZwGBjFJy
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 31, 2021
His first task will be to instil some much needed confidence in the central defenders, all of whom have been used so far. Tyrone Mings, the captain, has even been dropped while Ezri Konsa, Kourtney Hause, and Axel Tuanzebe have played in a five-man and four-man defence. Gerrard has always relied on strong centre-backs to get the job done, with Connor Goldson being one of his most admired players at Rangers.
🧐 | ANALYSIS
Rangers have started the 2020/21 season brilliantly, with their captain James Tavernier leading the way, so we decided to take a look at his stats.
He's absolutely bossing it on the right flank, putting up some jaw-dropping attacking numbers for a right-back. 👏👏 pic.twitter.com/0Kl4MVFSCH
— SofaScore (@SofaScoreINT) November 23, 2020
Fans can also expect right-back Matty Cash to get more attack-minded and contribute in the final third, given how James Tavernier had transformed himself into a regular goalscorer from the same position.
UNLOCKING EMILIANO BUENDIA
The first statement signing made by Villa to offset the loss caused by Jack Grealish’s exit. Buendia had 15 goals and 16 assists in the Championship last season but has been terribly out of form this campaign, with just one of each so far. Part of it has been due to Smith using him as the number 10, a position Buendia is not too familiar with.
36 – Emi Buendía has assisted 36 goals in English league football since signing for Norwich prior to the 2018-19 campaign, the most of any player in this time:
36 – Emi Buendía
35 – Trent Alexander-Arnold
34 – Kevin De Bruyne
33 – Nicky Adams
32 – Saïd Benrahma
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 31, 2021
The Argentine has been unable to influence games to a great effect which led to Smith moving him to the right side of the front three. Villa will be hoping Gerrard can take Buendia his wings like he did with attackers Ianis Hagi and Kemar Roofe. Both of them play across the front line and have seen their game go to the next level in Gerrard’s system, including delivering effective crosses and scoring plenty.
Most goals scored by a Rangers player this season:
◉ Kemar Roofe (7)
◉ Alfredo Morelos (3)
◉ Ianis Hagi (2)
Kemar Roofe has more than double the number of strikes compared to his teammates. 😅 pic.twitter.com/PhB6pt7YxN
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 21, 2021
Buendia is central to Villa’s hopes of continuing upwards in the Premier League standings and eventually challenging for European places.
THE MIDFIELD PIVOT
Gerrard is a big fan of using two players who serve as the defensive pivot when the team attacks. Villa have Douglas Luiz and Marvelous Nakamba who can screen the backline effectively but what Gerrard will be implying is their workrate. Luiz and John McGinn have looked jaded this season, allowing opponents to overrun them with ease.
— The Sun Football ⚽ (@TheSunFootball) November 10, 2021
Rangers’ narrow setup meant that there was no space for the opposition to go through the midfield as it changed into a mid-block. Likewise, if the play gets moved to the flanks, Gerrard will want the central options to cover the fullbacks who will be engaged high up the field. However, he will need reinforcements in the January transfer market as Villa are a little thin on options and with Jacob Ramsey picking up an injury, there is little space for rotation in the lineup.
WHO SCORES THE GOALS?
One of the most difficult tasks for Villa till now has been to get all their strikers fully fit and onto the pitch. Ollie Watkins was injured to start the season and has only just returned. Danny Ings had been a constant but is now sidelined.
Danny Ings's attacking output had already fallen way off last season at Southampton, before Villa signed him. This season it's been even worse. Dean Smith's tactics, or a problem that was already developing? Stats for the past three seasons:
— smarterscout (@smarterscout) November 7, 2021
Leon Bailey has shown flashes of his promise, though he still needs more gametime to get up to speed. Buendia is a credible threat and Gerrard will be relying on him a lot to find the net as well as setting teammates up. Anwar El-Ghazi has been on the periphery of the team and Gerrard’s affinity with wide attackers should see him feature more prominently now.
🦁 Aston Villa's Expected Goals (xG) totals by game in the Premier League this season
— Sporting Life Football & Infogol (@InfogolApp) October 31, 2021
All of them can carry the ball over long distances and transition quickly which is something that Villa have been lacking in. Needless to say, they need most of their key players to score more or less regularly if they are to avoid the drop.
DESTINED FOR GREATER THINGS?
As much as Villa expect Gerrard to lift the club back up the heights they had envisioned, the former Rangers coach has a lot of work for his personal future too. There is little doubt that Gerrard wants to manage a top-tier team in the future and without any disrespect to the Scottish top-flight, the Premier League is a different ball game.
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) November 11, 2021
This comes into greater focus given how ambitious Villa’s owners are and how much they want to get into Europe sooner rather than later. Villa have been expected to suffer a dip in results after Grealish’s sale though the money reinvested has to come good. Gerrard can take inspiration from Patrick Vieira and how well Crystal Palace have been taking flight this season. It is up to the Englishman to reinvigorate Villa and avoid any slip ups in the process.