Steven Gerrard brings forth the promise of a new dawn for Aston Villa
Steven Gerrard is the right man at the helm|
There's a new manager at the helm of Aston Villa. They were destined to scramble for safety this season under Dean Smith but a change has been made and Steven Gerrard has now embarked upon a tough challenge as he aims to lead the Midlands club to a top half finish in the Premier League.
Aston Villa have endured a difficult campaign so far after a summer of wishful scouting and immense investment into the squad. Aiming for a place in Europe among the elites of English football they found themselves closer to the dropzone just before they sacked long-serving boss, Dean Smith. A new era has dawned at Villa Park as former Liverpool captain and Rangers boss Steven Gerrard has come in to replace Smith.
Gerrard's new chapter as a manager is already impressive for someone who does not have any prior experience in managing a club in Europe as he led the Scottish team to their first-ever Scottish Premiership under his tenure. Gerrard is now stepping up and transitioning to a tougher league albeit in familiar surroundings but the question remains whether he can translate his skill set for a resurgent Villa side as he starts a new chapter in his ever-growing managerial career.
The foundations that Gerrard has built around in his side revolves around making his team harder to beat. The Englishman brought greater defensive organization and more intense pressing to the squad. He made sure to improve the standards and increase the fitness levels of the players under his disposal.
In his first season at Rangers, the average shots against Rangers went down by two per 90 minutes, goals conceded per 90 decreased from 1.32 to 0.71. Gerrard also revitalized a faltering football club in European football as he led them to draws against teams such as Villarreal and Spartak Moscow while claiming a win over Rapid Wien.
Only four teams in world football have gone a 38+ game top-flight season unbeaten this century:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 15, 2021
🏴 Arsenal (2003-04)
🇮🇹 Juventus (2011-12)
🏴 Celtic (2016-17)
🏴 Rangers (2020-21)
Steven Gerrard's side go into the record books. pic.twitter.com/kgZR5oUZAI
Previously having struggled to beat teams from Luxembourg this was a level up for the Scottish side as they put up promising displays that befit the status of a club like Rangers. While the Gers couldn't get out of their Europa League group that year, they were able to get positive results in four of their six games.
Tactically, Gerrard is a staunch proponent for a back four. During his time at Scotland, he experimented with a back three just once in his entire time at Ibrox. At the beginning of his spell at Scotland, he deployed a simple 4-5-1 or 4-2-3-1 with one or two midfielders supporting the lone striker. Towards the end of his inaugural campaign, he went for a narrow 4-4-3 with a fluid front 3 that blocked passes through midfield and forced opponents wide.
In attack, the Englishman made several changes in his first season as he constantly rotated between full-backs, wingers, and attacking midfielders as he looked to find the optimal solution for their best pairing in attacking play. As his side got accustomed to the narrow 4-4-3, their play became more fluid as the 3 attackers interchanged and combined to cause havoc on the ball.
Gerrard's tactics played a part but another key influence was the recruitment of better quality players and adding depth to their attacking options. They slowly transitioned out of their immense reliance on goals from Alfredo Morelos and Jermain Defoe as the Scottish side could now call upon Ryan Kent, Ianis Hagi, Joe Aribo, and Kemar Roofe to find the back of the net.
Another constant in Gerrard's spell at Ibrox was that he liked his full-backs to overlap and provide quality crosses into the box with him also asking his centre-backs to try more ambitious passes to speed up the game and keep the opposition guessing. Connor Goldson hitting a diagonal pass over the top for Kent to run onto was a consistent sight at Ibrox.
Gerrard also consistently assigned one holding midfielder, another midfielder who could connect defense with attack, and another attack-minded player who could make dangerous runs off the striker into the box and score goals from the edge of the box. His time at Rangers was a monumental success as he led them to an unbeaten league title and a drastic improvement in their showings in Europe highlighted his leadership and managerial prowess.
Last season Aston Villa were closer to the top-six team in their defensive stats but things have flipped this season as they have kept fewer clean sheets and have started conceding more goals. For a manager that sets up his team with solidity in the back, Gerrard is assured to prioritize their improvement defensively.
The Aston Villa team he inherited is not as big a rebuilding job he had in his hands when he took over Rangers in 2018 and he will have a strong base to pick from. Villa was a team that used to play with the 4-3-3 system under Dean Smith so there won't be structural changes in terms of defensive shape but the organization will be key alongside tweaking the intensity of the team's press.
The collection of midfielders that Gerrard has inherited with Villa will also suit him as Douglas Luiz can act as the deep playmaker who can control and dictate the tempo while Jacob Ramsey can act as the midfielder who could link the midfield and attack due to his quick feet and high work rate. Finally, the highly rated John McGinn is the ideal choice for Gerrard's need to have an attacking midfielder that could provide intelligent runs and be at the right place at the right time.
Not only that, he can pick from a plethora of talented attackers at his disposal with Emi Buendia who could slot into midfield or play as a roaming No 10. Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings are completely different types of strikers with their style of play and each of them could be used depending on the game plan and opposition. Leon Bailey, Anwar El Ghazi, and Bertrand Traore could provide pace and quality on the wings against any opposition.
For Aston Villa, the aim must be to finish inside the Premier League's top half and they are on track to do so under Gerrard who has already clinched 3 wins in 4 games. The Englishman secured a convincing 2-0 win over high-flying Brighton in his first game in charge at Villa Park and then went on to beat Crystal Palace away 2-1. The Villains faltered at home against the Premier League champions as they were defeated 2-1 but they rebounded back to beat Leicester 2-1 at home on Sunday.
3/4 - Having only won three of their first 11 Premier League games of the season under Dean Smith (D1 L7), Aston Villa have since won three of their first four under Steven Gerrard (L1). Statement. pic.twitter.com/LBLycbngHV— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 5, 2021
Gerrard no longer has the pressure to win trophies during his tenure at England but he will have to adjust to a much stronger league with greater depth and unforgiving fixtures. It may take time for him to implement his philosophy but he has already proven in his short time so far that he can manage at a high level. Yet with a trip to Anfield next on his dance card, the new Villa boss is back to where it all started for him although he will have to separate his emotions and hopefully dampen the mood in what is truly his real test.