Steven Gerrard admitted that he needs his key Aston Villa players to become “headline writers” if they are to win consistently in the Premier League and improve their early season form. The Midlands outfit disappointingly missed out on a place in the top half of the league table following a draw 1-1 draw with strugglers Nottingham Forest on Monday night.
Whilst Gerrard’s men remain unbeaten in four games, they have managed just seven goals in from their nine Premier League games so far this campaign. Speaking to Sky Sports after the draw at Forest, Gerrard said: “The important thing is how I get this team to be more potent.
“[For] Effort and application a lot of our play is OK until you get to a certain point. But look around the dressing room and you see [Philippe] Coutinho, [Emiliano] Buendia, [Ollie] Watkins, [Danny] Ings and [Leon] Bailey will be back soon.
“I need these players to step up and provide big moments and go and be headline writers for us.”
Indeed, the Villains have some quality players in their arsenal, players who are full-fledged internationals and certainly good enough to be playing Champions League level football. That’s the kind of level the club aspire to, or even Europa League football at least.
Harbouring the sort of lofty ambitions both West Ham United and Leicester City have managed to achieve in recent seasons, punching well above their weight, battling for European spots every season, but Villa are well below those standards, despite their personnel quality and that’s a huge worry for boss Steven Gerrard.
Their current league position leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s the quality of their performances which is the biggest concern. Fans are now even questioning whether the club have improved since the Liverpool icon came in.
IS THERE PROGRESS?
It’s now nearly a year since Gerrard was appointed Aston Villa manager, and yet he still does not know his best XI, especially after considerable additions over the summer. His current win percentage of 35.1% is even lower than Tim Sherwood who only lasted 9 months on the job in 2015.
Aston Villa Premier League managerial win rates:
Tim Sherwood – 36%
Steven Gerrard – 35%#AVFC
— bet365 (@bet365) October 10, 2022
Played 37, W13, D7, L17. It’s a below-par record for a manager who arrived with the expectation of transforming the club’s fortunes after his wonderful success at Rangers in Scotland, take them to the next level gradually through thrilling attacking football, bringing about a greater connection between the players and fans and taking them closer to the European places.
In fact, after nine league games, Villa are three places and a point lower than they were at this stage last season when Dean Smith was at the helm, which inevitably lead to his sacking.
📉 A look at how Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa side compares to Dean Smith previous side 👇 pic.twitter.com/6l0lDPAR5y
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) October 11, 2022
While Gerrard’s managerial counterpart on Monday night was provided with a saving grace – a new contract – despite his side’s poor form, it’s now the former Rangers manager staring down the barrel of a gun with plenty of Villa fans calling for his head.
QUALITY AT DISPOSAL
In a team filled with quality, they all look like a bunch of strangers, especially in attack. Players which many Premier League managers would kill to harness in their squad, and Gerrard doesn’t seem to be making the most of the gifts at his disposal. Their goal scoring is a significant issue, only seven league goals scored so far this campaign and only 45 goals throughout Gerrard’s tenure.
Steven Gerrard was appointed manager of Aston Villa to take us to the next level. To push for Europe, to play attractive attacking Football. That is not happening. The experiment has lasted long enough. It’s time for change.
— Ty Bracey (@TyBracey) October 10, 2022
Some may read the latter number as a decent tally, but considering the expectation placed on him when he walked through the Villa doors and the quality in his weaponry, that tally will certainly worry the Villa hierarchy.
INDIVIDUAL STRUGGLES? OR IS IT MORE THAN THAT…
Steven Gerrard’s attack right now is floundering, and Monday night’s performance against Nottingham Forest proved just why. Philippe Coutinho and Emiliano Buendia are indeed supposed to be one of the Premier League’s most devastating creating partnerships yet, Villa fans are still waiting to see the best of them both together.
The struggles of former Liverpool and Barcelona playmaker Coutinho typify Villa’s situation. The Brazilian scored five times and provided three assists last term after joining the club initially on loan in January, but his contributions have tailed off significantly. In a season where much was expected after his permanent summer move, he has failed to register a single goal or assist and has looked a complete shadow of his former self.
Whether that’s down to Gerrard’s failing 4-3-3 system or a lack of confidence in the extremely talented Brazilian, one can only tell. But many of the Villa faithful will point to the former. Steven Gerrard’s style just isn’t working. They look to laboured, lacking invention and creativity and way too predictable. Yes, full-backs are a huge part of his setup and injuries to both Matty Cash and Lucas Digne have played their part but they shouldn’t be the sole reason for his team to find their spark.
Former Aston Villa assistant manager Roy Keane added on Sky Sports: “If Gerrard gets to January and these players are not producing, does he have to change them?
“I could not believe how bad Villa’s attacking players were. They have quality but it’s the lack of quality to try something. They lacked the bottle to try and hurt Forest – that comes down to the players.
“Gerrard has to be under pressure because they are not winning games, and they have a tough run of games. That is not good enough for a club like Aston Villa.”
They finished Monday night with an expected goals (xG) number for the night of 0.72 having registered just two shots on target. It’s no only his creative midfielders who are lacking in any real quality, but his frontman too. Ollie Watkins does do the dirty work, but if he is to stake a claim for a place with England, he’s got to be more potent and influential up front, but the lack of creativity behind him means he’s arguably out of the firing line.
FRUSTRATIONS AT WEST MIDLANDS
Aston Villa are really no fun to watch right now as they continue to average a point per game and show no obvious sign of improvement since Gerrard’s appointment.
And it’s quite damning that their best performer right at this moment in time is 37-year-old veteran Ashley Young who could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that this Villa side is nowhere near the levels of the Martin O’Neil side he made his name with over a decade ago.
The West Midlands club are in a huge spot of bother, and providing Gerrard is given more time, he’s got to change tac quickly. Whether that is changing formation and system to get the best of his attacking quality or implementing a who different style, it’s something he and his staff will have to ponder with much thought and consideration because his Villa side looks a far cry from the team that were at times so fun to watch under Dean Smith.
Gerrard also said post-match: “We’re asking the players to be brave and courageous and we don’t want to shoehorn them into one position. I want them to step forward and go and write headlines in a positive way.”
Executing that is the hardest part of his job description and with a rejuvenated Chelsea up next on Sunday, the pressure is certainly increasing.
Steven Gerrard admitted he’d be “thinking of changes” next weekend, as the task and expectation of finishing in a top 10 spot for the first time in 12 years grow all the more problematic. So have this Villa side improved since Gerrard’s appointment? The answer is a resounding no.