Analysis

Steven Gerrard is an invigorating appointment at Aston Villa

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Aston Villa have officially announced the appointment of Steven Gerrard as club manager. The ex-Liverpool player takes over the reign at Villa Park after opting to leave Scottish side Rangers mid-season, and join the Claret and Blue on a three-and-a-half-year contract. The development comes after Aston Villa parted ways with Dean Smith last Sunday, following a string of five consecutive defeats in the ongoing league campaign.

Steven Gerrard joins the club on the back of an incredible three-year spell with the Rangers, having suffered no defeats during the club’s title-winning campaign last season – their first domestic title in 10 years. Moreover, Gerrard moves to the Premier League boasting an incredible managerial record. The former player joins Villa having left Rangers in a comfortable position to defend their title and recorded 124 wins, 41 draws, and only 27 losses during his time at the Scottish club.

Although an arduous test awaits the 41-year-old in the Premier League, the ex-Liverpool player joins the club with a proven pedigree. “Steven and his backroom staff have ensured that the club is undoubtedly in a better place today than it was three-and-a-half years ago,” said Rangers sporting director Ross Wilson. Villa CEO Christian Purslow, too, echoed similar sentiments saying, “It has been very clear in our discussions with him that Steven’s coaching ambitions, philosophy and values entirely match those of Aston Villa.”

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Aston Villa are reportedly said to have paid a £4.5mn compensation to Rangers in acquiring the services of the Liverpool legend. With Villa standing just two places above the relegation zone, Gerrard is set to face a demanding task if the club are to challenge for a European spot this season. Having struggled to find a spring in their step in recent outings – compounded by the departure of Jack Grealish – and marquee signings yet to settle since arriving in the summer, the Englishman will be hoping to revitalize the squad ahead of their next fixture against Brighton & Hove Albion on November 20. 

However, given the enormity of the managerial change, it remains to be seen if Gerrard succumbs to the pressure or grows increasingly convincing in his methods over the remainder of the campaign. Nevertheless, given his ambitious decision, the former midfielder is certainly capable of dismissing his critics as he prepares for life in the English midlands. 

An Eye for Talent

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image credit: twitter / AVFCOfficial

While Dean Smith’s three-year spell made for some exhilarating moments at Aston Villa, Gerrard is expected to pick up the baton from his fellow countryman. A boyhood Villa supporter, Smith’s service in promoting the club back to the Premier League and success in keeping them in the division remains largely ignored, however, in Gerrard, the fan-base have a resplendent replacement, likely to command a similar amount of respect, influence, and commitment in the dressing room.

Although only his first management role, the 41-year-old has shown tremendous growth since taking charge of Rangers back in 2018. Last season proved to be a marker for progress in the Englishman’s managerial career as he succeeded in not only clinching the Scottish Premiership but also claiming back-to-back Derby wins over Celtic whilst finishing top of their Europa League group.

A vital part of Gerrard’s success, former Chelsea and Liverpool academy figure Micheal Beale alongside former Villa assistant coach Gary McAllister remain pivotal figures in the Englishman’s backroom set-up – credited with nurturing a healthily competitive environment for both senior and younger players during their time at Rangers. The duo is expected to carry over the same at Villa, thus, continuing Dean Smith’s culture of integrating youth whilst meeting the demands set by the club.

With Gerrard at the helm, fans can expect a well-drilled, organized, and boisterous footballing side, along with seeing their talented academy prospects such as Carney Chukwuemeka, Jaden Philogene-Bidace, and Louie Barry, amongst many others, been given opportunities under the new management. Beale, in particular, is expected to play a pivotal part in youth player development, having previously coached the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mason Mount, and Tammy Abraham, amongst others, at the academy level, before joining up with Gerrard at Rangers a few years later.

Palatable Brand of Football

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Although questions are likely to unravel going deeper into the campaign, Gerrard will almost certainly produce an attractive brand of football. During his spell at Rangers, the Liverpool legend deployed a proactive 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation in a bid to take the game to the opposition whilst focusing on advancing the ball up the pitch.

Gerrard has predominantly preferred having his full-backs provide the width and involved them in the build-up play whilst encouraging his midfielders and wingers to support the attack from the central areas and the inner-flanks, respectively. In addition, the Englishman also developed a philosophy encouraging interchangeability amongst the attackers, ordered his title-winning Rangers side to cause overloads across the pitch, and established a man-oriented pressing system during his spell at the club.

Inheriting a crop of Premier League proven players, Steven Gerrard will be expected to deliver to the high standards set by the club and the fan base. In the likes of Leon Bailey, Emi Buendia, and Danny Ings, among others, the 41-year-old has three creators capable of executing his attacking philosophy on the pitch. Additionally, with two reliable full-backs in Matty Cash and Matt Targett, Gerrard will look to enhance his existing modus operandi in a bid to extract the most out of his defenders’ overall attributes.

However, while the attacking side of the pitch is unlikely to raise insurmountable issues, the Englishman will be presented with a strenuous task in forging an intimidating backline. Owing to the lack of a reliable holding midfielder – critical to Gerrard’s set-up – Villa could continue struggling to keep clean sheets for the remainder of the campaign. At Rangers, the double-pivot formed a vital component of Gerrard’s approach, allowing his full-backs to venture high up the pitch whilst providing adequate defensive cover, however, at Villa, the Englishman’s philosophy could be impeded owing to a vulnerable backline, thus, stifling services to his attackers upfront.

Nevertheless, given the potential beginning of a new era at Aston Villa, the optimism surrounding Steven Gerrard’s arrival outweighs the scepticism held by many supporters. The Liverpool legend is amongst the most promising managers on the continent, however, it remains to be seen if he succeeds or slips up yet another opportunity to achieve honours in the coming seasons.

         
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