Aston Villa recorded their second win in as many matches on Saturday with a 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace2-1 victory over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. Manager Steven Gerrard become only the 2nd Villa manager to win his first 2 Premier League games, following in the footsteps of managerial great, John Gregory. It is clear to see that Gerrard has implemented his own style of play, quite different to that of previous manager, Dean Smith. Let’s take a look at how much of an impact these tactical tweaks have had on Villa’s recent fortunes.
Utilising the 4-3-3
It is evident by the first 2 games of Gerrard’s reign that his preferred formation is the 4-3-3. In the game against Brighton, the manager opted for a back 5 of Martinez, Cash, Mings, Konsa and Targett. In midfield he deployed Ramsey, Mcginn and Nakamba, while a front 3 of Buendia, Ings and Watkins was preferred.
In this game it was anticipated that Brighton would command a lot of the ball and so the team would have to find a way to nullify that potential threat. In doing so, Gerrard instructed the midfield to remain tight and compact so the Brighton players could not pass the ball through the middle of the pitch with ease. The front 3 were positioned to press the Brighton back 4, forcing them to play it out wide. Targett and Cash were told to press high when the ball was played to their side in order to put pressure on the ball carrier. This would present more opportunities for turnovers. Overall, Villa’s game plan proved very effective in nullifying Brighton’s pressure on the ball. The seagulls were limited to just 3 shots inside the Villa box as the players restricted their opponents to a handful of opportunities. The villans ran out 2-0 winners at Villa Park courtesy of goals from Ollie Watkins and Tyrone Mings.
Up next was Crystal Palace who provided a very different test for Steven Gerrard. Villa would have their work cut out for them as they came up against some of the leagues best flair players such as Wilfried Zaha, Michael Olise and also faced the return of Ebere Eze. This, coupled with the task of keeping former Villa hotshot, Christian Benteke, quiet would ensure the players were in for a difficult afternoon. The Villa manager made 2 changes to the starting 11 as Young was brought in for Ings while Leon Bailey replaced Emiliano Buendia as the team looked to get off to a strong start. Villa took the lead on 15 minutes through left-back, Matt Targett, as Villa capitalized on Palace’s vulnerability from set-pieces. Throughout the game Villa remained compact and were able to combat Palace’s intense pressing through intricate, one-touch passages of play, as evidenced in the second goal which was stroked home by man-of-the-match contender, John McGinn, on 86 minutes. Despite a last-gasp Palace consolation it wasn’t enough to deny Gerrard his second win in as many matches as Villa manager.
Another key factor of Gerrard’s early success is his fearless nature when it comes to making changes. A good coach can identify when a system isn’t working and requires a fresh approach. Gerrard has demonstrated this in his first 2 games.
The Brighton game was heading towards a stalemate until the Villa manager brought on Ashley Young and Anwar El Ghazi on 74 and 84 minutes respectively. The 2 made a pivotal contribution towards Villa’s first goal as Young showed incredible composure in his own penalty box to carry the ball out and play a deft pass to Watkins. El Ghazi was able to drag 2 Brighton defenders towards the left side of the box to allow Watkins the chance to cut in and send his effort sailing into the top corner past Jason Steele.
Similarly, during the Palace game, Gerrard made a late switch involving Emiliano Buendia and Anwar El Ghazi as Palace began to threaten a comeback. As the clock ticked 86, El Ghazi played a neat one-two with Buendia and laid it off for the onrushing McGinn to sweep home and secure Villa a second win of the Gerrard era. These 2 examples show how proper game management can help secure a victory, something that Villa had lacked in recent weeks.
Big tests to come
Next up for Villa is welcoming Manchester City to Villa Park. While it may seem a monstrous task on paper, with a new manager, new set-up and new belief within the team anything is possible. The players will be bang-up for this encounter and it will be interesting to see how this new philosophy matches up against one of the Premier League’s most attacking teams. One things for sure, the fans will be right behind the team every step of the way.