Steven Gerrard made a bright start to his tenure at Aston Villa, but results in the early months of 2022 have highlighted the challenge ahead of the former England captain to propel the club forward.
Gerrard made an instant impact after replacing Dean Smith in the dugout, lifting the Villans away from the bottom three and into the safety of mid-table.
In terms of objectives, preserving Villa’s Premier League status would have been Gerrard’s top priority amid their problems at the start of the season. He has certainly achieved that, although there is a little way to go before it is complete.
A strong end to the campaign would push Villa into the top half of the table, and a football bet of the day would back Gerrard’s men to finish as the winners of the Premier League without the top six with odds available of 40/1 for the club to beat out their rivals to finish best of the rest. However, there are pressing issues that Gerrard must rectify if his team are to end the term on a high note.
Gerrard was backed in the January transfer window as Lucas Digne was signed for £25 million from Everton, while Philippe Coutinho completed a loan move from Barcelona. The two undoubtedly strengthened Villa’s attacking capabilities, especially the latter given his prowess in the final third. The move on Digne was curious considering that Matt Targett was named Players’ Player of the Season for the previous campaign and was a reliable starter at left-back, but Digne was seen to offer a better attacking dimension down the flank.
Villa have improved in the final third since Gerrard’s arrival, although the form of Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings is a concern. After 23 matches, Watkins notched only five goals, while Ings mustered only four since his arrival from Southampton last summer for £25 million. Both players are capable of reaching double figures in the Premier League, and there is no shortage of talent around the forwards to allow them to maximise their potential in front of the goal. The onus is on Gerrard to conjure a system that brings out the best in his talents without compromising their defensive structure.
Much like Frank Lampard did at Chelsea, Gerrard has had issues addressing the balance in his squad. In his first six games in charge, Villa conceded only four goals, two of which came in a 2-1 home defeat to Manchester City. However, in the next six games, Villa shipped 11 goals, including three in a draw against Leeds United at Villa Park. Gerrard seems keen to employ an attacking philosophy, highlighted by his move for Digne and Coutinho in January.
It is a positive strategy from the 41-year-old, but he could learn a lot from Lampard’s tenure at Chelsea about the dangers of a lack of balance. Lampard’s Chelsea conceded 54 goals in his first season, and although his side staged an improvement in his second season, the issues at the back continued shipping at least three goals in games against West Brom, Southampton, Arsenal and Manchester City. It was a trend that Lampard could not break, and the success of his replacement Thomas Tuchel in rectifying those issues demonstrated flaws in his approach.
Gerrard is still in the very early days of his reign at Villa Park and pointing out odd results is harsh. However, they will be worth monitoring over the rest of the season to see whether they become the norm. If so, the former England captain may have to go back to the drawing board in terms of his approach.