Where has Steven Gerrard improved Aston Villa? The midfield, of course | Aston Villa

TThings can change quickly in football. At the start of October, after a very rare win at Old Trafford, Aston Villa were just four points off the top of the table. Due to his standing with the fans and his accomplishments at the club, Dean Smith seemed secure in his job. Five weeks and five straight defeats after that – with the club just two points above the relegation zone – the board of directors made the relatively divisive decision to part with one of the most famous coaches in their history.

A little over a month later, Smith was in opponent training as Villa beat Norwich and took his fourth win in six games since his departure. What were quickly dwindling hopes of qualifying for Europe were suddenly renewed under the leadership of Steven Gerrard. Not only did the new coach capture the minds of a group of players who were getting hurt, but he also secured the hearts of many in the fan base.

Some supporters questioned his appointment. He wasn’t a fixture in the Premier League and apparently had designs for another job – although that narrative may have been motivated more by the media than the man himself – and while Villa’s recent results have been poor, many fans were hoping to give Smith more time. . However, a month later, only Liverpool and Manchester City have won more matches than Villa since Gerrard’s return to the Premier League.

Coincidentally, City and Liverpool are the only two clubs to get points from Villa under Gerrard. There were encouraging signs in these defeats that the team is in good hands. Despite the 2-1 loss to City, fans at Villa Park were in a strange mood after a racy second-half display. And while they were outdone in the 1-0 defeat at Anfield, the match was ultimately won by a penalty decision – or two – that the Villa camp deemed unfair.

Gerrard immediately raised the levels in nearly every department, not least in terms of intensity and organisation, from almost zero at the time of Smith’s departure. Injuries played their part, but for one reason or another, the team got lost. Having struggled to form an identity when Jack Grealish missed through injury, he lost any semblance of that identity completely when he left for City in the summer.

Infographic from WhoScored.
Infographic from WhoScored.

The buzzword from Gerrard was “spaces”. He admitted in his first press conference that it had become too easy for rivals to get a four-way FIA defence, not least because of a lack of positional discipline in midfield. It’s not something easy to spot, but the team’s form outside of possession and movements as one unit is clear to see. Previously, there was randomness in the method of pressing and defending.

These distances are now consistent. If the opponent moves the ball from side to side, they will be tracked from a distance by a Villa team that offers much fewer ways to defend. Gerrard’s style for the Rangers was to play with a tight front three, sometimes akin to forming a Christmas tree. Then the wide strikers get away from the ball and push the three midfielders into the center back.

The full-back also plays a pivotal role, with Mate Cash and Matt Targett required to provide breadth in attack. The energy of criticism was especially useful. While Norwich is not the strongest of opponents, Gerrard made it clear after winning 2-0 this week that this performance was the closest to how he wants his team to play.

The new manager was understandably wary about changing too quickly – and the team had to sit deep against City and Liverpool – but if you look at the average defender positions from Smith’s last game at Southampton to Gerrard’s first against Brighton, then back to the game at Carrow Road The differences are quite clear. Villa plays higher off the field and has the ball as a whole, but these defenders push forward a lot. Against Saints only defenders Ezri Konsa and Tyrone Mings were deeper than Cash in terms of their average touch maps. Fast forward to Norwich and Cash was the fourth most advanced player at Villa.

Such a shift in mentality at full-back is only possible if it comes along with a three more organized midfield, night and day for that matter. John McGinn is an obvious mascot for Villa, but his spirited midfield style has been detrimental to the team at times. Curbing his enthusiasm and instilling more discipline when losing possession has enabled the team to be tighter and actually helped McGinn to be more involved when Villa regain possession.

Marvelous Nakamba, who missed two months ago with a knee injury, showed the composure in possession that had been absent from his match before; While Jacob Ramsey sees more ball. The often crossed midfield due to the fact that form does not exist now plays a much larger role in the team’s overall play, both in and out of possession. Statistics confirm this. Villa’s key midfielders have gone from averaging 115 touches per game under Smith to 165 touches per game under Gerrard. The minute passes from this trio increased from a modest 58 to 95.

It’s no coincidence that the top five Villa players since Gerrard’s arrival are Target, McGinn, Nakamba, Ramsey and Cash – based on our statistical ratings. In possession at least, they basically formed a midfield of five players. It seemed a bit straightforward to suggest that the position Gerrard played would enjoy the most improvement under his leadership, but here we are. The Villa midfield problem is solved by a player who was among the best in his field. Overlooked and cast into shadows when Grealish was the center of attention, Villa’s midfielders now have time to shine.

Leave a Comment