What Can We Expect From Steven Gerrard At Aston Villa?
This image is a derivative of The Holte End - Villa Park - mosaic - Est 1874 - AVFC Prepared by Elliott Brown (CC BY 2.0)
One of the best players to ever grace the English Premier League, Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard is back, this time in a suit, to help save Aston Villa’s troubled season.
From Glasgow to Birmingham, Gerrard has followed in the footsteps of Frank Lampard and decided to take the managerial role of one of the bigger clubs in England.
After leading Rangers to their first title in ten years, in the process preventing Celtic form collecting their tenth-straight Scottish crown, this was a natural next step in Gerrard’s managerial career.
With that said, the Ranger’s gig is markedly different to what he can expect at Villa who sit in 16th place and are currently enduring a 5-match losing streak.
Gerrard’s versatility and adaptability will be tested within a league where his side will wield nothing close to the dominance Rangers enjoyed in the SPL.
Let’s look at what Villa fans can expect from Gerrard now that he’s in the hot seat.
Tactical Set Up
Gerrard favoured a 4-3-3 during his time at Rangers, deploying this system for the majority of the last two seasons at Ibrox.
While he does switch to a 4-3-2-1 on occasion, his traditional 4-3-3 has worked brilliantly over his time in Scotland, so expect something similar to be deployed at Villa.
While it mightn’t be as expansive in England, Gerrard’s 4-3-3 is both traditional and modern in its approach to attack. Rangers’ 4-3-3 opted to build up from the back with the centre back splitting wide and with the centre of the midfield-3 dropping deep to create a single pivot which allowed the wingbacks to take an advanced position higher up the field.
They built up very quickly and vertically, intending to get the ball to the deep playmaker who could start the ball progression up the pitch. They've had the 2nd most passes per sequence in the league this year with 4, whilst also being the second quickest side in advancing up the pitch at 1.65 meters/second. This is illustrative of the quick and intricate football Gerrard opted to implement in Glasgow and which has fuelled their dominance and made them a nightmare to defend against.
The two-outside centre mids push high and occupy the half-spaces, while the striker drops deep to create an option centrally - in the initial stages of build-up play - as well as to create space in behind the defence by dragging the centre back out of position.
These gaps in behind are capitalised upon by the cutting wingers, who act as wide strikers, the centre forward pushing the last line of defence once the ball is in a very advanced position. The width is maintained by the pushing wingbacks, who are integral to the functionality of this Rangers side, as seen by James Tavernier who has enjoyed the most goal contributions in the Scottish Premiership this season with 11.
Other features of this Rangers side are that they are highly threatening from set-pieces generating the most shots from such opportunities with 81 so far while producing a massive set-piece xg of 7.5. As well as this, the wingers who occupy the spaces in-behind often switch places and are very dynamic with the striker- thus creating confusion in the opposition defence.
Defensively, the 4-3-3 structure is maintained with the front-3 providing an intense press, with the midfield three sitting very tight to cut off passing lanes. Considering the talent at their disposal and how they can dominate games more often than not, Rangers haven’t needed to do much defending, so this will be a facet of the system which Gerrard will need to address in his new role.
However interestingly, in matches in Europe, and when Rangers have been under the pump, Gerard has been comfortable dropping players back and creating a 4-5-1, negating space and opting to hit the opposition on the counter.
As mentioned, this system will need to be changed and adapted to fit a side that doesn’t control games with as much regularity, however Gerrard has shown that he has good foundations and can get a side ticking within a very effective system.
So who will Gerrard play?
Gerrard’s personnel selection will dictate the way he wants Villa to play.
The likes of John McGinn, Matty Cash, Matt Targett, Ezri Konsa, Tyron Mings and Danny Ings are all near-on guaranteed to start. They are Villa's most reliable players and will provide vital continuity from the old boss to the new gaffer.
The role players however will make for interesting selections. Douglas Luiz played 8 games in a row to start the season before a hamstring injury sidelined him, though he is expected back soon. Similarly, Danny Ings and Bertrand Traore both played a good number of games early on but were sidelined and are also expected back imminently.
Characteristics of Rangers squad selection were expansive and attacking fullbacks. Centre backs who are comfortable in possession and have a good range of passing. Physical and adventures centre midfielders that can both attack and defend, a holding midfield who has a good passing range and can break lines. And a front three who are interchangeable and fluid in possession and possess good off-the-ball movement.
Gerrard is already rumoured to be after Ryan Kent from Rangers. This would fit the build perfectly as the former Liverpool youth player has the pace to play on either wing and the goal-scoring ability to play as a central striker.
With this considered, this is how the line-up Gerrard could select once they have a relatively full squad available.
Some amendments that Gerrard might implement include the potential inclusion of Jacob Ramsey playing as one of the outside centre mids as well as Ollie Watkins playing on the right-wing. A massive question will be how Gerrard opts to utilise the brilliant Argentinean Emi Buendia whose lack of speed could pose a concern for Gerrard and is another reason why Ryan Kent is on his radar.
Was it the right choice?
It’s highly probable that Gerrard won’t be here for long. This is a steppingstone as he inevitably takes the place of a departing Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, whether that be in 2, 3 or 4 year’s time.
In the meantime the more pressing question is just how far can the he propel Villa. He’s shown that he has ‘the bottle’ to win Leagues and win trophies, and while it might take a while for Gerrard to return Villa to the heights of last season, he will eventually get Aston Villa back amongst the boys.
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