Since the turn of the new year, Steven Gerrard's Aston Villa have played 24 games. He has won 5, drawn 7, and lost 12. Gerrard has now had a total of 31 games as Villa's head coach with a return of 38 points. In Dean Smith's final 31 games, he achieved 36 points and was sacked.
With Arsenal and Manchester City coming up in the next seven days, it's almost a certainty that Gerrard's record will end up being worse than Smith's. When Smith was sacked, the Villa hierarchy was very clear that the prior season's poor form played a part in their decision. Surely the same should apply to Steven Gerrard? Despite how close he may be to Christian Purslow.
The Dream of Pre-season
The end to last season saw Aston Villa pathetically limp to a 14th place finish. Nothing seemed to be clicking, and results only appeared to come against team's struggling at the foot of the table.
After a decent start as Villa head coach, many felt that Gerrard's tactics had been figured out quite quickly by opposition teams, and the former Liverpool man appeared to have no plan B in place.
Despite a handful of frustrated supporters, the majority of the fanbase were more than happy to just let the season fizzle out and give Gerrard a proper pre-season to get more of his own players through the door and properly implement his style of play.
Although Villa managed to go unbeaten in pre-season, there weren't too many convincing performances and the first eleven had only seen two additions made in Boubacar Kamara and Diego Carlos. That would, of course, become only a single addition after Carlos was ruled out for the majority of the season.
Fast forward to the full-time whistle this past Sunday and after four games, it's fair to say that Villa have not improved in the slightest despite Gerrard getting this pre-season that would supposedly fix all of Villa's problems. If anything, there's more signs pointing to Villa going backwards rather than forwards.
Going Round in Circles
They say the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Well, welcome to Aston Villa Football Club, Ladies and Gentlemen..
The same old recurring issues are plaguing this Villa team week after week. The fullbacks are told to bomb forward as much as possible, often leaving tons of space for the Zaha's of this world to do what they do best. The midfield gets overrun time and time again, with none of the usual three being able to pass the ball with any confidence. While the strikers can run and run all game and get zero service from the rest of the team apart from aimless crosses and long balls into the box. Rinse and repeat next week.
Even when a small change is made for the betterment of the team, it feels as if Gerrard can not wait to undo his own good work. Take yesterday for example, the addition of Douglas Luiz into midfield in place of Jacob Ramsey meant the ball moved through the centre of the park much more fluidly thanks to Luiz's passing skills.
But then, in the 66th minute, Gerrard seems to think the answer to getting a goal is to replace Luiz with Ramsey. No disrespect at all to Ramsey, but as soon as he was back in that midfield with John McGinn, the entirety of Villa Park felt that the game was lost.. Eight minutes later, it was.
This isn't the first time that a questionable decision from Gerrard has made supporters feel that he's out of his depth at this level. The chosen centre-back pairing of Ezri Konsa and Diego Carlos backfired on the opening game of the season against a very poor Bournemouth team. Gerrard's answer to that howler? To throw former club captain Tyrone Mings under the bus.
And again after an early Ollie Watkins goal against Crystal Palace, instead of being calm and defensive, Gerrard has Villa go for the throat for a second goal only to get countered and eventually lose the game. Even in the only win of the season against Everton, that was very nearly thrown away by questionable defensive decision making.
One of the most concerning issues with this Villa team is a complete lack of a backup plan. Gerrard sends the team out in either a narrow 4-3-3 or in a diamond formation with two up top. The game plan is often very easy for other teams to figure out, with the only width coming from the fullback positions and those long balls and crosses being the only form of attack.
As soon as the opposition figures out a way to deal with this Villa side, it's game over. Why? Because Gerrard never appears to be capable of implementing a back-up plan. Instead, it's Buendia on for Coutinho with twenty minutes to go, and maybe Cameron Archer will get a five minute cameo while Gerrard sinks into his chair with his arms folded.
Regression And Team Spirit
As Villa fans, we're used to poor results. In fact, we can usually accept them as long as the effort is there or we see a clear idea of what the team is trying to do. That clearly isn't the case at the moment. And what's worse, it feels as though it's beginning to have a negative effect on the dressing room.
The performances and results have been diabolical, but there's no denying that this is the best group of players that Villa have had on their books since the Martin O'Niell days. Worryingly, there's more and more signs popping up that this group of players are not happy, and who can blame them?
Although it's only rumours at this point, there's been a lot of talk of a rift between Tyrone Mings and Steven Gerrard. Mings, a true leader who helped Aston Villa Football Club return to the Premier League where they belong. A leader who then helped Villa stay in the league and has never given less than 100%. If Gerrard, a man who has only beaten the likes of Norwich, Burnley and Everton as a head coach, has an issue with Mings, I think we all know which side the Villa fanbase will be on.
Then there's Morgan Sanson, Villa's number 8 who has essentially been made an outcast by one of the most famous number 8's to ever play the game. Sanson's comments before the Bournemouth game makes it clear how unhappy he is with the current set up. The same can be said about Frederic Guilbert who has been training with the reserves and also publicly airing his grievances. Even if neither of these players are good enough to play, treating them in this way can only add to the negativity already growing in the dressing room.
Leon Bailey, a player who was brought in to help replace Jack Grealish, appears to be having a frustrating time under Gerrard if Craig Butler's recent comments are anything to go by. Maybe this is hyperbolic, but it really feels like Bailey might end up leaving Villa if he continues to not have a place in this team. If Villa were to lose Bailey, a player that other teams looked enviously at us for signing, it would be nothing short of a complete and utter failure on behalf of Gerrard and his management team for wasting such an exciting prospect.
It's not just the players Gerrard doesn't fancy that is causing problems. His go-to favourites appear to be regressing in every game they play in this current system.
Philippe Coutinho got off to a brilliant start last season, but as time goes on he's become less and less impactful in games. Yesterday was an improvement for sure, especially when linking up with fellow Brazilian Douglas Luiz. But most weeks, Coutinho has felt like a ghost, and yesterday, Luiz was stupidly taken off the pitch which hampered Coutinho's game.
Then there's John McGinn. A fan favourite for the most part of his Villa career and the man Gerrard has chosen as his captain. Well the decision to stick the armband on the Scotsman and continue to play him week in and week out is beginning to look like a dreadful one. McGinn may have blown hot and cold for a while now, but recent performances have only been on the decline.
Even Danny Ings, a prolific goal-scorer for every team he's played in has a disappointing total of 8 league goals since joining Villa after hitting double figures per season at Southampton. Admittedly some of that would have been under Dean Smith, but the point is that Ings hasn't improved under Steven Gerrard. Arguably, no player has.
The Next Step..
So what's next? Reports suggest that the board will indeed back Steven Gerrard as of right now. As the transfer window approaches its end, it's obvious that Villa need at least one centre-back, another midfielder, and maybe even another forward option. Especially if Archer ends up going back out on loan.
Unless there's a miracle in the next few days, it appears Villa may see Jan Bednarek or Craig Dawson come in and that's it. Both would be solid additions, but are unlikely to really affect Villa's current trajectory.
So with this in mind, it really is down to Steven Gerrard to get the most out of this Villa team and get them moving in the right direction. We can talk about sackings and new managers all we want, but the harsh truth is that doesn't appear to be happening anytime soon. Which can easily lead to some real damage being done for the remainder of the season.
If Gerrard is given until the World Cup for example, then there's a high possibility of Villa being down at the foot of the table come November. Not only would that be a huge concern for the club's future, but it might also have a negative impact on who Villa can bring in as the next manager. After all, who would want to take over a club scrapping at the bottom of the league with a frustrated fanbase and an unhappy dressing room.
This may all read as a bit of an over exaggeration, and maybe it is, but we all know how fast a club can fall apart in this league if they are not run properly. There haven't been any signs in 2022 that the team can turn this around, if anything, it's only getting worse. Some pundits in the media have pointed to Arteta's poor start last season as a comparison to Gerrard this season, though I'd argue losing to newly promoted Brentford in their first ever Premier League game, European Champions Chelsea, and League Champions Manchester City is very different to losing to Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and a poor West Ham team.
Personally speaking, I'd love for Gerrard to turn this around and for every one of us to feel a bit stupid for calling for his head. I would honestly love nothing more than for somebody to read this article back to me in six months time and publicly embarrass me for being so negative so early. Sadly though, there's not a part of me that can see that happening right now. Instead, I fear that aimlessly backing Gerrard and assuming it will come good is going to do some serious damage in the long run.
Only time will tell. Until then, Up The Villa