Steven Gerrard has been in charge at Villa for around 4 months now, so would have surpassed his 'probation period' not too long ago. When he arrived, he brought along new ideas, some bright backroom staff, and a huge presence. We could clearly see his vision for the club, and his style of play, but we knew it was a process which needed time.
Through media analysis, some research, and conversations with Rangers fans, us fans got to learn about Gerrards preferred style of play. He likes to play with two number 10s, in a slightly unconventional 433, using full backs to provide width higher up. The two 10s look to drop in to collect the ball with runners moving beyond them.
In defence, the team is compact and shifts to overload the ball side, with the aim of forcing the ball to the opponents full backs, and our centre mids pressing them, trying to force an error or win the ball back. We saw this identity develop pretty fast in Gerrard's first few games, as well as seeing players hit higher levels, such as Marvelous Nakamba did.
In Gerrard's first 6 games, we won 4 of them, with the defeats coming against heavyweights Manchester City and Liverpool. The players seemed to understand their roles, and the gaps between them had shortened, allowing easier progression up the pitch, in a sort of vertical tiki-taka fashion. The signs were really good for this system.
More recently however, teams have found it easier to exploit our system, and found joy in taking advantage of the gaps left when we commit forward. Brentford showed that fast 1-2s on the wing can drag players out of position, and empty space in the middle for players to run into. Leeds were devastating in transition, taking advantage of huge space laterally where McGinn and Ramsey had to cover alone many times.
The issues that had arisen were firmly compounded at Newcastle last weekend, with a poor showing. Many pointed out the sloppy performances from players, but for me, and many others i have debated with, the issue was caused by the shape/system. Luiz wasn't sitting between Chambers and Mings, Cash and Digne were effectively wingers, and McGinn/Ramsey were covering the full back space. This left very little outlet for ball progression in the central areas, as Buendia and Coutinho weren't dropping deep to collect frequently.
(Image from @TalkinTactics)
We miss Nakamba, for sure, but the problem derives from a glaring amount of space for whoever is playing as our 6 to operate in. They're either outnumbered when on the ball, and pressed out of possession, or they have to patrol a space occupied by 3 to 4 opposition players. We ended up seeing long balls return against Newcastle, and seeing the ball come back at us rapidly.
Tweaks are definitely needed to the system for the weekend, and Gerrard has already stated that personnel changes will happen. He wants to progress his system, and it is a process which doesn't happen over night, but for now, he needs to make slight changes to get the best out of the players he has. Cash isn't a productive wing back, McGinn is best placed higher up the pitch, Luiz needs to sit deeper, and Buendia is ideal dropping in between Ramsey and McGinn to be an option to progress into. A diamond shape, in effect.
Not everything has been gloomy on the pitch recently, however. We've seen Coutinho flex his creative ability, Ramsey become quite the midfield goalscorer, and Buendia being an influential figure in build up play. Watkins is admittedly on a goal drought, but that also is a product of a struggling build up in possession. His goal against Newcastle was harshly chalked off by VAR, and as correct as the decision was according to football law, it doesn't sit right with me, and many others.
Away from the tactics, and on field matters, Gerrard's media presence has been a real positive. Honest in his views, deflecting individual criticism and turning it into a collective issue, and providing great tactical insight has not gone unnoticed by the fans, who have fast fallen in love with him.
We can see his winning mentality already, and also his effect on individuals within the squad. Before Nakamba's injury, he had found a new level of performances, sweeping up beautifully, and breaking lines with passes.
In the transfer window, the 'Steven Gerrard pull' was already shown with the acquisition of Philippe Coutinho, Lucas Digne, and the courting of Yves Bissouma. He is not shy in upgrading in positions he feels necessary, and will demand the drive, energy, and end product it takes to reach a higher level as a team. Players he doesn't see fit to play in this team will most likely be told their role as a squad player, or moved on altogether.
As of right now, the season already looks to have fizzled out. In my personal opinion, i think we have too much quality to be involved in any sort of relegation scrap, and too much complacency to have any chance of reaching the top 7.
This, essentially, is a free hit at fine tuning the system, and pinpointing the issues, whether it be tactically or within personnel. I believe that with what we have at our disposal, the bigger picture remains exciting, and extremely hopeful, under the management of Steven Gerrard.