What are Aston Villa trying to be? Whatever it is, they’re not doing it very well. There’s no substance or style to the Villans.
Words: Regan Foy | @findfoy
As Aston Villa faltered to a bottom-half finish last season, there was much talk from manager Steven Gerrard about needing a full pre-season and his own players to truly leave an imprint on the squad. He was asking for time to prove that with a summer with the side, fans would be able to see some kind of substance in their play.
We’re now here after a full pre-season, five new signings (with two who were previously loaned to the club), and three games against opposition who, at least on paper, Aston Villa should be beating. Have we beat those sides? Just the one – and even then we didn’t do that convincingly.
Against Bournemouth, there seemed to be very little game plan other than get it out wide and throw a hopeful ball into the box against one of the tallest sides in the entire league. Against Everton, despite picking up three points, the side looked shaky defensively. Against Crystal Palace, the midfield was non-existent and the defence looked like a pack of jelly thrown against a wall, never mind shaky.
Across three games, Gerrard has tried a 4-3-3 away from home and a 4-1-2-1-2 at Villa Park. The 4-3-3, away from home, with both Jacob Ramsey and John McGinn in the starting eleven, means there are two “runners” with Kamara, somewhat of a progressive destroyer sat behind them. It’s too much of an aggressive option while not at Villa Park to play.
Both at home and away, there is nothing resembling style or substance from Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa. The side are not a defensive side, adept at grinding out wins through rugged displays. Nor are they a strong counter-attacking side, able to soak up pressure and break with regularity. The level that Aston Villa are at dictates that they’re not an attacking, front-foot side.
It seems like there are instructions there, but that we’re just not good at anything we’re attempting to do. We attempt to play out of the back at times, which often results in a long-ball sprayed towards the likes of Ollie Watkins, who generally struggles to trap the ball or hold it up. When we don’t do that, Martinez opts to clear it to the full-backs, who are positioned high in our own half. Against Palace, Martinez failed to find his full-backs and gifted possession back to the home side on several occassions.
Perhaps Gerrard’s attempting to make Aston Villa a possession-based side. With 66% possession on the opening day and 58% against Everton, today’s 48% was the lowest of the season so far – but the key thing is that whether the side dominate possession or not, there’s so little impetus to do something with the ball that isn’t throwing it into the mixer, that those numbers are pretty useless.
Aston Villa attempt to press, but don’t do it particularly well. Under Dean Smith, there was often talk of “setting traps” for the opposition to fall into under our press. Under Steven Gerrard, it seems like we’re half-heartedly pressing into traps set by the opposition and being left half way up the pitch without a paddle.
There is no style of play. There is no structure to the side. There’s no organisation on or off the ball. Gerrard can open up the Sawiris and Edens check book time and time again, but Aston Villa will make no progress no matter who they sign. Any success at Rangers is seemingly based upon the quality of the playing staff compared to the rest of the league – not on Gerrard’s tactical nous.
Things need to improve, and quickly. The manager talks a big game – but at the moment, it’s like the blind leading the blind. You can sign names like Coutinho, Digne and the now injured Carlos, but a name will only get you so far – which seems to be the case with Stevie. Signing players to “win now”, only works when you actually win.