Despite falling behind, Aston Villa ran out 4-1 winners against Bolton in the Carabao Cup in midweek as Steven Gerrard and his players picked up a welcome win.
Following the disappointment of our second defeat in three Premier League games so far this season at Crystal Palace last weekend, Gerrard took no chances against the League One outfit as we named a strong XI featuring many regular starters at the University of Bolton Stadium.
That was an indication of how important it was to ease the ever-building pressure on the Villa boss and his players as well as emphasising the importance of what a win could do for confidence and building momentum heading into our meeting with West Ham Utd on Sunday.
While it didn’t exactly go to plan in the first half, Villa’s superior level of fitness and quality in the side ensured we saw off a spirited Bolton side and advanced to the next round. Ultimately it was job done, but the result in some ways arguably masks the problems and concerns that still exist in this Villa side.
Gerrard still not fully convincing in terms of what he wants from his Villa side
As noted above, our first-half performance in particular was concerning as it was essentially a continuation of what we’ve seen so far this season and dating back to last year too.
While it’s understandable that the opening stages were always going to be tricky as Bolton threw everything at us, we didn’t react well enough and looked vulnerable defensively as they created opportunities.
Further, there was no inventiveness, creativity or quality to our play for the most part as we looked one-dimensional in searching for movement from Ollie Watkins up top and again that led to a frustrating lack of chance creation. If we wanted to see clearer signs of an identity or a style of play, we didn’t really get it until the hosts faded in the latter stages and were vulnerable.
Mings delivering solid performances
After returning to the starting XI, Tyrone Mings has performed at a high level and has earned the right to stay in the line-up.
Especially with Diego Carlos now sidelined for a significant period of time and with a lack of options in defence currently, Gerrard will have to lean heavily on the former Villa captain and he’s certainly delivering thus far.
From his physicality and height to his positioning and reading of the game to cut out danger. He’s also keeping it very simple in possession and not trying too much, thus leading to efficient and consistent error-free performances.
McGinn well off the pace and his own previous high standards
While it evidently isn’t too much of a concern to Gerrard given he continues to select him in his starting XI, John McGinn’s form to start the season should be a real worry.
The 27-year-old is losing far too many midfield duels, his passing is often not accurate enough and his frustration tends to lead to giving away silly free-kicks regularly.
It was a big move to make him captain as dropping him now would be a major statement. However, if McGinn’s form doesn’t improve and he doesn’t provide us with more control and presence in midfield, a change will be needed otherwise we will continue to struggle.
Coutinho still lacking killer touch
Gerrard named Philippe Coutinho in his starting XI in a bid to perhaps allow the Brazilian to find his form but it was a struggle for him again in the first half.
While he picked up the ball in dangerous positions to make decisive contributions, his final pass was still off the mark as he couldn’t make the most of good runs from Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings.
Villa need him to sharpen that up and find his best form again, as ultimately while there were positive signs on Tuesday night, he arguably left the game frustrated once again over his inability to directly influence proceedings.
Frustration for Archer in limited run out
Two weeks after the club confirmed that Cameron Archer would be an important part of Gerrard’s squad this season, speculation has reemerged over his future in relation to a possible loan exit to get regular playing time.
This game was the perfect opportunity to give the talented young striker a proper run out, giving him a chance to stake a claim and show that he’s ready to contribute in a Villa shirt this season.
Instead, he was limited to the last 10 minutes or so of the encounter, during which he still managed to show how much of a threat he can be, but it was baffling that he didn’t get on sooner or even start this game as he certainly won’t have much better luck in the Premier League ahead of both Watkins and Ings.