Following our draw with Leeds Utd on Sunday, Aston Villa boss Steven Gerrard has some crucial decisions to make heading into our next fixture.
Despite playing against 10 men for over 40 minutes in the second half, Villa failed to find a breakthrough at Elland Road as we spurned big opportunities and struggled to produce a convincing attacking display.
In turn, it certainly feels as though we threw away the chance to secure an important win as we try to put a run of form together and instead had to settle for a share of the spoils.
However, such was the nature of the performance and as ongoing doubts over our attacking play persist, there are still major question marks hanging over Gerrard. While we’ve undoubtedly become more organised, scrappy and harder to beat, that is the minimum we should expect as we continue to struggle to find a balance and add quality to our play too.
Emi Buendia has to start
It is truly baffling how a player who continues to add more quality, creativity and urgency than most others whenever he gets a chance off the bench hasn’t yet earned a spot back in the starting XI.
Emiliano Buendia continues to make a positive impact in any game he gets a chance in, and particularly with others struggling to offer consistency, and in some cases any sort of decisive impact in the final third at all, it’s unclear what more is needed for that change to be made.
With his unpredictability, flair and movement off the ball, Buendia adds attributes that are much needed in our attack, and as we continue to struggle for goals, Gerrard must find a way to get him on the pitch more.
System change needed regardless of Digne, Cash absences?
One of the more frustrating aspects of that performance was the insistence on passing it wide to Ashley Young and Ezri Konsa in the full-back positions and asking them to build our attacks from the back.
It’s a different situation when we have Lucas Digne and Matty Cash in those roles as they can push it forward and build something, but especially with back-ups and those not in their natural positions, it’s a questionable choice.
Villa need Douglas Luiz, John McGinn, Jacob Ramsey or whoever plays in midfield to drop deeper and demand the ball. Instead of constantly persisting with the idea of attacking wide, we need a system and direction of play that varies it and gets our creative players like Philippe Coutinho on the ball in more central areas to do damage.
Having lost count of the number of long, hopeful balls played forward on Sunday, there is evidently a lack of inventiveness and quality in our build-up play and something needs to change.
Key individuals not offering enough in attack
That’s now five games without a goal for Ollie Watkins. Both Coutinho and McGinn have featured in eight games each so far this season, and between them they have no goals and no assists.
That sums up our attacking threat in many ways, as those are three key individuals who should be doing more in the final third if we want to be a more clinical and ruthless side.
While we should expect more from them or find ways to get the best out of them if the current system isn’t working and suiting them, there are plenty of options on the bench who should be given a chance. Cameron Archer, Danny Ings, Buendia, Morgan Sanson and others should be used and given an opportunity to put those ahead of them under more pressure and earn a starting spot.
Another of our biggest issues is just how predictable we are.
It makes the opposition manager’s job so easy in terms of planning on how to shut us down as they know exactly what to prepare for.
Our midfield issues are the same as they were a year ago, Coutinho in particular is very one-dimensional when playing out on the left and Leon Bailey’s obvious strengths are well known.
Perhaps one of the reasons behind Buendia’s success in making a difference when he comes on is his unpredictability and touch of flair as well as his movement off the ball, as those are unknowns that players have to adjust to in-game rather than being prepared for heading towards kick-off.
Gerrard buying time but delaying inevitable?
Whether it’s the insistence on playing players who are not producing, going back to a midfield that we know doesn’t deliver what we need at a high enough level, never giving the likes of Cameron Archer or Morgan Sanson a chance or having failed to oversee any improvement in the players at his disposal, there is a long list of issues going against Gerrard.
We still don’t look like we have an identity or style, tactically we look uninspiring and no real progress is being made as Sunday’s draw was disappointing but not surprising.
So given the fact that we’ve now gone three games unbeaten, having scored just two goals but conceded one, is that enough to suggest that Gerrard is turning a corner or is he just delaying the inevitable? The inclination right now is that it’s the latter, as while results are improving in the short-term, there are still major long-term questions and not many answers being delivered.