After securing a share of the spoils against Man City last time out, Aston Villa boss Steven Gerrard now prepares for two crucial games in his tenure.
There were many positives to come out of both the performance and result against Pep Guardiola’s side, as we saw that the players are very much still battling for Gerrard and will continue to give everything to turn our form around.
Importantly, the Villa fans were given something to get behind with our second-half performance on Saturday in particular, and that connection of having the support behind the players will be fundamental in making Villa Park a difficult place for rival teams to come and get something as the atmosphere and feel around the stadium was so much better.
Gerrard adopted a more pragmatic and defensive approach against City though, for obvious reasons, and while it worked well against the Premier League champions, will he stick with that against Leicester City and Southampton in the next fortnight or will we see an attempt to return to the style of football and identity that he is still working so hard to put on display?
Intriguing wait to see what Villa set-up and style of play Gerrard goes with
Ultimately, it made sense to go back to basics in a way by prioritising the defensive performance against Man City, given we expected them to dominate possession and control the tempo of the game better than us.
Villa were well organised and cohesive as a defensive unit off the ball which was impressive to see, and we gradually started to use our pace and movement on the counter-attack to show a clear way of playing and direction in what we were trying to do.
That has been missing for months now as while we look like we’re trying to press and play on the front foot, the lack of balance and organisation in the side often leads to that breaking down and in turn it leaves us exposed in midfield and defence.
So while the result in itself was a huge boost this past weekend, the performance was more encouraging and it now sets up an interesting dilemma, albeit a good one, for Gerrard moving forward.
Perhaps the decision will be easier this Saturday as we’re on the road against Leicester City who are struggling themselves, and so keeping things tight at the back and hitting them on the break could be productive for us.
Given we’re at home against Southampton, the onus will be on us to make things happen and so that will be where it becomes more interesting as to whether Gerrard sticks with what has a better chance of getting results, and thus strengthening his future and position, or he tries to go back to Plan A and be a more proactive side looking to control possession and tempo.
Having been in a precarious position last week, Gerrard and Villa will be delighted with the resolve and grit that we showed last time out, but the real test comes now as we need to build on that and start moving up the table. If we fall short against Leicester and Southampton, the pressure will build once again and if we’re still struggling in terms of an identity and a settled XI that Gerrard believes is his best line-up, we’ll have taken one step forward and two back.