As Aston Villa slipped to another defeat this past weekend, both the performance and result posed more questions than it did provide answers over Steven Gerrard’s future.
It’s perhaps best to break things down into three separate parts with regards to Sunday. Pre-match, during the match and post-match, with all three timelines raising question marks over Gerrard’s management at Villa.
Questionable line up decisions
Once again, we saw changes made to the starting XI with Emiliano Buendia dropped back to the bench after just one Premier League game, while Jacob Ramsey joined him there despite being our only real penetrative option in midfield to break the lines with his directness.
Further, Gerrard stuck with two up top with Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins leading the way, despite the fact that this system has shown on countless occasions that it doesn’t suit our players particularly well on a consistent basis.
Nevertheless, despite being out of form and struggling to have a positive influence on our play, both John McGinn and Philippe Coutinho remained in the starting XI, and unsurprisingly, Villa encountered similar problems to those we’ve experienced both at the start of this season and the end of the last campaign.
Inability to break West Ham down, failure to adapt to half-time tweak from Moyes
While we enjoyed 60 percent of possession in the first half and denied West Ham a single shot on target, the key piece that was missing was that we lacked any real cutting edge or quality in the final third to find a breakthrough of our own.
That ties in with the points above in relation to Buendia being benched again, our most threatening creative option on a consistent basis thus far, as well as Leon Bailey, who was rewarded for his midweek impact and goal at Bolton Wanderers with a seat on the sidelines.
Naturally, having failed to take our chance while on top in the game, West Ham switched from a back-five to a back-four at half-time and started to find their rhythm and become more of a threat. Add in personnel changes with Said Behrahma bringing more energy to their attacking play, Gerrard’s in-game management came under question again as we simply didn’t adapt or adjust well enough.
We lost our way in the second half and although there was a huge amount of fortune involved in their goal, we didn’t look like scoring and didn’t come back into the game well enough after going behind. Bailey was introduced after 78 minutes, while Cameron Archer had all of three minutes to make an impact.
Surprising post-match comments from Gerrard
From his lengthy snub of Morgan Sanson to his recent comments on Tyrone Mings after he was left out at Bournemouth, the way in which Gerrard has managed his squad and spoken publicly about his players has raised eyebrows.
It was the same theme on Sunday as seen in the video below, as while he insisted both he and his staff still had confidence and belief in the players, he put the responsibility and pressure on them to believe in each other and produce on the pitch.
The top managers over the years have rarely ever done that and are happy to soak up the pressure and keep it away from the players, but Gerrard seemingly believes that the issue lies with them.
All the above points don’t paint a positive picture of the situation at Villa currently, and while good results against Arsenal and Man City this week would certainly change the mood around the club drastically, there is still no long-term confidence that Gerrard is getting his identity and style of play across to the players and we’re continuing to drift further down the Premier League table while he figures it out.
That’s now 12 points from the last 45 available, while our three wins in the last 15 league games have come against Norwich, Burnley and Everton. That is simply nowhere near good enough, and for a club and CEO in Christian Purslow who spoke about ‘continuous improvement’ when justifying the decision to sack Dean Smith last year, we’re regressing and going backwards, and have been dating back to last season.
🗣 "Yes, I've got confidence and belief in this group."
Steven Gerrard remains faithful his squad can turn their bad fortune around pic.twitter.com/WawDs5V2ci
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) August 28, 2022