Aston Villa came out empty-handed against Man City on Wednesday night, falling to a 2-1 defeat at Villa Park.
Goals from Ruben Dias and Bernardo Silva in the first half were enough for the visitors, as despite Ollie Watkins striking just after the break, Villa were unable to find another to level things and secure a share of the spoils.
Despite the loss though, there were certainly signs of encouragement for Steven Gerrard, as we’ll look to bounce back against Leicester City on Sunday.
Impressive in-game Gerrard management
From looking off the pace and a level below City in the first half to being more competitive and unfortunate not to get something from the game at the end, Gerrard’s half-time talk clearly made an impact on the players.
Further, from losing Leon Bailey early on to injury and the subsequent changes made by the Villa boss thereafter, they were positive and effective moves that helped sustain our pressure, intent and threat.
That in turn was an impressive and positive aspect of the night, that Gerrard can tweak things to good effect.
Cash grit sets a standard
From the first minute to the last, Matty Cash refused to give in and was gritty and determined throughout.
Whether it was making well-timed tackles or trying to read play and make interceptions and even pushing forward to offer an attacking threat too, he set a standard with the intent and manner of his performance alone even though he didn’t have it all his own way during the course of the encounter.
He’s rapidly become one of more consistent performers, and he’s having a really positive influence on the Villa side.
Midfield options can cause Gerrard selection headache
A few weeks ago in the midst of our five-game losing streak, the problem looked deeply rooted in the midfield.
We were easily overrun and displayed no real quality in possession, and there was concern over how it would be fixed.
Getting Douglas Luiz back has certainly helped, while Marvelous Nakamba has been excellent since Gerrard arrived. John McGinn is putting in strong performances, and if that wasn’t enough, Carney Chukwuemeka and Morgan Sanson were impressive off the bench on Wednesday night with Jacob Ramsey very much in the mix too.
Gerrard now has options and it’s going to be fascinating to see what his preferences are moving forward.
Buendia showing signs of finding feet
Still a little too lightweight in his tackling and hesitant in possession, there are still key issues that Emiliano Buendia needs to improve on.
However, we saw a lot more of his creativity and flair in midweek with his flicks round the corner and eye for a killer pass in the final third, and that is what we need to see more of.
There is clearly a top player in there, and we’ve seen glimpses of him. Now it’s down to the Argentine forward, Gerrard and the coaching staff to get more of that out week in and week out and a more decisive end product to go with it.
Watkins role should now be clear
While it’s unfortunate that Danny Ings is currently out injured, his absence has ultimately now settled how Villa should set up in attack.
That involves Ollie Watkins starting up top on his own to lead the line. Not only is he scoring goals, but he sets the tone and tempo up front with his pressing, and it’s now more about ensuring we move as a unit in an organised manner to really turn up the pressure on the opposition.
Gerrard will have to find a way to integrate Ings back in such is the expectation with a big-money signing, but if it doesn’t help the team, then rotating him and Watkins has to be the way to go instead of trying to force a partnership between the two.