Five big talking points as Villa show positive signs but suffer defeat to Chelsea

Aston Villa fell to a 3-1 defeat to Chelsea on Boxing Day, but there were positives to take from the encounter for Steven Gerrard despite the disappointment of the result.

Villa took the lead in the first half through a Reece James own goal, but Jorginho (2) and Romelu Lukaku turned things around for the visitors at Villa Park as they secured all three points.

READ MORE: Villa player ratings vs Chelsea: Sanson impresses on return to XI, Mings falls short

It was a disappointing outcome for Villa and it ends 2021 for us with a defeat, but while Gerrard would have been watching from home after testing positive for COVID, he’ll have analysed aspects of the game that will leave him feeling optimistic, but also issues that we need to address in the New Year as we look to continue to improve and evolve under his stewardship.

Villa were on top in the opening stages and looked a real threat, but Jorginho’s penalty to draw Chelsea level certainly changed the game as the visitors were much-improved in the second half and became a much more difficult proposition.

While it’s clear that there is still a long way to go for Gerrard as he continues to try and stamp his mark on this side, the longer he has to work with the players, we’re starting to see more and more of the identity that he wants.

Villa competitive in clashes with top sides

Ultimately, our games against Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea have all ended in defeat, and so having taken nothing from those encounters, there are still improvements that need to be made and a gap to be bridged.

That said, Villa have been highly competitive in those games against top-level opposition, and we should be able to take heart and belief from that to continue to improve.

We’ve held our own for large periods against all three of those sides, albeit Liverpool dominated our clash more so than the others, and that is a positive that the players can build on and it should influence our strategy and approach moving forward knowing that we can take risks and go toe-to-toe when deemed suitable.

Good response with Gerrard absent

Losing our Head Coach for the game due to a positive COVID test was a blow and his presence on the touchline and during half-time would have had a negative impact as he has made a clear difference in terms of our second-half performances in recent games.

However, from the management of the game through his staff and the players responding well to that, we put in a solid performance against a title challenger and showed that the identity and philosophy that Gerrard is trying to build is being established.

Whether it’s changes in personnel or key absentees, the key to success for this Villa side in the long term picture is to perform at a high level regardless of any of those factors and have a structure in place to get to where we want to be.

Sanson impresses on return to starting XI

In his first start in the Premier League since April, Morgan Sanson didn’t disappoint as he stepped up and produced a classy performance in the Villa midfield.

From his ability to nip in and make tackles to his accurate passing and drives forward from midfield, the Frenchman looked every bit of the player we hoped he would be for us at times.

It’s hoped that this is just a building block for him now to really establish himself in the starting XI, but Gerrard will surely have been pleased with what he saw from him in this one.

Frustration for Buendia continues

Emiliano Buendia continues to get into the right areas and he’s seeing the movement off the ball to make the right attempted passes.

The frustration for the Argentine at the moment though is that those killer passes aren’t being executed and the assists are missing.

If he can just manage to be more ruthless with that final ball, he’s going to be significantly more decisive for us. However, he needs to manage the frustration and disappointment that comes with failing to produce and pick things up sooner rather than later otherwise Gerrard may well be tempted to consider bringing his own man in for the job.

Ings question marks still remain

In the absence of Danny Ings in recent weeks, Ollie Watkins has got back to his best form and was scoring more consistently.

Ings returned to the XI for this clash, and while there were better signs between the pair in terms of their link-up play and understanding, albeit they were still lacking the final ball, it still wasn’t enough to suggest they’re on the same page.

Villa would love to see the pair flourish on the pitch at the same time and have them scoring regularly. However, it still hasn’t clicked into place and Gerrard must decide whether to prioritise Watkins’ form as the lone, lead striker or to continue to try and unlock this two-man frontline.