As Aston Villa exited the FA Cup on Monday after defeat to Man Utd, Steven Gerrard still has key issues to address and fix in the coming months.
Villa were the better side for large periods of the game at Old Trafford, as we certainly created enough chances and should really have come away with something to show for our efforts.
However, ultimately our cup run is over for this year, and it’s now about switching our focus back to the Premier League, where the Red Devils will be our next opponents on Saturday evening.
That said, there are still important aspects of our performance that need to be fixed sooner rather than later, as while there was an upturn in our form after Gerrard’s arrival, the same old concerns are starting to crop up.
Soft Villa midfield is still a problem
After making a poor start, what was evident in the early stages of the encounter was that our midfield was not doing anywhere near enough to provide protection in front of the defence.
Man Utd were able to attempt countless efforts from the edge of the box without enough pressure, while the cross which led to the only goal of the game was also defended poorly.
Villa lacked aggression, steeliness and physicality in that area of the pitch, and it’s going to continue hurting us until we address it. Douglas Luiz is effective if we’re controlling and dominating games, but to give us a solid foundation on which to build and let our attacking players go out and win games, we need a bully of a defensive midfielder to be a rock in that deeper-lying position.
As per Sky Sports, Villa have been linked with a move for Yves Bissouma, and whether it’s the Brighton ace or a player of a similar profile, we need to make it a priority.
Must stop conceding poor goals
To allow McTominay to ghost into the area and into the space between Ezri Konsa and Tyrone Mings to have a free header was just poor.
We’re developing an unwanted habit of conceding avoidable and disappointing goals, and it even started with the lack of aggression and closing down in terms of the cross that came in for the goal.
Gerrard will surely be angered by that as he has spoken on countless occasions about us needing to become harder to beat, but conceding goals like that won’t help us.
Lack of clinical edge to our impressive attacking play
Villa played some really nice build-up play during the game and quite consistently, with some sharp, snappy passes breaking through the Utd lines and opening up the pitch for us to create chances.
The movement off the ball, the innovative give-and-gos along with individual skill, it was really enjoyable to watch at times and that is undoubtedly the style of play that Gerrard is trying to implement.
However, to make that all count, we need to be ruthless in front of goal and take our chances. While we can bemoan the VAR decision in the second half, ultimately we have ourselves to blame for not making that controversy a non-issue by scoring goals and killing the game.
Watkins-Ings dilemma continues
It appears as though Gerrard is going to persist with the partnership of Ings and Watkins, and it has to be questioned if that’s the right move moving forward.
The statistics show that the pair perform better when the other isn’t in the line-up, as they can enjoy themselves as the lone frontman and feed off the service that they’re given.
Given what was spent on Ings, we need to find a way to make it work, but with every game, it seems the sensible decision is to just let the pair battle it out for a starting spot with Watkins still worthy of being the top choice when available.
Coutinho spark hopefully makes key difference
Villa are preparing to welcome Philippe Coutinho to the club this week, with Gerrard telling the club’s official site that the Brazilian is expected in training on Wednesday.
We need a clinical, classy and decisive playmaker in this side, to not only play killer balls into our frontman to finish but also to have a direct goal threat themselves.
It’s hoped Coutinho is capable of providing that for us on a consistent basis, as we need to be more clinical in front of goal to kill these games off when we’re on top and start to put together an important run of results.
With a packed Villa Park awaiting his debut on Saturday, it also promises to give all concerned a lift as we hope we’re still in a position to win it if he does get a run out.