Aston Villa boss Steven Gerrard has discussed various talking points as he prepares his side for the upcoming pre-season schedule.
Villa face Walsall this Saturday in our first pre-season outing before we move on to the tour of Australia as we gear up for the start of the new Premier League campaign which begins at Bournemouth on August 6.
This period of preparation will be seen as crucial by Gerrard and his coaching staff as they get to work closely with the players for several weeks to try and get their ideas and philosophy across, and build on what was done following his arrival mid-way through last season.
Speaking to VillaTV, Gerrard covered some key points, five of which are detailed below.
Gerrard on Diego Carlos
With summer signing Diego Carlos reporting for his first day of pre-season this week, Gerrard was left impressed by the Brazilian as he hopes to make him a fundamental part of his Villa defence.
Competition for places is crucial for Gerrard to get the best out of his players, and Carlos will be pushing the likes of Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa, and vice versa, for a starting spot in the Villa XI this season.
“He’s really looking forward to the challenge. He wanted to come over to the Premier League and challenge himself. From a personal point of view, he felt he was at the right age. He’s got fantastic experience.
“From a Club point of view, we felt as if we needed to strengthen our centre-back position and really challenge the other lads that we’ve got at the Club, so I’m really looking forward to see how they fight for positions.
“I’m delighted to have him here on a long contract, I think he’ll help us a lot. We’ve seen him in one session so far and let’s just say it was a strong first training session.”
Gerrard on Ashley Young
After signing a one-year contract this week, Ashley Young will remain with Villa for another season and will undoubtedly continue to be a key figure in the current squad.
His experience, pedigree at the highest level, leadership and versatility are all attributes that Gerrard clearly values, and he is delighted that the veteran was convinced to come back for another year and will subsequently be an important part of his plans moving forward.
“It was one area of the squad, after analysing it for six months, that we believe we need experience around the squad. We’ve got a lot of talent emerging, we’ve got the likes of (Jacob) Ramsey who’s grabbed a position in the team and they need people to look up to. They need people who set standards on a daily basis.
“We need to have winners in the building who know what it takes to win big football matches, and Ashley ticks all those boxes. He’s as fit as he’s ever been. We analyse that side of it with all the data and nothing suggests that he’s slowing down.
“It made sense to give Ashley the chance to stay with us for another year and I’m delighted with his decision.”
Gerrard on Philippe Coutinho
The first piece of business that Villa did this summer came at the end of last season as we announced the permanent signing of Philippe Coutinho following his initial loan spell from Barcelona.
While the Brazilian playmaker was inconsistent on his return to the Premier League, he did contribute five goals and three assists in 19 appearances, and he’ll undoubtedly hope to improve on those numbers this year.
Coupled with his pull and ability to help attract other top players, it was clearly very important to get this particular deal done early and that set the tone for what followed.
“It was very important for the club [to do business early]. For us to attract a player of Philippe’s calibre, I think the fans and the coaching staff saw enough very early on that we knew that we wanted to make it a priority to get Phil on a full-time basis.”
Gerrard on Boubacar Kamara and midfield transfer plan
One of the glaring weaknesses in the Villa side last season was the lack of steeliness and presence in midfield, particularly from a defensive perspective in front of the backline as we lacked any real protection.
Boubacar Kamara will be a solution to that problem, and combined with his technical quality in possession, he will hopefully become a hugely influential presence in the Villa line-up.
Gerrard is clearly confident in that happening, and while he also suggested Kamara can play in different midfield roles, he revealed that that area of the squad is still being looked at by the club in terms of possible transfers this summer.
“He has a tremendous range of passing and comes with big experience despite still being so young. He’ll strengthen our midfield as a No.6 or No.8, and it’s still an area we’re looking to strengthen. We want to make it difficult for people to have guaranteed places and want to challenge every area of the team.”
Gerrard sets challenge for Villa youngsters
As we saw last season, Gerrard is more than happy to open the door to the youngsters at the club to prove themselves and earn a chance to impress in the senior side.
Tim Iroegbunam, Carney Chukwuemeka and particularly Jacob Ramsey were all involved last year, and it’s hoped that trend continues given this crop of youth talent at Villa has shown real promise over the past two years.
Gerrard set the challenge to them and insisted he will not hesitate in giving them a chance if they earn it, with the likes of Kaine Kesler Hayden, Ben Chrisene, Tommi O’Reilly and Cameron Archer hoping to follow a similar path to the trio named above.
“The ball is in their court. I think I’ve shown in a short time that age is just a number and if you’re good enough and deserve an opportunity, I’ll have no qualms putting you in. Even if means pushing someone who’s got more experience to the side.”