Gerrard facing crucial Villa selection call amid talk of pressure building

Ahead of Aston Villa’s clash with Chelsea on Sunday, Steven Gerrard faces some critical decisions with regards to his starting line-up for the encounter.

While it’s evident that we’ve shored things up at the back and improved defensively having conceded just two goals in our last four games, which in itself is a welcome boost given how poor we were previous to that, there are still major issues to be solved.

Villa have scored just three goals in those four games, and beyond missing big opportunities which could have been decisive in the eventual outcomes, there is still no clear development and progression in building a style of play and philosophy that we’ve been waiting for under Gerrard.

READ MORE: How Villa could line up vs Chelsea: Defensive boost, but will Gerrard make changes?

As he comes up to a year in the job having replaced Dean Smith last November, Gerrard has been forced to go back to basics and almost abandon the way in which he wants his team to ideally play, namely to dominate possession and press aggressively further up the pitch.

Instead we’ve opted for a solid defensive structure that has certainly tightened things up at the back in the short term, but it has also taken something important away from our attacking play as we simply don’t look like a side with a clear direction or identity, and that’s both a short-term and long-term problem.

Gerrard reportedly running out of time to save Villa job

As per John Percy for the Telegraph, it’s suggested that Gerrard is indeed running out of time to save his job. Villa owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens will be at Villa Park this weekend which will no doubt ramp up the pressure as they’ll expect to see a performance that instils confidence that Gerrard is the right man to take us forward.

Naturally, they won’t base it on just one display as they’ll have been monitoring things closely throughout, but Gerrard has a big decision to make on Sunday, one that could ultimately impact his own future at the club.

“I know certain players are not in the form they should be in,” he told the media on Friday, as per the Express and Star. “Have I given them too much support in some people’s eyes? I would have to accept that. But there’s also an experience from myself that sometimes you’ve got to play through it.”

“If people want to criticise me for being too loyal to one or two individuals there will be a reason for it. It’s not favouritism, it’s because of the importance that they have in the team and where I need to get them to for the team to be better. But I’ll never be a manager who is scared to drop a name or a big name. Not at all. If that’s the case or that’s your opinion of me, trust me, you’re wrong.”


Will Gerrard keep faith in Coutinho?

While the above could apply to a number of key individuals who haven’t stepped up, including Ollie Watkins and John McGinn, the big call on Sunday is whether Gerrard continues to show confidence in Philippe Coutinho.

In 576 minutes of football so far this season, the Brazilian playmaker has no goals and no assists. Despite that, he’s been given seven starts as Gerrard continues to show unwavering faith in him and based on his comments above, it seems as though he will stick with him until he comes good.

That could ultimately be his downfall. Whether it’s a fit-again Leon Bailey or Danny Ings to add a more clinical edge in the final third, we have options to replace Coutinho in the side. Instead, it would come as no surprise if Emiliano Buendia is the one to make way this weekend despite being a creative spark and bringing a top work ethic to the side when involved.

The difference in usage between the creative pair has been baffling considering the form and influence that they’ve had respectively, and it’s just one of many areas in which question marks can be raised over the Villa boss.

Perhaps the bigger concern, and this does apply to the squad as a whole, is that you would struggle to name just one player who has actually improved under Gerrard.

Jacob Ramsey, Matty Cash and Watkins all showed signs in the early months of his tenure, but since, they have all regressed in various ways and so with an inability to get more out of the players at his disposal, even an old teammate and top talent in Coutinho, it’s a damning verdict of Gerrard and his coaching.

Time will tell if this Sunday’s game proves to be a pivotal moment for Villa and Gerrard’s future, but he has a massive decision on his hands as to whether he sticks or twists with Coutinho this weekend in what could be another major blow to his hopes of keeping his job.