How Watkins has stepped up to lead Villa line for Gerrard

Amid Aston Villa’s upturn in form since Steven Gerrard’s appointment, Ollie Watkins appears to be revelling under his new boss.

The 25-year-old has two goals in the last four games, and particularly against Leicester City on Sunday, he had chances to add to that tally but wasn’t able to apply the finish.

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While he has been aided by the absence of Danny Ings due to injury, Watkins has shown that he is much more comfortable and effective for the team as a sole striker leading the Villa line through the middle.

It will certainly be interesting to see what Gerrard tweaks, if anything, when Ings is fit and available again, but we’ve seen Watkins return to form over the past few weeks and Villa should arguably avoid changing something that is working so well.

Watkins movement, pressing sets the tone and standard for Villa

It’s not just the goals from Watkins that make him so important for Villa, it’s the effort on and off the ball that gives us a big contribution in both phases of the game.

The England international is tireless in his pressing and pressure in the opposition half as he constantly hunts down the ball and tracks back, and that in turn sets the example for those behind him to join in and offer him the support required to ensure we have an effective high press as a unit.

However, it’s his movement off the ball and his ability to link things up that have come to the fore under Gerrard thus far.

As seen in the images below, this particular move was just one of many examples where Watkins drops deep into space to receive the ball, plays it off to a teammate and makes a superb run in behind the defence to create an opening for himself.

It gives John McGinn an option in the example below and to his credit, he plays in a great pass, and while Watkins unfortunately wasn’t able to convert on this occasion, it summed up what he’s offering us in the attacking phase right now and long may it continue.

He’ll be disappointed with himself that he wasn’t more clinical on Sunday, while he could have got on the scoresheet against Crystal Palace too. If we can get him firing week in and week out, and it seems with the system and style of play under Gerrard thus far we will, then it can only mean good things for Watkins, and good things for Villa moving forward.