Aston Villa fought back to secure a 2-2 draw with Man Utd in Perth on Saturday as our pre-season tour of Australia drew to a close.
Conditions were far from ideal at the Optus Stadium, with heavy rain and a poor pitch making it difficult for both sides to produce their best and perhaps play the style that they wanted to.
After Jadon Sancho broke the deadlock, a Matty Cash own goal doubled United’s lead as Villa went into the half-time interval 2-0 down and left assessing a poor performance in the opening 45 minutes.
Changes were made in the second half and Steven Gerrard not only got the reaction he wanted from the team as a whole, but certain individuals produced excellent performances and will hopefully have given him a serious headache in terms of his team selection against Bournemouth next month.
Leon Bailey scored a brilliant solo goal to reduce our deficit as he was the star of the show after the break, and Calum Chambers ensured that the spoils were shared as his header from a Bailey corner was the last touch of the game.
Villa now return home and face Rennes in our final pre-season friendly next weekend, and Gerrard certainly has plenty to consider ahead of our Premier League season opener on August 6.
Aston Villa: Martinez (Olsen), Cash (Kesler Hayden), Carlos (Chambers), Mings (Konsa), Digne (Young), J.Ramsey (Luiz), Kamara (Iroegbunam), McGinn (Sanson), Coutinho (Buendia), Watkins (Archer), Ings (Bailey).
Unused subs: A.Ramsey, Marschall, Feeney.
Bailey latest to make case to start
After showing improvements in previous appearances in pre-season, Bailey really stood out in this game after coming on at half-time.
The Jamaican international set the tone and tempo immediately with his work off the ball, and he showed real class and composure with his goal as he continued to be a threat to Man Utd thereafter as well.
Bailey must now stay healthy and show consistency, if he can do that then he has every chance of forcing Gerrard into a re-think when it comes to his starting XI this season and the signs in this outing were certainly positive.
System with two up top isn’t our best formation
Once again Villa failed to put in a complete performance over 90 minutes, but on this occasion it wasn’t helped by Gerrard’s perseverance with a 4-3-1-2 system that uses both Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins up top.
Ultimately, we may have to be resigned to the fact that Gerrard will use this formation again at times this season, but it simply can’t be our preferred system and he has to be successfully selective with it as it could be effective against certain opposition.
Neither Watkins nor Ings flourish in it, Philippe Coutinho struggles to create and influence our play, and our movement and play is stifled for being too narrow. We must play either a 4-3-3, 4-3-2-1 or some variation of those.
Gerrard must reward players producing
While Bailey was the latest player to be praised by Gerrard, there’s no point in doing so and then not rewarding players for producing on the pitch more than others with a bigger role.
That continues to be the case with Emi Buendia despite the Argentine playmaker putting in a positive shift every time he’s on the pitch, and Kaine Kesler-Hayden, Calum Chambers and Cameron Archer are in that same group having all impressed in Australia.
If Gerrard sticks with his ‘favourites’ in the likes of Coutinho, Ings and Tyrone Mings, it sends an awful message to the rest of the squad and it simply puts us at a disadvantage immediately as we’re making the most of the talent at his disposal who are showing more than others.
Farewell to Australia as tour ends
Our tour of Australia has been a successful one. Players across the squad have all got minutes to build their fitness, we’ve come away with no reported injuries and Gerrard will have plenty to go on to make key decisions moving forward.
On top of that, the response from the crowds and Villa fans across Brisbane, Townsville and Perth has been great to see and it will be a pivotal part of our commercial plans off the pitch to continue to grow the club and brand.
Gerrard will also have seen his squad get in plenty of work in training sessions, and so it’s hopefully set us up perfectly for the last two weeks of pre-season ahead of facing Bournemouth on August 6.