After our win over Southampton, Aston Villa are starting to put together a positive run of form, but Steven Gerrard still faces a key test ahead.
As per his comments in his post-match interview, views that were echoed by captain John McGinn, Gerrard acknowledged and accepted that his side needed to take on a more pragmatic approach as we look to put a poor run behind us.
The draw with Man City last time out was a big result which was accompanied by a solid performance, and it was hoped that would be the catalyst to get us on track and to help us start building something this season.
However, Villa ultimately adopted a similar approach against Southampton as we prioritised the defensive side of our game, working tirelessly out of possession but falling short in terms of producing enough quality on the ball to make it a more convincing victory.
Evidently though, Gerrard got what he was looking for both in terms of the performance and result, as he noted in his comments below.
“I’m pleased with the clean sheet just as much as the win because it gives us something to build on,” Gerrard told VillaTV. “We should go to Leeds now with a lot more confidence. Our last two performances have been strong.
“As we move up the table we’ll feel more relaxed and more calm. I’m very confident that we’ll have enough quality in the squad to play prettier stuff, but we must always have the character and be able to stick together. We’ve shown that in abundance the last two games.”
It’s easy to understand his thinking. As we dangerously flirted with the relegation zone early in the season and looked like a team on the slide, something needed to change to stop the rot and give the players some confidence.
Keeping clean sheets and being a team that is hard to beat is the bedrock of any good side in terms of getting the basics right, and that is what we’ve seen in the last two games as we’ve battled hard and earned our points.
However, the lingering doubt and concern is whether or not this is merely a temporary fix, as we saw when Gerrard first arrived, or if this will indeed be the foundation for us to start to open up, play more expansive football and maintain the core principles we’ve seen in the last fortnight to get results and entertain while doing so.
Gerrard has continuously spoken about his philosophy and style of play being based on possession and aggressive play off the ball. He has the players in the squad to play good football, and so now his primary challenge once again will be finding a balance between being defensively sound and opening teams up in more convincing fashion.
Naturally, all connected to Villa will have been delighted to secure all three points against Southampton. It moves us up the table and gives everyone some breathing space and a chance to build confidence.
However, delve deeper into the reaction to the performance, and it’s clear that we expect much, much more. And rightly so when you consider the attacking talent at Gerrard’s disposal with Emiliano Buendia still limited to the bench and Philippe Coutinho not firing on all cylinders.
Gerrard has given himself time and made an argument in favour of earning some leeway from the Villa hierarchy. In order to prove that he’s the long-term solution though who can implement his ideas and establish a clear identity in his side to ensure there is consistency over a long period, we need to see more of what he wants his side to look like in the long run, not just when it’s backs against the wall and grinding out results time.