In the aftermath of our bitterly disappointing defeat to Newcastle Utd, Aston Villa boss Steven Gerrard has decisions to make against Watford this weekend.
Gerrard himself described the loss on Sunday as our worst performance since he arrived, while he hinted that changes to the team could be made next time out, as evidently that display was nowhere near the standard required of us at this level.
— Talk Villa (@thetalkvilla) February 14, 2022
Time will tell what changes he makes, but one that is vitally important and could make a significant difference to our play is giving Morgan Sanson the chance to impress in the deeper-lying midfield role, in place of Douglas Luiz.
Luiz weaknesses exposed, Sanson should get fresh Villa chance
It was a problem under Dean Smith, and now it’s becoming a problem for Gerrard.
Villa’s inability to control and dominate both possession and the tempo of the game is a major weakness that hurts us week in and week out. We saw it as we dropped two points against Leeds, and our inability to impose ourselves on Newcastle and run the game in the middle of the pitch caused problems for us going both ways.
It was the same when Smith was in charge and was a key reason in his downfall, and while Marvelous Nakamba’s emergence and the manager bounce with Gerrard’s arrival helped mask over those issues, they have come back to the fore with injury and a persistence in an ineffective option the root cause.
For all of his technical quality and passing ability, Douglas Luiz is simply not a No.6.
The Brazilian is effective in possession, in that he keeps things ticking over for us and when we are in charge of a game, he becomes important to try and pick holes in the opposition to find our attacking players and get into dangerous situations.
However, he isn’t physical enough for that role from a defensive perspective, he doesn’t have the awareness and positioning skills to be a disruptive force in that area of the pitch to provide the backline with protection and so he too often leaves them exposed with the opposition able to break through our lines too easily.
With Gerrard himself conceding that Villa made a bid for Brighton midfielder Yves Bissouma in January, as per the Express and Star, he’s clearly aware that we have to improve in that area and a new signing is a must to progress.
For now though, Gerrard has to work with what he’s got, and after seeing the same problem crop up week after week, it’s time for Sanson to get an opportunity to show that he is a genuine solution.
The 27-year-old hasn’t featured since our draw with Man Utd on January 15, and it’s questionable as to why that is. While he hasn’t been perfect, he has been fully committed, determined, shown grit and a desire to get about the pitch to make his mark.
The Frenchman is naturally a midfielder who plays in a more advanced role, but his tenacity, vision and passing ability should allow him to sit in front of the defence and run the game for us. He has all the attributes and characteristics to make it work, and he is surely itching to get into the side and prove his worth after a frustrating spell at Villa thus far.
In turn, it’s time for Gerrard to switch things up and bring Sanson in for Luiz. It may not work, it’s possible the issue is deeper than just one change and the midfield in its totality is a problem in terms of balance.
We won’t know until we try it though, and we’ve seen enough of Luiz to know that he’s not the long-term solution in that particular role and so a change has to be made to see if Villa can finally start dominating midfield battles, which in turn will make life so much easier for our defence and attacking talent.