Is Steven Gerrard a good manager? It’s a question that was often asked following the former Liverpool midfielder’s appointment as manager of Aston Villa.
Gerrard’s brief track record certainly entertains that idea. After all, he won the Scottish Premiership with 102 points and without winning losing a single game. His personality and tactical choices have been widely praised. He is often spoken about as a possible successor to Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool.
But, how much will this count in the Premier League? What are Steven Gerrard’s tactics at Aston Villa? Let’s look at the proof of his qualities offered so far.
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Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool legend
Steven Gerrard was one of Liverpool’s most important modern players. The midfielder made 504 appearances for Liverpool. He scored 120 goals. Gerrard was part of England’s Golden Generation. He earned 114 caps for the Three Lions, playing in three Euros and three World Cup tournaments.
Gerrard returned to Anfield in December 2021. He was now manager of Aston Villa. Liverpool’s fans gave him a standing ovation. This helped temper the bitter taste of defeat. Aston Villa lost 1-0.
Gerrard as manager of Glasgow Rangers
Steven Gerrard retired in 2016. Many assumed that his personality and leadership skills would lead him to pursue a career in football management. They were right! He was quickly afforded the opportunity to work as a youth coach for Liverpool.
In 2018, Gerrard received the opportunity to manage Glasgow Rangers, the most successful club in Scotland. Rangers had only recently been promoted back to the Premiership. Gerrard’s appointment was seen as a gamble.
Steven Gerrard as a manager was quick to adopt a distinct set of tactics. He usually employed a 4-3-3 formation, or a 4-3-2-1 often dubbed the Christmas Tree formation. Gerrard played with two classic number 10s. Rangers looked to dominate possession and create strategic overloads. Build-up usually began at the back and involved the wing-backs.
Gerrard’s tactics worked. Rangers won their first Scottish Premiership trophy in a decade.
Of course, Ranger’s dominance in Scotland cannot be overlooked. Most agree that the same tactics are unlikely to work for a lowly Premier League side like Aston Villa.
Steven Gerrard’s tactics at Aston Villa
Steven Gerrard’s stats as a manager helped him earn the position of manager of Aston Villa after Dean Smith‘s dismissal. His reputation and personality were an even greater asset.
Gerrard took over Aston Villa who were in a precarious situation. They had lost five games on the bounce. Some of their best players were injured. And, they are reeling after the loss of Jack Grealish in the summer. What tactical choices did Gerrard implement right away?
Gerrard seems to have settled on a 4-3-3 formation. It allows for versatility. Villa can defend low and strike on the counterattack as they did against Liverpool. Villa can also look to dominate possession when the chance arises, as they did against Norwich.
The style of football encouraged by Steven Gerrard is also different from the days of managing Rangers. Aston Villa is patient in the build-up play. The team displays rigidity in defense and clear passing patterns are encouraged.
Villa’s passing network makes use of the speed of the wing-backs, Matty Cash and Matt Targett.
Gerrard encourages a low press block. The number of pressing actions has also increased under the new manager.
Aston Villa’s attack and buildup play
Steven Gerrard’s approach has been successful so far. Aston Villa has won 3 of the 4 games that Gerrard has been in charge. This may be due to the jolt given by the change of management. In short, some improvements can’t be denied.
Aston Villa’s buildup has undergone changes. Gerrard is encouraging clear passing lanes. The attacking phase is slow and patient. Last season, the team depended often on Jack Grealish to provide something special. Now, Gerrard is looking for all the players to contribute.
The team’s passing accuracy has improved. Also, players are encouraged to shoot less often from unfavorable positions. Counterattacks are a weapon used against tougher opposition. However, slow, steady attacks are generally encouraged.
Steven Gerrard finds himself working with an exciting group of players. Players such as Matt Targett and John McGinn have traditionally recorded great Premier League stats. Moreover, Matty Cash has shown great potential since joining last season from Nottingham Forest.
Furthermore, Aston Villa has taken a few transfer gambles in 2021. The team has spent much of the transfer budget earned for Grealish’s move to Manchester City. New additions like Danny Ings, Leon Bailey, and Emiliano Buendia show amazing potential. It’s up to Gerrard to get the best out of these players.
Aston Villa’s defense
Gerrard is turning Villa into a more aggressive, focused team. As mentioned, Villa’s players press now more than they did under Dean Smith. Gerrard’s tactics call for a compact, low defensive block. In defense, Villa usually uses a 4-3-2-1 formation. It’s the same formation that managers like Carlo Ancelotti have used to great effect.
The team has, so far, conceded fewer goals. This is owed to the fewer shots that Emiliano Martinez has had to defend. Pressing usually occurs in Aston Villa’s final third. It’s a risky approach. Still, it’s one that works under Gerrard’s strict guidelines.
It’s no surprise that Matty Cash, John McGinn, Matt Targett, and Douglas Luiz are the team’s best tacklers. None of them are central defenders. And, most of these tackles occur in the midfield area. Gerrard’s players are putting in the workload, much like their manager did as a player.
Steven Gerrard’s future as a manager
Steven Gerrard has started out his career as a Premier League manager in a convincing fashion. After only a few games, Aston Villa has navigated away from the relegation zone. Morale has grown, and there is a renewed sense of optimism.
Aston Villa might not be a team ready to challenge for European qualification. They have, however, a good EPL squad at their disposal. From Tyrone Mings to Danny Ings, from Emiliano Buendia to Matty Cash, these are players with which Gerrard can work.
Many expect Aston Villa to be a stepping stone for Steven Gerrard. It’s no secret that managing Liverpool is the ultimate goal. So far, Gerrard does not look out of his depth in the Premier League.
His tactics and football philosophy are clear-cut. Gerrard the manager is a lot like Gerrard, the player. Work ethic is prized above almost anything else.
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