STEVIE GONE: IS TIME RUNNING OUT FOR ASTON VILLA BOSS?
Just three months short of Steven Gerrard's first year in charge at Aston Villa, we take a look at the current situation.
Has his time at Villa Park so far been a success, and has the opportunity of managing in the Premier possibly come too early for the former Liverpool hero?
After 28 games since Gerrard has been at the helm, he has overseen a 35% win percentage which includes, 10 wins and 13 defeats, an average start, which creeps into underachieving, especially when compared to Gary Neville's infamous spell at Valencia, where he also achieved an identical win percentage of 35%.
Should Gerrard's side make a less than positive start to the season, just how much time will Villa owners Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris be willing to give the former England midfielder?
Previous manager Dean Smith had won promotion to the Premier League with his boyhood club Villa, after defeating Derby in the 2018-19 play-off final. Aston Villa would narrowly avoid relegation during their first season back in the Premier League which also included a League Cup final appearance, eventually losing to Manchester City.
The following season, Dean Smith would lead the Midlands club to an 11th place finish during 2020-21. Expectations are high at a historic club such as Aston Villa, and with the club coming off the back of a fifth successive defeat away to Southampton, Smith was relieved of his duties with the club in 16th place after just eleven games into the 2021-22 season, winning seven in his last 28 games in the league.
With the upcoming season set to be Gerrard's first full season in the hot seat, the Villa manager has drafted in five recruits over the summer, most notably Sevilla defender Diego Carlos who reportedly cost just shy of £28 million, and last season's loan star and former Gerrard teammate Philippe Coutinho from Barcelona for £18 million.
A successful pre-season on the pitch included wins against Stade Rennais, Brisbane Roar, Leeds United, and Walsall. But it was the removal of Tyrone Mings as club captain which made the headlines at Villa Park over the summer. A very respected figurehead at the club, Mings was part of a successful Villa side that had the best defensive record outside the top four in the 2020-21 season. With Gerrard not fancying the former Ipswich defender who has 17 England caps to his name, midfielder John McGinn was installed to take the armband in his place. The question will remain why Gerrard took his decision ahead of the new season.
Was it purely a footballing decision or was there some sort of disagreement between manager and player which forced his hand?
This season will prove to be a big test for the 42-year-old’s management skills as he inherited a strong squad last November, but he must get his talented attacking force to chip in with more goals this term. Top goalscorer Ollie Watkins managed just 11 league goals in his second season at Villa Park, with Danny Ings just behind with a lowly seven during his first season at the club. The former Rangers manager wants to add to his squad before the window shuts, but Gerrard may need to make do with the squad he has at hand with little activity expected in the way of arrivals before the end of the window.
Trust In Coutinho
Teammates at Liverpool just over seven years ago where the pair spent 3 seasons in midfield together, Gerrard bought back his former Liverpool teammate from Barcelona in January initially on loan which was seen as a huge coup for Aston Villa, and a show of players that could be gravitated towards Villa Park with Gerrard at the helm. The Brazilian flew out of the traps scoring four goals in his first seven appearances which included scoring on his debut against Manchester United.
The 30-year-old would only go on to score once more in the club's final 11 games of the season as Villa would win just twice during that period. The former Inter Milan midfielder would start 16 times out of a possible 19 after arriving in the January window. Coutinho looked ineffective in the two-nil opening day defeat away to Bournemouth, who was played on the left wing of a three-man attack. Only time will tell if Coutinho is still the player he was that earned him moves to some of Europe's biggest clubs or if he is a luxury player that the side simply cannot carry.
Frank Lampard Comparisons
Similar to his former England compatriot, Frank Lampard swiftly achieved Premier League managerial status when he took the reins at Chelsea in July 2019, after just one season of experience in management in the form of Derby County in the Championship.
In hindsight, Lampard took his 'pinnacle' job too early, lasting just 18 months in charge at Stamford Bridge. Steven Gerrard must learn from where Lampard came up short by ensuring he has enough valuable top-level management experience and that starts with Aston Villa this season.
Did Gerrard Leave Rangers Too Early?
The former Rangers manager brought success back to Ibrox and ended Celtic's historic tenth SPL title in a row in 2020-21, winning the title by a clear 25 points.
Rangers would crash out of the Champions League qualification phase early the following season, losing over two legs to Swedish outfit Malmo, before eventually settling for a place in the Europa League group stages.
Leaving the Gers top of the league in early November last year, the former Liverpool midfielder was accused to be jumping ship early at the newly crowned SPL champions with clearly so much the club and supporters felt they could achieve together, but Scottish football has its limitations and when the Premier League came calling in the form of Aston Villa, the offer became too irresistible to turn down, with the pundits and press already plotting his pathway back to Anfield.
Opening day defeat and aftermath
The new start to the season got off to the worst possible start following a two-nil defeat away to newly promoted Bournemouth in a lacklustre display.
Whilst opening day defeats can be forgiven, how Gerrard's men succumbed to defeat was disappointing for all concerned. Managing just two shots on target (15 shots in total), the blunt Villa attack barely troubled the Cherries goalkeeper.
But it was the aftermath that ultimately stole the headlines when manager Gerrard seemed to 'call' out his former captain Mings.
When asked by reporters in his post-match press conference about Mings's omission from the starting XI, Gerrard responded, "I think people might talk about that, I think the easy thing to do after defeat is to look at the people not on the pitch. We had enough quality on the pitch today to win this game.
"I'm confident and have full belief that when Tyrone is back at his best and looks me in the eye and shows me he’s ready to play, he’ll get opportunities. He's missed some training time with an injury and there's a niggle in the background as well."
Singling out Mings following the defeat suggests more at the club has been going on between manager and player, with first the captaincy and then his place in the squad removed within a matter of weeks. With such a public outburst towards a well-liked player at the club, this does have the potential to blow up in Gerrard's face should results go awry.
Aston Villa will play host to Everton at Villa Park in the first home game of the season which is expected to be a feisty affair. It's also the first time both Gerrard and Lampard will come face to face with one another in their managerial careers. The loser will find themselves in very deep waters with both sides already recording opening day defeats.
Gerrard recorded 17 derby day wins against the Toffees during his illustrious playing career at Liverpool, and Saturday feels like a must-win already this early on in the season.