Steven Gerrard takes charge of his first away match with Villa, looking to follow up on last week’s 2-0 victory over visiting Brighton to open his tenure. A win today would make Gerrard the second Villa manger to win his first two games, John Gregory being the first.

We’ve been hearing bits during the week about what’s changing. Training times, fizzy drinks and hot chocolate among them. There’s apparently a different intensity to training. An arm around Morgan Sanson’s shoulder and blank slates. None of it sounds bad, and if a new man is going to take over, you’d hope for this kind of competitive focus. What seems to be emerging is that Gerrard the manager is actually every bit as driven as Steven Gerrard the player.

Not surprising, perhaps. But there’s a sense of purpose about him that’s impressing and reassuring pretty much everyone.

With the team sheet out, the big change we’re seeing is that Ings and Buendia are both on the bench. Watkins gets the nod in the center, and Young comes in wide left with Bailey wide right. Luiz and Sanson are fit enough for the match day squad.

Patrick Vieira has gotten off to a nice start with Palace and they’re good at home. Zaha is Zaha, and Benteke is back to scoring. They’re a handful. No idea how well Bailey and Cash will fare down the right flank, or Young and Targett on the other, for that matter.

I worry a little bit about pace on the left, and Bailey’s defensive work-rate on the right. At the same time, Zaha will have something to think about behind him. It could be that Young and Targett will have a slightly more defensive orientation given the greater speed on the right.

The other thing that’ll be interesting to see is the pressing intensity and cohesion in the front three.

I’m hoping the competition and desire to impress, along with enough depth to change things, will see Villa put in another credible performance. Another win would obviously do the side a lot of good considering the upcoming fixtures. They’ll be feeling better after the three points at Villa Park, and a second win would do a lot to stabilize and perhaps transform the season. Winning breeds confidence, after all, and if the side get confident, they should pose a challenge to most anyone.

Over to you.

Comments 83

  1. Thanks for that John. Interesting stuff. . . . . but I feel more nervous for having read it! Zaha will be a real threat and I’d momentarily forgotten that Benteke seems to be rejuvenated.
    You imagine that ‘work-rate’ will have been emphasised so it wouldn’t be surprising to see early substitutions in the second half. The good thing is that we have genuine quality to bring off the bench if only we can stay in the game till the 60th minute.

  2. And people thought Smith should have stayed…

    The improvement on the ball already is light and day

    Fantastic half

    Ref us shambolic.

    Should have had two pens

  3. JG.. . . well done SG in recognising the importance of Ashley Young’s experience but even more impressive demonstration of Ashley Young’s professionalism that has kept him at the top level for so long.

  4. Still thought Villa too often trying to play too quickly.

    Love attacking intent, but if you want to be a possession team, you have to cycle it back out.

    Likewise taking the air out of the game. But I assume they’ll keep drilling on that.

  5. What a great result!
    A great win, and almost a clean sheet. Everyone has underestimated the influence of Ashley Young, and what an important signing he was in the summer. Pleased to see both Targett and McGinn on the scoresheet. Looking forward to MOTD tonight.
    Remember this was the ref’s first Premier league game, so he was bound to make mistake with the pressure.
    SG is definitely making the right decisions.

  6. Huge win

    It was funny watching people argue on sites that Smith shouldn’t have been sacked.

    He absolutely should have.

    We are so much better on the ball. First half we were in control. Second half we sat in

    I love the narrow front 3. Mcginn looks fabulous again

    I thought Watkins was poor again. His hold up play is poor

  7. Yippee!
    I felt sorry for the ref. I think crystal palace took advantage of his first game. Letting the game play on is good as it should prevent some diving and the usual carrying on. But not the best reffing. Maybe a 6 out of 10.

    Villa looked better than last week. A fair few passes were almost wonderful. And El Gazi played well again. Fancy that.

  8. Great win in London. Doesn’t happen too often. Nakamba was immense. Ramsey looked great for 60mins. Ashley put in a real shift. Hard to believe it’s the same players that lost to Southampton. Great job Stevie on 14 and system.

  9. Will be interesting to see what Stevie does against Man C on Wednesday. Will we see Ings and Sanson start. Curious to see his tactics against Pep as he certainly got it right today with the way Ashley and Nakamba cancelled out Gallagher

  10. Frem,

    Yeah, two big wins, and I’m as happy as anyone. But I’m going to be a little bit contrarian here.

    As far as intensity, etc., that’s what you expect…largely what’s behind a new manager bounce. No one safe.

    I don’t necessarily see that we’re a lot better on the ball all of a sudden. Maybe the stats tell a different story. What I am seeing is using the 6 more, and some tweaked marking responsibilities in the system. And like I said before, trying to get the FBs up quicker and closer.

    But the patterns aren’t terribly different, and we’ve seen Villa string together those same kinds of quick interchanges in attack. A lot of the moves are still breaking down in the same ways, though.

    Palace had a good few minutes early, then were all over the shop. They were better second half, worked to stretch and get it wide, which they weren’t doing 1st half for some reason. We looked quite a bit like the Villa that was losing for a large part of the 2nd.

    Thought a couple players looked a little leggy. Ollie didn’t seem to have his usual energy. Guessing that would be down to training maybe being more intense and they’ll get used to that.

    So, color me very happy, but I think the real changes people want to see will be a little longer coming.

  11. So we have man c pool Leicester Burnley Norwich and Leeds to complete first half ,how many points can we get
    Still would like a midfield enforcer in January, really with only Marv going to African cup from our starting lineup we look in good shape

  12. VillaMD
    I thought Nakamba was excellent too. He’s 95% cemented his spot on the first team. If Luis wants to go, I don’t think Gerrard will have much trouble filling his spot.

  13. JC, As you say, it’s a bit soon to declare that SG has made us turn the corner in the same way that it’s also too soon to declare that Dean Smith has made Norwich turn their corner either. Statistics show that new managers can provide a short term bounce but there’s no evidence that over the longer term, new managers, on average, perform better than the previous incumbents.Having said that, it does feel that SG has acted as a catalyst for change at Villa Park and there is a different ‘feel’ around the club. The real tests, as you say, are yet to come but we couldn’t have asked for SG to do much more than he done so far.

  14. Ian,

    Yeah, £35m from Roma would be nice for Luiz. However if Nakamba goes for a month we’re in trouble.

    JC – lots of hoof balls in 2nd half, but that’s to be expected playing away at Selhurst Park. Tough, tight ground. The 6 points is all that matters as it takes the pressure off the new team.

    Also good luck to DS. I hope he keeps them up

  15. JG, you’re right about the ‘respect’ point. Dean Smith was always going to struggle to get similar respect and it’ll be a brave media pundit that has a go at Gerrard , knowing that the Liverpool media mafiosa will be hiding round the corner with their horses heads at the ready.

  16. r0bb0,

    No, as good a start as we could’ve hoped for, and now they’ve got something to build on.

    Confidence is everything, and they’ll have some coming back now. As well as plenty for SG & Co to work on in training.

  17. So pleased for Nakamba. He’s one player who can benefit from the ‘clean slate’ and he’s getting lots of appreciate from fans this evening. So that’s McGinn, Ramsey and Nakamba who’ve put in strong claims for the midfield places so far. That puts the pressure on Luiz and Sanson to step up. . . . let’s see if they have the determination to do it.


    Fabulous result. We looked more solid than we have been. Not an easy place to take 3 points from so I’m completely stoked.

  19. SG got his tactical set up right. Zaha had an early chance but after that we were well worth the win. Great to see the first signs of a passing game.

    Naka had an excellent game. So did Ramsey. And SJM was immense. Hell, they all put in a shift.

  20. I wasn’t hopeful of getting much as Selhurst Park is a difficult place to assault. Somebody was saying SG never got a win there in his playing days.

    Thought Palace were a dirty team. Some dreadful tackles from them, left unpunished by a useless ref. The red card for Dougie said it all really. Saved by VAR, but where were they with our valid penalty shouts? As usual when Laandaan clubs are involved.

    Zaha is a spoiled brat. Gallagher and Olise were much more dangerous. Thankfully Palace can’t defend set pieces. Our second was a thing of beauty and not a long throw in from Cash, thank goodness.

  21. Plug, I envy you yesterday’s match day experience and could just imagine the feeling in the away end with your ‘SUPER JOHN MCGINN’

    It’s the best start we could hope for and now it’ll be interesting to see how we now approach the Man City game. Presumably we’ll work bloody hard, try to hold them at bay and hope for a long ball breakaway goal? We know we have players capable of scoring on the break.

  22. We all feel the new confidence and have seen more energy and pressing. Last week, although we only played a similar number of passes as in the previous 6 games, we did play fewer ‘long’ passes. Yesterday, we played slightly fewer passes than the average for the previous 6 weeks and a similar proportion of long passes (more than against either Arsenal or Wolves for example).
    Our number of shots was below the average for the previous 6 weeks and we had the lowest number of shots on target.
    We all know that stats can lie and we can all feel the new sense of optimism, but it does seem that SG’s new playing style will evolve over time and isn’t fully there yet.
    The importance of ‘confidence’ however is huge, particularly in front of goal and if the players start to ‘believe’ that the ball is going in the net then it surely will do so more often than before.

  23. Jermaine Jenas has told Jacob Ramsey how lucky he is to have the opportunity to learn from Gerrard and he’s surely right. This morning there are more reports that Chukwuemeka won’t sign a new contract and yet he also has the chance at Villa to learn from one of the greatest midfielders this country has ever produced. If he goes to a Man City or Man United he probably won’t even get on the bench let alone the pitch so that wouldn’t make sense from a footballing perspective. If he really is motivated by wanting to start playing high level football every weekend then he just may have a better chance at a club like Dortmund and if he does move somewhere which gives him regular first team football then I guess it’d be hard to be too critical. Anything else just smacks of an exploitative agent after a payday, or possibly a slightly over-confident kid who may be expecting a bit too much too soon.

  24. I don’t buy the Carney reports, especially after Villa brought in his brother. If he wants to play then the championship in Jan is the obvious choice. I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t sign. Would love to see him and Archer go on loan for 2nd half of year

  25. VillaMD, I hope you’re right and it does seem par for the course for agents to stir up trouble these days. Agreed that a loan seems like the best choice but if they really do think they should be playing regularly in our first team, presumably it should be easy for us to loan them out to a Burnley, Brentford or Brighton and let them see regular Premiership action.

  26. If Burnley were to win today (if the game isn’t snowed off) then Leeds would drop into the bottom 3. I wonder how many Leeds fans are wishing for a new manager bounce.

  27. Not happy when Gerrard signed but he is the manager and i have to back him as a fan. Early signs are good and i hope he wins me over. Nakamba should the first name on that team sheet after what i saw from him yesterday. Always has been a good player having watched him from his days playing in the Eredivisie.
    Douglas Luiz can go. He is technically good but offers little else to the team. We can get better replacements. Let the club make a profit on him if possible even this coming window.
    Carney wanting to go i partly blame Dean Smith. He did not really give the youngsters more playing time during his three years here. Only Jacob Ramsey to show in that period is a damning assessment of his time here.

  28. Jackvilla, I was dubious of Gerrard too but delighted to be on the way to being won over!!

    I don’t agree with you about Carney and Smith ignoring youth though. Smith played Ramsey even when we fans were quite vocal in saying he wasn’t ready for it. He played Davies when he could but now it seems the fans will get their way and he’ll be off.

    We tend to get over-excited about youth players until they actually get match time and then we shout about them being over-rated and not up to premiership standard. . . . . we’ve been there so many times! Now Carney (and a few of the others) do ‘seem’ to have what it takes, but the guys who seem them day in and day out felt it was too soon. If it was so obvious that Carney and others are ready for premiership football why has Gerrard put fewer of them on the bench than Smith did and not given them any game time at yet (apart from Ramsey who was already largely established)

  29. Still buzzing from yesterday’s game. It was exhilarating.

    Chuk’s decision is down to himself. He was on the bench against Palace whereas Bidace was not. There are 9 places available for reinforcements and when all players are fit, some are going to miss out altogether. A certain level of intelligence is required by the players.

    SG will want to make a thorough assessment of all playing staff and logistically, it can’t be completed in a matter of days. This is why I find Chuk’s stance very surprising as he can’t know what the new manager has decided yet unless he has been told something that we don’t know about.

    If it’s all about fist team playing, then I’d agree with RoBB0 that Dortmund might be his best option, but that’s only a might.

  30. Carney still has 17 months left on his current contract, so he probably wants to see what opportunities he has between now and the end of the season. I am sure that he will get them, but the sticking point maybe that Villa want him to sign a new three year contract, before he plays in the first team. It is really a game played between Purslow and his agent.

  31. Citeh on Weds night is going to be a lesson in perpetual motion. They pass and move, pass and move. We are going to need to be very compact otherwise we’ll get shredded.

    I’m not expecting anything out of the game, but live in hope of frustrating them for a draw.

  32. yeah the last 2 wins are so massive given our next 3 games. but you never know!

    city as good as they are are more than likely going to win by 2 goals at least but now and again they do chuck one away. you can get at them….just getting the ball off the buggers.

    foxes at home could be a win

  33. What side is stevie g going to put out for the city,
    CAN’T see young being capable of 2 big matches together me I would stick with keeper and back 4 then mcginn marv ramsay, struggling then ,maybe a front 3 of ings Bailey and beundi with good choices of subs onbench

  34. Evening all,

    SG is going well so far and he’s certainly got a bounce out of the under performers so far. I’d expect a fair few had given up on a 1st team place as the side if available Under DS had become pretty cemented and for good reason. He is being very defensive and you can’t blame him for that, some of the stats don’t look pretty but two do, less shots faced and dribbles completed.

    In effect he is using 6 players to plug up the middle so the players like Nakamba do not have the sea wash over them when we lose the ball, all very sensible stuff and the kind of thing lesser teams have to try to do but the best do with ease.

    What’s surprising so far is the transition from back to front at times is very good, quick passes mixed with beating a few players here and there. We haven’t seen this from Mcginn for a good while, Ramsey has shown it this season though. The energy levels have gone up which would be expected with a new manager to please and places up for grabs. The narrow system SG prefers actually seems to suit our level of player very well and its simple to implement. We will be hard to beat but I’d be surprised if we saw any 7-2 Liverpool type performances emerge from it. You could even say we have had the rub of the green for once this season with no worldies flying in as yet.

    We have already given a few performances already like this just in a different formation with a front press, same energy and commitment until there suddenly wasn’t. I hope that doesn’t happen again.

    SG I think is the 4th person this year brought in to replace Jack behind Ings Bailey and Beundia, he’s the media side that jack took with him. Overall I like him and his honesty and he’s not a million miles different than Smith, more conservative maybe but he has a great tight knit backroom staff with two set peace coaches now 🙂 how long that persists we will see. He said after the Palace game when asked about the 5 defeats in a row that preceded him that he thought we had not deserved to lose all of them at all, at least I know he has eyeballs that work then, backs up Smiths comments at the time when some thought he was Talking Sh@t .

    Kids will be on the back boiler while he sorts out the saleable items from the keepers as he begins to change to something more suited to him I think. No real surprise as this build is a couple of years away from finished and the kids have always needed something more solid to come into not the save us scenario we have always seemed to offer them.

    I think the Smith sacking was Harsh and that thought won’t change but you can see why Purslow wanted SG and it was a matter of now or the summer. I don’t believe the 20 applicants malarkey they probably had a whatsapp group set up, when a few managers heads started to roll I think Purslow took the chance before someone else came in, turned down Newcastle after all and was not even interested at that point, hmmm ok 🙂

    Off to Villa park on Sunday to see if we can play.

  35. Vivavilla hello mate thanks been a busy time for me lately.

    We will see if SG can keep it up one record equalling in the bag, didn’t help Smith much and he set a fair few. Looks like he’s got Norwich defending better oh the irony lol.

    SG played like this in the chumps league when out classed and did well.

  36. yeah reading up on some views from people at the games. as mark rightly says the main focus has been on stop conceding and being harder to play through. the right thing to do…build from the back.

    but surprisingly given its only been under 10 days is how much of a unit we are looking. everyone keeping there shape and moving as 1. they know what there doing! In the final 3rd lots more one twos and given to feet. all bodes very well in such a short space of time. lets see the season through with no drama and a fa cup run and see what next season brings with a few of his own players and his own identity stamped on the team. we may be a possession based team at last!!!

  37. theres a great clip on football insights on twitter from the palace game. we kept the ball for over a minute! a lot more of that to come.

    move broke down with watkins who by the sounds of it had trouble making it stick that day.

    exciting times to come.

  38. no mings launching it down the channel every time!

    just finished gerrard latest book. intersting then that he said he sees himself more of a old fashioned manager than a coach.

    ties in now that hes gone down the units route of coaching mid def and st being coached indivulally

  39. H&V,

    Yeah, it wasn’t sticking for Ollie. Palace were very committed to coming in quickly from behind. He did better in space when he wasn’t waiting for it back to goal.

  40. r0bb0,

    Lots of good points. On youth, I have to agree with you and the pattern you point out.

    It’s taken Ramsey a while to settle, but he came out of summer looking much more assured. Archer, too, seems to have exceptional confidence.

    Don’t doubt that Chuk is as good as everyone says he is, but I don’t blame Smith or SG for going with much more experienced players often as not. There’s usually been a lot on the line, and Villa haven’t really had the luxury of a run of games to let someone find their way.

    Nakamba’s a good example of a player with experience taking a while to settle. Could just be him, his mentality, but as someone else pointed out, the league is so tight and competitive there’s very little margin for error. And that 6 spot can be a bit terrifying, I think. Loads of responsibility, and really no margin for error.

    SG’s player choices haven’t been notably different so far. Will probably change as he gets to grips, but as we’ve said so often, there are only so many choices. Building depth takes time, but I’m sure he’ll be getting closer to some firmer opinions on what he’s got.

  41. There seems to be some good news and some bad news. The good news is De Bruyne is out due to Covid recovery still underway. He hasn’t been training. Further good news surrounds the likely hood of Jack and Foden only playing bit parts at best as their injuries haven’t yet cleared completely.

    The bad news is Mike Dean is our ref yet again. Why do we keep getting this whistler? SG will need to get used to seeing “It’s me boys, it’s all about me”.

  42. Plug the Good news is Mike dean likes SG, we hope.

    Funny old world but the perception is we are a side that hoofs from the back a lot. The truth is we are in 12th if you go by the EPL long ball stats. Lots of other teams go long way more than we have this season, Liverpool in 13th for instance and McGinn likes a long ball over the top. Some of the teams in that top 11 are an eye opener, Brentford, Leeds, Brighton, Leicester , Everton and Wolves all pass long more than Villa.

  43. I’d be happy with 3 points from next 3 games. Tough period for us. Will be curious to see how we handle Man C at home. Good that they have injuries.

  44. I’d play Carney tomorrow instead of Bailey. Keep Bailey for Leicester on Saturday. Hopefully Stevie doesn’t start El G as I think that would rub salt into the wounds for Carney. Start him and let him know he has 60-70mins. Run his socks off. I’d also rest Nakamba and play Tuanzebe in CM. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t see us getting anything from tomorrow

  45. VillaMD, I don’t think SG should play Carney just because we fear he won’t sign a new contract. If anything, I’d see that as a reason ‘not’ to play him. We can’t have team selection based on which players agents cause the most trouble for the club. If you think we’ve seen enough from him to justify his place in the starting line up then that’s a different matter, although I’m not sure I’d choose to throw him in against Man City. I’m guessing you’d make the changes because you see the Leicester game as more winnable so you’d rotate a few players for the City game. I see that Pep is bemoaning what a weak squad he has . . . . poor little lamb. I won’t bother listing the players he still has at his disposal, but what a very silly man he can be sometimes. Having said that, if he’s feeling some pressure, maybe he’ll make selection mistakes (as he’s prone to) and we should go into the game with our best team, genuinely believing there’s a chance of pulling off a surprise result.

  46. Like you Frem, I’m winding up for tonight’s game.

    If Jack does make an appearance, I’ll be applauding him. He put a shift to get us promoted and did so again to keep us up. But I won’t criticise anyone who does get on his back, as everyone is entitled to their opinion.


  47. I wish the club would stop with the Jack statements until such time he is no longer an opponent , Jack will be looking to smash The Villa tonight we should not be bigging him up on villa official or refereeing to villa as his home as he is from Manchester

  48. Plug, I’m half way between you and the boo boys when it comes to Jack. . . . . I’d ignore him. He’s just another player now . . . . . a very good player, but he’s not ours. Like you thought I do understand why some would want to applaud and some would want to boo though. He was such a big part of our club so there’s plenty of residual emotion surrounding him.

  49. R0bb0,

    Yeah, thinking we have better chances against Leicester. I’ve only seen bits of Carney, I guess just hoping all the reports about his quality are true. Would love to see a good performance tonight, no matter what team we put out

  50. I think it will be a side set out to frustrate again, whether the players have the steam in them is another thing, but I hope we have a bit of pace up top because City do like to push a lot of players forward and that leaves space if you can get the ball. They will have to be 100% on it tonight to keep city out no doubt whatever team Pep plays they will find a way through our lines so the teamwork need to be impeccable.

    Jack? who’s that? I am grateful for all he did for the club but don’t forget what the club did for him. Him not believing in the rebuild still hurts so I would not be clapping him. If I was on the pitch I would most certainly be letting him know.

  51. Oh and for SG this is a real chance to see what he has against a real side not two teams that have drawn more than Rolf Harris has in his prison cell.

  52. VillaMD. I’m totally wanting the same as you. . . .for Carney to be the player we hear he can be. It just seems that his managers don’t think he’s quite there yet and I’m prepared to believe them.
    As you say. . . . would be great to see a strong performance from us tonight. Expecting it to be backs to the wall then use some pace on the break.

    Mark, you’re so right to point out that the club was good to Jack too. He’s undoubtedly done amazing things for Villa, but I don’t suppose that Pep would have put up with him sniffing nitrous oxide, being comatose drunk in the middle of the road, crashing his car when drunk. . . .and allegedly.. . . not playing for his club to maximise his own chances of playing for England

  53. In the meantime, I think with Chuk, from the little bit I’ve seen, is that it’s about intensity and awareness.

    He’s no doubt got the natural ability, but he just hasn’t been challenged. It was very easy for Ramsey to look lost and fail to have any real impact. He wouldn’t have gotten the run of games he did if Barkley hadn’t ended up being useless.

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