If any Aston Villa fans were unsure of what Steven Gerrard would offer their club, they surely have a clearer idea now. The former Liverpool and England captain has made a strong start to life at Villa Park with back-to-back wins over Brighton and Crystal Palace lifting the struggling side up to 13th place in the Premier League table.

Gerrard built his title-winning Rangers team on a sound defensive basis and he appears to have already given Aston Villa the structure they were lacking over the early part of the season. This was most evident in the win over Brighton, when the Seagulls were held at arm’s length despite controlling much of the possession.

Villa are already a much narrower team under Gerrard than they ever were under Dean Smith. The former midfielder likes width to be provided by his full backs. It therefore wasn’t so surprising that left back Matt Targett scored his first goal of the season in the win over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. Matty Cash is also being pushed into more advanced positions.

John McGinn impressed in the two wins over Brighton and Palace and the Scotland International will be a key figure for Aston Villa with Steven Gerrard at the helm. At Rangers, Gerrard played with two central attacking midfielders behind the central striker and it appears McGinn will be charged with giving Villa drive and attacking creativity in the final third.

While Jack Grealish’s departure to Manchester City has diminished Aston Villa’s verve in the final third, there is still plenty attacking talent for Gerrard to work with. Ollie Watkins, for instance, has looked sharper since the change in management. In time, Emi Buendia will surely be harnessed as one of Gerrard’s central attacking midfielders.

Some predicted Villa would challenge for a top six finish this season such was the stature of the signings they made using the Grealish money. That will almost certainly be beyond them, but Gerrard is putting in place the structure that will sustain his team for seasons to come. A top-six finish might not happen this season, but what happens between now and May could determine what unfolds next season.

“The challenges are coming thick and fast,” Gerrard said when asked how far in the future he is looking. “I am not sure it is a league or level where you get much enjoyment because the next top coach comes along. This is a level where you need to remain focused from my point of view and to keep demanding standards from players, so we won’t get carried away because we know it can change very quickly. Secretly behind the scenes this is where I have always wanted to be and I have worked hard to get to this position so I will give it my best shot.”

Links to Liverpool have many questioning whether Steven Gerrard sees Aston Villa as a stepping stone to an eventual return to Anfield as manager. However, the 41-year-old has the resources to build something special at Villa Park. Villa can be much more than just a stepping stone for Gerrard, even if Liverpool remains his dream job.

He might have been an attack-minded figure as a player, but Gerrard recognises the importance of his defence and that should give Aston Villa a good basis for the future. His record at Rangers, both domestically and in the Europa League, hinted at a manager who is closer to Jose Mourinho than Jurgen Klopp, but with Gerrard now in the Premier League he can make a name for himself at the elite level.

 


 

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