The Big Villa Question
The 2022/23 Premier League season is up and running, but the manner of Aston Villa’s opening defeat against Bournemouth added to the uneasy feeling from the first half performance against Manchester United in the final game of their Australian preseason tour. The feeling that Steven Gerrard hadn’t got his house in order yet.
So far there has been little noticeable improvement from the team that finished last season with only two wins in their final eleven games.
Gerrard had supposedly strengthen his spine with Diego Carlos and Boubacar Kamara, but tactically the identity of the team is ill-defined. Hopeful crosses aimed at the short strikers in boxes defended by giants, boarded on the bizarre in the game at the Vitality Stadium at the weekend.
Meanwhile, Philippe Coutinho is in danger of becoming a PR stunt signing. If Gerrard doesn’t get a tune out of the Brazilian magician, then it will have the double effect of wasting Buendia’s talents too.
Gerrard’s dropping of Tyrone Mings from captain duties and then from the Villa first XI for the opener, raised eyebrows, but few concerns. But then a negative result followed by a clumsy answer by the Villa boss, when asked about the centre-back’s absence, has since spiralled into a media feeding frenzy.
The Big Picture
The Mings-Gerrard debate though is something of a smokescreen distraction to the bigger picture. Villa have four able centre-backs now and whichever two play will not change too much, if the defensive organisation in-front and around them continues to be poor.
On the My Old Man Said podcast, it’s been a long-held belief that to get Villa into the top-half, the missing link wasn’t simply just a decent defensive midfielder. Villa need two central midfield upgrades. Kamara seems a step in the right direction for the ‘six’, but a disciplined all-rounder with presence in the ‘eight’ position would really help facilitate most other areas of the team stepping up.
Gerrard reinforced the intention to strengthen the midfield during an interview on the Australian tour, but all has gone quiet publicly on that front. By making John McGinn captain, the signs are that Gerrard instead is trying to level up the Scottish international to fill the void.
If so, a lot rides on this, as McGinn tends to thrive further up the pitch and has previously shown deficiencies, when it comes to his positioning and discipline in the defensive side to his game.
If there are to be no further midfielder additions, it’ll be certainly intriguing to see how Gerrard’s faith in McGinn plays out. Will this be the opportunity that McGinn needs to focus and gain the consistency he needs to really push on to be a top Premier League player? Or will it fast become a cross that Gerrard gets nailed to?
It’ll certainly go a long way to defining Villa’s season.
Listen to the discussion of the situation
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David Michael – @oldmansaid
Chris Budd – @BUDD_music
Phillip Shaw – @prsgame
Cover art – @villaspots