No More Nice Aston Villa, Ashley Forever Young and Legends as Managers

The Good, Bad & Ugly of Steven Gerrard’s Start

With Aston Villa’s fortunes more good and less ugly nowadays, MOMS podcast contributor Phil Shaw resurrects ‘The Good, Bad & Ugly’, an old favourite MOMS column that started over eight years ago on the site…

By Phil Shaw

Not a bad start for the Steven Gerrard era… 

The Good

Looking at the fixture list, games against a possession-based, joy-killing Brighton side, and an organised Palace side with genuine attacking talent, were both potential pitfalls to scupper a new manager bounce, before the litmus test of Manchester City.

Despite the adversity, Aston Villa came through all three games looking organised, determined, and surprisingly solid, considering how the season has gone so far. 

First-half against City aside, Villa look to be much harder to play against and with ‘Villa Till I Die’ ringing out from all corners of Villa Park, when Jack Grealish came on for Manchester City, Villa aren’t playing ‘nice’ any more. 

The fullbacks, Matty Cash and Matt Targett, now play as fullbacks first and foremost. 

Simple changes, in the short term, look to have reaped big rewards. 

The midfield pressed more frequently in both games, and the opposition were given the lions share of possession in areas that couldn’t hurt Villa.

Up top, competition for places is now key as Watkins, Ings, Buendia, Young, and Bailey are all uncertain of starting unless they perform. 

More importantly, the back four from last season are now back to being the default after only playing together in the first game of the season.

This brought out a rejuvenated performance from Matt Targett.

Against Brighton, he nullified the main threat, Tariq Lamptey, until he was taken off and Targett could then get forward more, before showing conviction to score the opener against Crystal Palace.

Of course, it’s early days and there were no wheels reinvented, but every so often it takes a detached view, to see what needs to be tweaked. 

Villan of the Week — Ashley Young

When Ashley Young was brought on in midfield to replace Buendia, against Brighton, there were plenty of murmurs in the Villa crowd. 

This was the kind of change if made by Dean Smith, that would’ve given ammunition to his detractors.

11 minutes later, Young had set Watkins free to score the goal that made Villa Park erupt.

He kept his place against Crystal Palace and had to come on for the injured Bailey against City, barely putting a foot wrong. 

An old head, a conduit between manager and players, and still a valuable impact player, Young still has plenty to offer.

Reductions of Villa Merchandise Below

The Bad

Other than the trains home from Villa Park, the Steven Gerrard era has avoided the bad column. 

It’s more a case of looking for subtle differences in the players under Gerrard.

Leon Bailey picked up another muscle strain, but this didn’t seem to phase Gerrard, as he said he expects niggles as the intensity of his training sessions ramps up.

Ollie Watkins, spoke of more discipline and new methods, the media ran with the usual banning of Ketchup and Mayo and just like that, Villa are fit as fiddles again.

Except, in reality, things don’t happen like that. 

This isn’t a dig at Dean Smith, as he was able to go into Norwich and turn over Southampton before drawing with Wolves and Newcastle.

But something happened under Smith that allowed standards to drop and things to rapidly fall apart. It seems to happen to the majority of Premier League managers.

Season one, manager comes in, tweaks things and sees a sudden improvement.

Season two, he gets a couple of signings and everyone buys into the plan, this is the peak season.

In season three, just when everything seems fine, a series of events has the manager doubting what worked previously, and they try to overcomplicate things.

Rinse and repeat all round.

What separates the best managers from the rest is the courage to stick to their convictions and not let outside factors rock the boat.

Steven Gerrard is only a few games into this endless managerial cycle. Hopefully, he can be one of the few that breaks the sequence.

The Ugly

Gerrard to Liverpool, Gerrard using Villa as a stepping stone…

It’s endless. Always in the back of people’s minds and constantly pushed by the usual suspects in the media.

There’s no getting away from it. If he is asked to manage Liverpool, he’ll go.

Just like Dean Smith when the Villa job came up, Lampard when Chelsea called and Ole when Manchester United asked him.

The ugly thing is that people won’t let this go until it happens.

There are a few caveats that need to come into play for it to take place.

Gerrard has to be overachieving at Villa. Not mid-table, higher.

Liverpool is run by super league wannabes who don’t care that one of their best ever Premier League era players is now a manager, they want results and guarantees.

You only need to look at the players who’ve gone on to manage the teams they are associated with and the records afterwards.

Getting a club legend into manage the team comes with its own unique risks.

They get a longer grace period when things aren’t working. 

People forgive things because they remember how they were as a player.

Then, when you really have to move on, you risk splitting the fanbase and going into damage limitation mode with the new boss.

Their old playing pals in the media, who took the easy option of being a pundit, will rally around them and the club will be left in an un-winnable situation.

Lampard, Solskjaer, Shearer, Souness, Koeman, all failed at the clubs they represented so well as players, but Solskjaer is the one who’s had the ugliest exit.

Clearly unqualified, he managed to get a short-term tune out of United, like a Norwegian Tim Sherwood. 

Of course, then his media pals like Rio Ferdinand demanded he be given the job and United caved in.

When things began to fall apart, the last thing to be questioned was Solskjaer and his tactics.

When he survived to the third season, it was time to be judged, and of course, he fell short.

So, when it comes to Steven Gerrard and Liverpool, he won’t just be appointed because of his playing days, he will have to have brought some glory to Villa Park.

Liverpool will have looked at the mess of Manchester United under Solskjaer and probably judge Gerrard to a higher standard.

So, as ugly as it could be if he does end up with the Anfield job, he will have left Aston Villa in a better place.