Steven Gerrard is all set for an emotional return to Liverpool this weekend, but how have Aston Villa fans assessed his start as manager?
On Saturday afternoon, all-time Liverpool great Gerrard will be looking to spring a shock, as his Villa side make the trip to Anfield.
Villa sit 10th in the table currently and the 41-year-old’s appointment has seen them pick up nine points from four matches so far, with their only defeat coming against Man City.
Ahead of Saturday’s game, we spoke to Villa fan and writer Crippy Cooke (@CripCookeSport) to hear all about how Gerrard is faring so far, as well as touching upon the weekend action.
How happy are you with Gerrard’s appointment and the job he has done so far?
With how poor Aston Villa’s form was prior to Gerrard replacing Dean Smith, I was certain his arrival would lead to a change of fortunes.
He did a fine job at Rangers and turned them into the best team in Scotland without spending a premium, so there’s no doubt he’s a good coach.
I was happy for us to appoint him and he’s done a fantastic job so far.
Not only do the players look rejuvenated and clearly buy into his philosophy, but Gerrard’s influence on our midfield is telling, with Marvelous Nakamba, Morgan Sanson, Douglas Luiz and John McGinn all impressing when called upon.
I always felt we had an excellent squad that any manager worth their salt should get results from and that appears to be true under Gerrard.
I hope it continues.
What style of play and formation has he used so far?
Before Gerrard’s appointment was confirmed, there was a lot of talk that he’d opt for his preferred 4-3-3 formation from Rangers and that’s exactly what’s happened at Villa.
Matt Targett at left-back, Matty Cash at right-back and Tyrone Mings partnering Ezri Konsa at centre-back was effective last season, so it makes little sense to fix something that isn’t broken.
In midfield, Smith got the best from Nakamba, Luiz and McGinn, so Gerrard had a blueprint for success the minute he walked through the door.
Danny Ings is a prolific striker and it doesn’t take a genius to see Ollie Watkins’ quality as a versatile forward, so having both players on the pitch gives us a real attacking threat.
Gerrard doesn’t care for dominating possession and it’s not uncommon for Villa to endure spells of pressure from the opposition, but he’s made us ruthless on the counter-attack.
We move the ball quickly and pull defenders apart with runs off the ball which makes for an entertaining style.
Tell us about his personality as a manager…
Gerrard is still in the early years of his managerial career, so he kicks and heads every ball on the touchline.
It must be torture not being on the pitch anymore, so he’s as passionate as you would expect.
He always spoke well in his later years at Liverpool and remains just as composed in interviews at Villa.
Gerrard is confident in his ability as a manager and recognises he has a much better crop of talent than at Rangers, so he knows he can take us far.
What approach can we expect on Saturday?
Villa will pay Liverpool a lot of respect.
We’re comfortable relinquishing possession to the opposition, so it won’t be a surprise seeing you have a lot of the ball.
Gerrard will pack the midfield and is likely to use Nakamba in a deep-lying role to pinch the ball from the toes of Liverpool’s forwards.
If we can hit Watkins early on the counter, it gives us a chance of hurting them.
The fact that Liverpool have conceded just once in their last four Premier League games doesn’t bode well for our chances, though.
Turning our attention to Liverpool, how are you assessing our title chances?
The Reds have proven harder to beat in the Premier League and have the greatest attacking threat with 44 goals in 15 games, so they might have more weapons in their arsenal to get over the line.
Liverpool don’t lose at home in the league, have the joint-best away record and have already taken a point off each of Chelsea and City, so they’re standing up to their title rivals.
They’ve lost just once in all competitions and have been perfect in Europe, so they might well be the favourites.
Apart from Salah, which Reds player would you most like to see at Villa?
Given our struggles in getting the best from Emi Buendia and Leon Bailey, Sadio Mane would be a fantastic option.
He’s hit double figures for goals in every Premier League season since coming to England and provides plenty of assists, too.
Jack Grealish contributed a lot of goals before joining City, but Mane could replicate his numbers at Villa Park.
He’s an outstanding player and knows where the back of the net is, even if his overall performances aren’t always praiseworthy.
Where do you see the key battles taking place this weekend?
Keeping Liverpool’s front three quiet is a near-impossible task.
Cash had a torrid time against Raheem Sterling in our defeat to City, so there is a risk that Mane could also make his afternoon difficult.
Targett isn’t 100 percent fit going into the Liverpool game and won’t be happy having Salah running at him, so that battle might be the decider.
He’s scored the most goals and has the most assists, so cutting out the service to him will be vital.
Finally, what’s your prediction?
We haven’t beaten Liverpool at Anfield in the league since 2014, so every bookmaker likely thinks we’ll suffer a heavy defeat.
Gerrard nearly turned things around in our 2-1 defeat to City, however, so we can stand up to the best teams.
Liverpool are guaranteed to score at Anfield, so we need to make sure we’re not holding out for a goalless draw without a plan to hurt them at the other end.
If we don’t pose them some problems, we’ll get beaten enduring attack after attack. That was clear against City.
The minute we turned over possession more aggressively in the second half of that game, we turned the tide.
I think Gerrard will learn the lesson from that game, so I will be optimistic and go for a 1-1 draw.