Aston Villa: how is Steven Gerrard really doing and will Coutinho and Digne make a difference?

BirminghamWorld takes a look at how far Aston Villa have come since August 2021 and what new signings Digne and Coutinho can bring

Aston Villa have been experiencing a whirlwind of a season so far that has seen them be subjected to the highest of highs as well as the lowest of lows.

Their former manager, Dean Smith, who had been at Villa Park since 2018 was already being pushed out the door before the 2021/22 season started.

Sign up to our BirminghamWorld Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The first match back in the Premier League was not the start Smith needed if he were aiming to secure his position. Losing 3-2 to Watford who are now currently sitting in 17th place was not what the English manager envisioned for a saving grace in his career.

Beating Newcastle United can hardly be called a redeeming match given the situation of the Magpies but Villa then found themselves securing a comfortable 6-0 over League Two opponents Barrow.

In Villa’s last match in September, Villa had a triumphant 1-0 victory over Manchester United, however this seemed to signal much more the trials and tribulations United were suffering at the time rather than the state of play in their own home: this was yet to come.

Dean Smith left the club in early November

Aston Villa then went a crushing five matches without a win or draw. Losing to Tottenham, Wolves, Arsenal, West Ham and finally Southampton, the time had come for Dean Smith to part ways with the club.

In comes former Premier League and England icon Steven Gerrard.

Three extremely successful years with Rangers were enough to prove to the Villa board that the former England captain was deserving of a managerial spot in the Premier League.

It seemed an almost immediate sign of an uplifted atmosphere around the club - a time for a tremendous shift in the mindset and style that Villa would inhabit.

Gerrard’s first game in charge saw a 2-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion followed by yet another win against Crystal Palace.

Dean Smith had been one of the most popular managers in Aston Villa’s history but it was not long before Steven Gerrard had been able to win over the hearts and minds of not just his players but the fanbase too.

Jack Grealish had previously played such a pivotal role in the team that his absence was sorely felt for the entirety of August, September and October, but the presence of a new and younger manager soon made the mourning period end.

So what has Steven Gerrard done to help Villa?

Despite Gerrard’s losses in the Premier League, his team have shown phenomenal work on the pitch and exhibiting signs of what is still to come from the squad.

This new drive and skill can be seen as recently as Monday 10 January during Villa’s 1-0 defeat against Manchester United in the FA Cup.

Somehow, United were able to scrape away with their one goal but for the entirety of the second half, Villa had their opposition on the backfoot and were extremely unlucky to have missed out on two goals for offside.

During Gerrard’s first press conference for Aston Villa, he noted that it was too easy for opponents to get into Villa’s back four, mainly due to the lack of positional discipline in midfield.

Gerrard celebrates Villa’s success in his first game in charge

Under Smith, they became an irregularity and chaos to their attempts at a defensive set-up but those ‘distances’ - as Gerrard mentioned - are much more consistent now and Villa are more successfully able to track the movement of the ball when it’s in the hands of the opposition.

Gerrard has addressed the need for a higher defensive position with a more organised midfield.

The 41-year-old manager has been able to utilise the energy of the midfield and channel it into a tighter, yet still dynamic, formation.

What will Lucas Digne and Philippe Coutinho bring to the second half of the season?

The signings of such big names symbolise the intent the Gerrard hopes for the remainder of the season and the future of Villa.

Despite a recent lack of game time, Lucas Digne has been exceptional for Everton in recent years, becoming their first-choice left back after just two months.

Coutinho and Gerrard have previously worked together at Liverpool

Coutinho, who has previously played with Gerrard at Liverpool, has an exceptional passing ability and coupled with his pace and overall agility will become a crucial model for his fellow teammates as Villa look to fight for a place in the Europa League.

Their signings also send a message to other footballers that Aston Villa are also after that they are not to be taken lightly or dismissed and that their future is up and coming.

Where will Aston Villa end up at the end of 2021/22

According to the website, fivethirtyeight.com,  Aston Villa have been predicted to finish in 11th position, with only a 2% chance of relegation.

However, if they continue on the same path that we have seen under Gerrard, they may well find themselves fighting for a top 10 spot.

A message from the editor:

Thank you for reading. BirminghamWorld is Birmingham’s latest news website, championing everything that is great about our city - reporting on news, lifestyle and sport. We want to start a community among our readers, so please follow us on Facebook,Twitter and Instagram, and keep the conversation going.