Steven Gerrard has been sacked as Aston Villa’s head coach after a torrid start to the new Premier League campaign.
The former Rangers boss was relieved of his duties at the West Midlands club on Thursday night (20 October) just hours after his side’s 3-0 defeat to newly-promoted Fulham at Craven Cottage. Gerrard’s backroom staff including his number two Gary McAllister, Neil Critchley, Tom Culshaw, Jordan Milsom and Scott Mason have also left the club.
Villa have won just two games out of 11 all season and the former Gerrard has been under increasing pressure in recent weeks following his side’s poor run of form. Villa’s owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens will now begin their search for a new manager with a host of big names in the running to replace Gerrard.
When Gerrard took over from Dean Smith in November 2021, Villa were in 15th place, he leaves the club in 17th and there’s no doubt the board had to act and make the change, but after a positive start to his spell in charge of the club, where exactly did it go wrong for Gerrard at Villa Park?
Gerrard’s Villa tenure
After overcoming Celtic’s dominance and winning the league title with Rangers, Gerrard arrived at Villa Park with the belief he was about to begin a long career as a Premier League manager. He got off to a brilliant start, winning four of his first six games in charge to guide the club away from the relegation zone and into mid-table.
With the help of Michael Beale, Gerrard looked to have shored up Villa’s leaky defence, making his team hard to beat in the process.
Statement of intent
The signing of Philippe Coutinho from Barcelona was a real statement of intent from owners Wes Edens Nassef Sawiris - and a sign of Gerrard’s pulling power that the club were able to convince the Brazilian international to relocate from Catalonia to the West Midlands.
Gerrard was backed in January, as Villa also signed Lucas Digne from Everton for £25 million, as well as Robin Olson and Callum Chambers. There was real optimism around Villa Park following the January window.
There’s no doubt that Gerrard’s aim when he took over from Smith was to guide the club away from relegation before building for the 2022/23 season, but the cracks in Gerrard’s project started to show as early as February with defeats to Newcastle United and a home loss to Watford.
As Villa’s season stagnated, Gerrard implemented a robust, pragmatic playing style that wasn’t always easy on the eye, and many fans were starting to wonder if the football was actually any better than it was under Smith. It was becoming clear that Gerrard was struggling to get the best out of an abundance of attacking talent as the club finished the season in 14th place.
Gerrard’s right-hand man Michael Beale was a key part of his backroom team at Villa Park. With previous coaching roles at Chelsea, Liverpool and Sao Paulo, Beale was able to provide a wealth of experience to Gerrard, and he was a key part of the former Liverpool skipper’s success during his spell at Rangers.
So when Beale decided to leave Villa at the end of the 2022 season to take the manager’s role at QPR, it was a big blow for the club.
2022 Summer window and injury woes
Several new faces came through the door in the summer at Villa Park as the owners again backed Gerrard in the market. The club’s aim under Gerrard going into the new season was to challenge for a European place and the club recruited impressively.
Coutinho joined on a permanent basis from Barcelona, for around 20 million euros. Gerrard’s big summer signing was the highly sought-after Brazilian centre-half Diego Carlos for a fee in the region of £26million from Sevilla, and Gerrard also brought in the highly rated French youngster Boubacar Kamara from Marseille.
Mings stripped of captaincy
One of Gerrard’s more controversial decisions during his time at Villa Park was to strip Tyrone Mings of the Villa captaincy.
Following the decision, Gerrard said: “I believe that not having the responsibility of the captaincy will allow Tyrone to focus more on his own game which can only benefit him and the team.”
Expectations were high going into the new campaign and Gerrard had to deliver, but the club’s season got off to the worst start possible with a 2-0 defeat at newly-promoted Bournemouth.
Things then went from bad to worse for Gerrard as new-signing Diego Carlos ruptured his Achilles’ tendon during the 2-1 win over Everton in August, ruling him out for the majority of the campaign.
Incredibly, the club’s other star summer signing Kamara then suffered a knee ligament injury during the 1-0 victory over Southampton which will see him on the sidelines until after the World Cup this winter.
Defeats against bottom half teams including Crystal Palace and West Ham followed, and despite a good performance against Manchester City in a 1-1- draw, Gerrard’s failure to get the most out of Ollie Watkins, Leon Bailey, Emi Buendia and Coutinho ultimately proved to be his downfall.
Lacklustre draws against fellow strugglers Leeds United and Nottingham Forest increased the pressure on Gerrard, and when Thursday (20 October) night’s 3-0 defeat to Fulham left Villa in 17th place with 11 games played and just two wins all season, there was no way back for the Liverpool legend.
Chants of ‘we want Gerrard out’ rang around the away end against Fulham. It was clear there was no way back for Gerrard.
There’s no denying that Gerrard has been unlucky with injuries to some of his key players this season, but his style of play has been too defensive and uninspiring. His team have lacked a clear playing philosophy and with the likes of Coutinho, Buendia and Bailey, Gerrard had more than enough attacking quality at his disposal to get better results than he did.
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