The Steven Gerrard era at Aston Villa is upon us, but will we see drastic changes to the squad’s XI for Saturday’s match against Brighton?
At Rangers, Gerrard used a 4-3-3- formation–sometimes a 4-2-3-1–and encouraged the full backs to push up the field and join the attack.
Similar to Jurgen Klopp’s philosophy at Liverpool, Gerrard’s wide forwards frequented more central areas of the pitch, creating space for the full backs to play crosses into the box from the wide areas.
On paper, Gerrard’s style is not drastically different from the style Dean Smith implemented at Aston Villa for the 2020-21 season. The full backs–specifically Matt Targett–had free reign to push upfield, and the overload the left back created in tandem with Jack Grealish gave defenders fits.
Full backs will be key to Gerrard’s tactics at Aston Villa
Under Gerrard, look for even more contribution from the full backs further up the field. In possession, Gerrard’s Villa could look a lot like a 3-4-3, with the holding midfielder dropping in between the two center backs.
The full backs will be key not only for providing wide service, but they’ll move into more central roles–similar to Trent Alexander-Arnold at Liverpool–in possession and contribute to the deployment of a high press.
This season Smith often used a 3-5-2 formation, but most of the squad is comfortable in a 4-3-3, so it should be an easy transition all around. The most noticeable changes may only be squad selection choices.
How will Smith outcast Morgan Sanson figure into Gerrard’s plans? Villa’s leadership group was eager to secure the Frenchman’s signature in January, but he’s made just a handful of appearances since joining Villa. He’s struggled with injuries but more recently appeared to have fallen out of favor with Smith.
Gerrard, in search of experience and early-tenure stability, could turn to Sanson and include him in a three-man midfield with Douglas Luiz and John McGinn.
Jacob Ramsey, fresh off a Man of the Match performance with the England U21s last week, is another option for Gerrard. Despite a strong start to the season, Ramsey was recently pushed out of the starting XI for Emi Buendia, who played as a No. 10 in a 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-1-2 under Smith.
All signs point to Buendia moving back out on the right side of a front three under Gerrard. The Argentine favors drifting centrally from the right, and with Ollie Watkins potentially playing from the left side, Gerrard may already have two strong candidates to play as narrow outside forwards.
While the 4-3-3 formation may not be new, per se, to Villa supporters, Gerrard’s philosophical alterations will give the squad a fresh look. Additionally, the Liverpool legend’s influence on a young but talented midfield corps could prove invaluable as Villa look to improve play in the middle of the park.