The version of Aston Villa on display in Sunday’s 1-0 defeat at Newcastle was perhaps the worst iteration of Steven Gerrard’s side since the former Liverpool legend took over as manager in November.
Gerrard said after the match that it was “a really bad day for us. I was surprised with the performance that we gave. There were no signs of that, certainly in the preparation.
“We didn’t deserve anything out of the game given the level of performance that we give. That’s clear to me and some changes in the team need to happen as well.”
There was a clear lack of cohesion through the midfield and as a result the attacking trio of Philippe Coutinho, Emi Buendia, and Ollie Watkins rarely had the ball in dangerous areas.
The backline struggled to cope with Newcastle’s high press and got little help from Douglas Luiz in the holding midfield role. In fact, John McGinn could be seen dropping deep often to compensate for Luiz’s struggles.
Newcastle’s xG was also a subpar 0.52 and their only goal was scored from a direct free kick just outside the box. The Toon by no means looked super threatening, but Villa’s inability to build from the back was worrying, especially considering Newcastle’s position in the league table.
Matty Cash, who has had a very good season, found himself in good areas high on the right flank but either mishandled the ball or played poor crosses all afternoon.
Ollie Watkins looks a shadow of the player he was last season and rarely made his way into the flanks for hold-up opportunities.
But the most glaring deficiency on display on Sunday was Villa’s lack of a true ball-winning defensive midfielder. It was no secret Gerrard wanted to sign a DM in the January window but a signing never materialized.
Since Marvelous Nakamba’s injury late last year the side has looked out of balance. Luiz is so clearly a No. 8, and when he plays in the holding role the rest of the midfield must compensate for his defensive shortcomings.
We’ll see changes for the Watford match on Saturday. Morgan Sanson could relieve Luiz in the No. 6 role, but Calum Chambers is an option, too. He was Fulham’s Player of the Season in 2018-19 having played as a DM that term.
Look for Danny Ings to start up top as well. Gerrard will freshen the squad up, but will it pay off?