1. The season is soon about to end, how would you sum up this season?
The season has been a real mix of promise, but also disappointing periods, which is expected for a team where Villa are that will likely finish mid-table. We started the season with a different looking squad that lacked the talisman we had in Jack Grealish last season, and that led to uncertainty about how the team would perform. There have been some really difficult parts of the season and some bad runs of form which have meant we missed out on really challenging for a European place this year. That is disappointing, but we have also been more consistent than last season, where we showed worrying form in the second half of the campaign. This season we have gone on mini runs of good form, followed by smaller patches of losses. I would sum the season up as completely average, unfortunately.
2. Our hero Steven Gerrard came to Villa earlier this season, how has he done so far? Gerrard came to Villa with the promise to deliver progress in three certain areas. The first area was in results on the pitch and since Steven Gerrard’s appointment, Villa have been 9th in the league in terms of points won. It’s not ground-breaking but it is an improvement on Dean Smith’s 16th-placed Villa side when Gerrard came in. The teams immediately above Aston Villa in the league are Wolves, Palace, Brighton, and West Ham. Gerrard certainly has the squad to go and compete with those teams already and stake a claim for Europe, but there is also the possibility that Villa finish below other teams like Newcastle, Brentford and Leicester as the table is tight in the middle. With a couple of games in-hand, Gerrard has Villa’s fate in his hands to either finish in 9th, or as low as 15th so we will judge him fully after the season concludes.
The second area Gerrard has altered is the playing style. He has put more emphasis on playing through the middle of the park and using the fullbacks to provide width. He has, at the same time, made Aston Villa a bit more compact out of possession and it does look like that has benefited the team’s results. We are still a long way from Gerrard’s preferred style of possession-based build up football, but we have seen this in moments against Leeds, Burnley, Southampton and Crystal Palace, to suggest that more possession is the goal further down the line.
The final area of promise following Gerrard’s appointment was to attract better playing personnel. January’s additions of Coutinho with an option to buy and Lucas Digne added some much needed quality to those positions and both have looked successful moves so far. Adding these players might have been difficult under Dean Smith as Gerrard is considered a more “exciting” manager to play for, so let’s hope he can attract some top talent in the summer.
3. Another former red is Coutinho, has he lived up to the expectations?
Coutinho has scored 4 goals and assisted 3 in 13 starts. He earned valuable points against Leeds at home and away, Southampton at home and Manchester United. He’s undoubtedly made a big positive impact. Little Phil is amongst the best in our squad for the number of key passes per 90 mins, shots per game, and successful dribbles. All of this is obvious to see when he’s on the pitch and Coutinho has added creative firepower to the squad. There is concern over his slight dip in form, as he is now up to 6 starts without a goal contribution. Sometimes, it looks as though games can pass him by a little bit. However, his underlying stats in terms of shots, tackles, interceptions, key passes, dribbles completed, and passing accuracy are all pretty stable. So perhaps he is due a goal, and what better time than against his former club…
4. What do you expect from Villa during the summer transfer window?
Firstly, Steven Gerrard has made it clear he wants Coutinho permanently. We will have to see whether Aston Villa back him and exercise their option to buy from Barcelona, however I do expect to see Coutinho playing in a Villa shirt next season if reports close to the club are to be believed. In terms of those leaving the club, it’s reported that we’ll see a couple out the door and maybe one or two first team players leave as part of that evolution. I expect Gerrard will want to upgrade and upset some of the positions like center back, the midfield and the forward department. We’ve been linked with Boubacar Kamara from Marseille and Leeds’ Kalvin Phillips with respect to finding a new n.6 holding midfielder. On top of that I expect Villa to be linked with a backup left back, a winger or prolific striker, and a top class central defender. We will probably see some peripheral players leave the club in the summer like El Ghazi, Wesley, Guilbert and Trezeguet. However, it’s rumored we may see a couple of starting 11 players move on to make way for an upgrade in that position – whether that is Konsa, Mings, Luiz, Danny Ings, John McGinn, or whether that is a squad player like Bertrand Traore, Leon Bailey, Morgan Sanson or Kortney Hause, remains to be seen.
5. How is Villa’s current form?
We have won our last two matches, albeit against Norwich and Burnley, convincingly. We played well against Leicester and probably deserved to win that match, but it’s off the back of a losing streak before those last three games. At the moment we look solid at the back and in midfield, but we haven’t played a team like Liverpool in a while – in fact, Villa’s record against the teams above us in the league is very poor this season. Spurs were the last top 5 team that Villa played and, while we actually played quite well, Tottenham finished almost all of their shots and won the game 4-0! Gerrard will be hoping for more from his side against the better teams in the league moving forward.
6. What kind of game do you expect against Liverpool?
I think it mostly depends on how the Liverpool players react to the Spurs result. Klopp’s team looked a bit tired and lacked that extra 10% of energy. If Liverpool are mentally okay and physically ready, they should win comfortably. However, under the lights at Villa Park the Reds will need to be 100% against a team who have a good record against them recently in the midlands… The game at Anfield was quite close and I felt the penalty that won it for Liverpool was harsh on Villa. I hope for an exciting game and a win would give Aston Villa a much needed confidence boost going into next season to get the best out of this squad.