Steven Gerrard exclusive interview: Aston Villa boss struggles to close gap to elite ahead of Liverpool showdown

28 Jun 2022 | 08:12 | Football

Steven Gerrard is preparing to face the club he has represented more than 700 times as a player, led by a manager who gave him a break in the coach, knowing that anything other than victory could be their Premier League title hope. end.

Liverpool’s stakes couldn’t be higher.But for Gerald, with sky sports There was no room for emotion at Aston Villa’s Bodimore Heath training ground after the press conference. “My job is to get three points,” he said.

Such a result would have a huge impact on the title race, but it would also mean a lot for the home team. When Gerrard arrived in November, Aston Villa were 16th, just two points above the relegation zone. A win over Liverpool would put them in the top half.

Villa have not achieved such highs in more than a decade and while Gerrard is more ambitious with the club’s long-term goals, ending the season this season would be a satisfying way to end his six-month run. Steady progress. convention.

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Watch free: Highlights from Aston Villa’s win over Burnley

“I think the main positive is that the players are really happy and they’ve embraced our identity and style,” he told sky sports.

“From the way we’ve set it up, we’ve had a lot of success with a lot of games, and I think we’re getting the best out of a lot of people.

“We still see a lot of areas where we can get better and improve. We had some games that were very inconsistent. But I think it’s down to individual moments or individual mistakes, not how we set up or how we play.

“I think the players are happy with what we’re trying to implement, we feel more comfortable every game.”

Gerrard had to replace Dean Smith from Rangers three months into the season but has worked to improve things on and off the pitch.

“We had to try to keep the team out of danger and get a good position in the table, but in addition to that we analysed all the players, all the players we have on loan and some of the staff,” added Gerrard.

“We’ve made some changes to the building in terms of rules and other things, but this summer will give us a chance to breathe, reflect and reset. It’ll also give us the luxury of a pre-season where you can really nail down Lower your identity and style.

“It’s a real challenge to do that when you’re playing every six or seven days because you have limited time on the training ground, but overall it’s positive.

“I’m happy with where we are and I see signs of progress.”

Villa in Premier League top five under Gerrard
Villa are one of the top five teams in the Premier League under Gerrard

The improvement was most noticeable on the defensive side. The villa is compact and well-organized under Gerrard’s leadership. Since he took office, only four teams have conceded fewer goals or kept more clean sheets in the Premier League, while only three have faced fewer shots on target or are better at expected goals.

There have been 10 defeats – more than Gerrard had hoped – but only two by more than a goal. Villa are, in his words, “a work in progress”, but they are already harder to beat.

“I think it depends on how we’re off the ball, our distance and our size, and how hard the players put in their application and commitment because they’re the ones who go out and carry it out,” Jay said. Ladd said.

“When you go into a new job and you bring your style and approach, it’s important that you have the support of the players who have gone out and put their bodies at risk.

“They really integrated into our form with the ball and it helped us defend better.”

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Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard says he is fully focused on trying to beat old club Liverpool despite his past spells at the club

They will need to continue to play the same way against Liverpool.

In the 1-0 loss at Anfield in December, Villa had only 38 per cent of possession, and Liverpool are strong enough to make that figure similar at Villa Park.

For Gerrard, who is used to dominating opponents both as a Liverpool player and as a former manager at Rangers, the dynamic will take some getting used to.

“Not the same,” he said with a smile. “But listen, you can still win football games like this. A lot of our success at Rangers was in Europe when we had less possession.

“In some cases, you have to be ready to fight back, play transition games, or fight back and steal the ball high.

“Of course, in an ideal world, everyone wants the ball, and I think over time, if we recruit well enough, we’ll improve our possession because ultimately, in the big picture, we Really want to be a ball handler – the base team that controls most of the game.

Mohamed Salah's penalty puts Liverpool ahead
Mohamed Salah’s penalty gives Liverpool 1-0 win over Aston Villa in December

“But a lot of our top performances this season have come with less possession, and I agree with that. When you play against world-class players and world-class teams, sometimes you have to be pragmatic.

“I don’t think fanaticism and carelessness will work.”

Especially when you’re up against deadly players like Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Luis Diaz.

“Of course, these three players have been an important part of our preparations,” Gerrard said.

“In a game of this size, you have to try to stifle and limit the talented players because if you give them time and space and ignore them, they are likely to hurt you.

“But they’re not the only three. When you talk about the top teams at the top of the Premier League, usually they are full of top international players.

“That’s the scale of the challenge, but at the same time, if you can manage to get the best out of your team, if your top players can step up and everyone can go above, nothing is impossible. “

Steven Gerrard's Aston Villa congratulates his players after the game
Aston Villa are ninth in the Premier League since Steven Gerrard’s appointment

Gerrard wants his players to approach Tuesday’s game with that in mind, but in the long term he wants Villa to meet the elite of the Premier League, which will be more of a game for them.

He brought in Philippe Coutinho, Lucas Digne and Callum Chambers in January, starting the process of strengthening the squad to make it happen, and looking ahead to this summer’s transfer window. An opportunity to continue fine-tuning his personnel.

“We have a lot of sales here, so I think quality is more important than quantity,” he said of the coming summer. “I don’t think we need to tear everything up and start over.

“We had a positive window in January where we were trying to add players who could enhance the players we already had and now is a case of adding quality to take the squad to the next level.

“I don’t think we need numbers. We already have a lot of options. But we want to add some quality to certain areas of the team because we think that can help us make huge progress.”

He wants Coutinho to be involved. The Brazil international had to take a place on the bench in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Burnley, with Emiliano Buendia shining in his place but Jay Ladd is keen to make his loan spell permanent and believes the race for the seat is healthy.

“When we decide to use a No. 10, maybe they’re the only ones who can play, but I’ve shown many times that we can use two No. 10s in the team, and I think they’re both capable of being a good player in certain situations. Also one in eight,” he said.

“At the end of the day, they’re two great players and I’m lucky to have them by my side. We rested Phil on Saturday and Amy was great, but that was Burnley. Liverpool was a different game and I would Picking the team I think will do the best job.

“Of course, my job is to handle situations when players are not on the pitch, but I will always be honest and sincere with them. I will never leave them blank, I will always explain my reasons. Not everyone can play every game. Games, but at the same time, the team is very important throughout the season.”

Amy Buendia celebrates late in the first half
Emiliano Buendia prefers against Burnley to Philippe Coutinho

Liverpool’s visit to Villa Park is a huge test of their progress so far this season. Gerrard spent his first year in charge at his former club academy, does he see any lessons from Villa’s rise under Klopp?

“I’m not sure lesson is the right word, but what I’m going to say is that he obviously has a lot of support from the owners,” he said. “He has time to build and make progress.

“When you get into these clubs, it does take a certain amount of time. It’s very difficult to change everything overnight. But I also know it’s a results business and I’m not ignoring that.

“We just have to make sure we’re making the right decisions and everyone’s going in the right direction. When everyone’s aligned and connected on how to move things forward, I think that’s how you get to your final destination faster when.”

That consistency is evident at Liverpool and Gerrard believes the same applies to Villa, who is working closely with chief executive Christian Poslow and sporting director John Lange. “We have owners who have invested in the team and have shown incredible support,” he said. “We’re all on the same page, we’re really ambitious.”

It will certainly take some ambition if Villa is to take points from Liverpool, but Gerrard’s determination to do so is palpable.

“We know there is still a gap with teams like Liverpool, but our job is to do everything we can to close the gap,” he said.

“That’s what we’re working on.”

Watch Aston Villa v Liverpool in the Premier League on Sky Sports from Tuesday at 7pm; kick-off at 8pm

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