In The Mixer: Experts on Gerrard's prospects at Villa

In The Mixer: Experts on Gerrard's prospects at Villa
Aaron Rogan
Aaron Rogan
November 16, 2021
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Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.

In The Mixer is FST’s weekly column where we catch up with seven experts in football betting and get their opinion on the hot topic of the week.

This time around our experts are sounding off on Steven Gerrard’s return to the Premier League. After a spell north of the border the Liverpool legend starts his managerial career in England at Aston Villa.

How will that move work out for Gerrard and Villa? Read on to see what our experts make of the move and what lies in store for him at Villa Park. It’s fair to say that this question split the room.


An upgrade for Villa

Ian Wilkerson

Sports journalist at Racing Post

To an outsider it might seem that Dean Smith was unfortunate to lose his job at Villa, even though many have said the cracks were appearing before their run of five successive defeats that sealed his fate. They have been in tougher situations before so it may not take a great deal for Gerrard to turn things around.

Many will think he has been eased into management at Rangers, but he won the league without losing a game last season, which was a big achievement when you consider Celtic had dominated the Scottish scene for the best part of the decade and many others had failed at Ibrox.

It is an interesting decision for the former England midfielder to go now though.

The job as Jurgen Klopp’s eventual replacement at Liverpool is his to lose, so there is a risk involved in him taking this job as, if it doesn’t work out, he could blow that opportunity.

It would have been a lot easier to sit it out at Ibrox, maintain a great relationship with the supporters by staying put, and let someone else take all the risks.

So there will be the personal drive to ensure he doesn’t slip up and blow his chances of the Anfield job and that should help Villa avoid the drop and be in a position to build again next season.

Henry Hardwicke

Sports journalist at Racing Post

There’s no doubt in my mind that Steven Gerrard is an upgrade on Dean Smith, but that may not mean instant success. Gerrard did an excellent job with Rangers in Scotland and he brings a strong group of coaches with him, including assistant manager Gary McAllister.

The problem for Villa is that they sold their best performer in Jack Grealish, and although the club have spent plenty of money, the signings have left a lot to be desired. Danny Ings, Leon Bailey and Emi Buendía all look poor additions.

It may take a couple of transfer windows for Gerrard to build the team he wants, but the former Liverpool midfielder showed he can work wonders on a limited budget in Scotland, so there are reasons for Villa fans to be hopeful. 

Aaron Ashley

Sports journalist at Racing Post

It is too soon in the managerial career to suggest Steven Gerrard is an upgrade on Dean Smith, but I think time will tell he is.

Gerrard did an excellent job in breaking the domestic stranglehold of Celtic and looks sure to improve Aston Villa’s defensive frailties. Rangers set a record by conceding just 13 times in their title-winning campaign last season and it is in defence where Villa certainly need to improve.

Gerrard inherits some fine attacking talents, but Villa had the second highest expected goals against last season and have already shipped 20 goals in 11 league games this term. Things had turned stale under Smith so a change in direction is what is needed and the Liverpool legend, who likes a 4-3-3 system with adventurous use of full-backs, fully merits the opportunity.

Or is it?

Tom Hill

Sports journalist at ICS

I think calling Steven Gerrard’s appointment as an upgrade is a little disrespectful to Dean Smith. The former Brentford boss took his boyhood club from mid-table in the Championship to beating Manchester United in just a few seasons, and his sacking may even be a little premature.

After succeeding with Rangers, Gerrard will be unfazed by the pressure at Villa Park, and he seems to have some good people around him. Villa’s squad should be doing better than 16th, and a few subtle changes could be all that’s needed to take them into the top half. A European finish looks a little far from their reach, but he should have the players to avoid relegation before pushing onto bigger and better things in years to come.

James Milton

Sports journalist at Racing Post

It’s a hard appointment to assess. Dean Smith did some fine work with Brentford and Villa while Steven Gerrard deserves great credit for Rangers’ unbeaten title-winning season in the Scottish Premiership, although Celtic put them under very little pressure.

Rangers’ performances in the Europa League were also eye-catching and I feel Gerrard has a decent squad to work with at Villa despite the sale of Jack Grealish.

Smith needed his summer signings to hit the ground running, which hasn’t happened, and Villa’s start to the season has been disrupted by injuries and coronavirus issues but if Gerrard is given time he could establish them as a top-ten or top-12 Premier League club.

James Mason

Sports journalist at ICS

Steven Gerrard may have enjoyed success at Rangers but the Premier League is a different beast and I can’t really say that he’s an upgrade on Dean Smith. The former Liverpool captain has a good squad to work with after some shrewd investments by his predecessor, but the issue this season has been the club’s failure to replace Jack Grealish and they need to find a way to cope without their ex-skipper.

Managing Villa will be the toughest test of Gerrard’s managerial career to date, and although playing under the Englishman should inspire some individuals, I think this job may have come too soon for him and it could turn out to be a disappointing spell in the West Midlands.

Gareth Freeman

Sports journalist at FST

Steven Gerrard is definitely an upgrade for Villa in terms of being a bigger name, but that doesn’t mean hiring him isn’t a big risk.  The former Liverpool midfielder may have achieved fantastic results on a relatively small budget at Rangers but he still had more cash to splash than all but one of his domestic rivals – whereas Villa are very much in mid-table when it comes to wages in the Premier League.

That said, he is clearly a great motivator and that is probably exactly what the Villains need right now as they seek to end a woeful run of form but I’m not convinced he’s the right man for the job in the long-term. Dean Smith was arguably a victim of his own success after raising expectations, and it doesn’t look realistic for any manager to achieve those goals with the current squad at Villa Park. 

Aaron Rogan

Sports journalist at FST

Gerrard only won one of nine domestic trophies as Rangers boss but it was their performances in Europe which made him stand out. The Gers were able to compete with top sides again, but they spent a lot of money to do so.

Aston Villa’s summer business suggests they’re looking for a sustainable approach to spending and the Grealish money is already gone. Now he has little room for manoeuvre to improve a side who arguably hit their ceiling during Dean Smith’s impressive reign.

Over time Gerrard showed some real tactical acumen in Glasgow but I doubt if he’ll get the same time to settle into the job in a much more unforgiving league.


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