Aston Villa can’t beat this Nottingham Forest team? The players are better than this, but is Gerrard?
‘Good things’ were few and far between at the City Ground. Emmanuel Dennis, making his full debut for Forest, would do a good thing – a nice touch or a drop of the shoulder – but follow it with a pass to nowhere. Ashley Young did a very good thing – smashing the ball past Dean Henderson on the half-volley to draw Aston Villa level – but he and his teammates spent the rest of the first half failing to retain possession for more than a few seconds.
The poor passing was in part due to pressure on the ball, but only a very small part, with players mostly just guilty of attempting to pass it through or simply to the opposition. Frustrated at their inability to keep the ball, 22 players reverted to kicking each other. There are 20.9 fouls in an average Premier League game; there were 17 in the first half alone.
Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa have 1.22 points per game in the Premier League; Dean Smith’s Aston Villa had 1.15 PPG. Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa are currently 16th in the Premier League with nine points from nine games; Aston Villa were 16th with ten points from 11 games when Smith was sacked in November 2021. Has there been any progress since?
While the muzzle of the gun was pulled away from the face of his opposite number, who signed a new contract to the delight of the Forest fans, it’s now Gerrard staring down the barrel, with something close to a majority of Villa fans now urging the owners to pull the trigger. His team look like a bunch of strangers.
It’s the sort of job a decent manager could walk into and make a big and immediate impact. Villa have got some very good players.
Ollie Watkins was in the England squad six months ago, Emi Buendia was playing for Argentina, John McGinn was an ideal signing for Liverpool or Manchester United, Philippe Coutinho is the most expensive Premier League transfer ever, Douglas Luiz could easily now be playing for league leaders Arsenal, and Gerrard himself has admitted Jacob Ramsey has what it takes to go right to the top.
Most of these guys are Champions League-level players – or at least they were – combined by Gerrard to make a team in relegation form.
Tyrone Mings didn’t cover himself in glory for the Forest goal, seemingly refusing to mark Dennis, who barely moved to head in Morgan Gibbs-White’s free-kick. But it’s not the defending that’s the issue in general for Villa, it’s their blunt attack. Young’s wonderful strike was just their seventh goal of the season; only Wolves (3) have scored fewer.
Gerrard’s tried two proper strikers in Watkins and Danny Ings, two No.10s in Buendia and Coutinho as he did in this game, and more of a winger in Leon Bailey. Nothing’s really worked.
This will feel like a big point for Steve Cooper and Nottingham Forest because they were so, so bad last Monday in defeat to Leicester. And that only highlights how bad a point this is for Steven Gerrard and Aston Villa, whose xG of 0.72 was comfortably the lowest against Forest this season.
They simply have to be winning games like this as getting anything from away trips to places like Chelsea, next up in the fixture list, looks like an impossibility.
There’s little doubt Aston Villa have players good enough for Aston Villa. There’s far more doubt over their manager, who after a fast start at the helm, has shown himself to be a limited tactician ill-equipped to organise an attack of any note. Mauricio Pochettino anyone?
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