Talking Tactics: Kop hero Gerrard plotting Villans victory
With three wins from four matches, Steven Gerrard has well and truly brought a new manager bounce to Aston Villa.
The Villans had lost five in a row prior to the sacking of Dean Smith but have hit the ground running under his replacement.
Next up for the former Rangers coach is a return to Anfield — the scene of many of his greatest triumphs — to take on Jurgen Klopp’s electric Liverpool side.
Ahead of Saturday's homecoming, we take a look at how Gerrard is beginning to make his mark on the men from the Midlands.
A clear identity
In his first press conference after being appointed, Gerrard was clear about the stylistic direction he wanted to take Villa in.
He said: "I put my own stamp on things in terms of how I want my team to look out of possession and in possession.
"We will become a possession-based team. When we can transition into that, time will tell."
Such a change does not happen overnight but the former Liverpool star already has his side playing out from the back — a key principle of his approach.
Gerrard, 41, likes his sides to pack the middle of the pitch when out of possession — and this relative narrowness was evident from the off in a 2-0 win over Brighton.
In attack, the wide players are instructed to come narrower than under Smith, placing even more emphasis on the full-backs to provide width.
The flip side is that it affords space to the opposition full-backs or wing-backs.
And with so many elite operators in those roles in the Premier League, Gerrard may have to make a few tweaks going forward.
Making a mark
Gerrard took no prisoners on the pitch in his playing days — and his Villa side are starting to show signs of the positive aggression that underscored his game.
For now, it is most noticeable in Villa's speed to second balls.
That was an area Gerrard highlighted when commending his team’s "outstanding" second-half performance in the 2-1 victory against Leicester last Sunday.
These are perhaps the first seeds of the intense press he likes to utilise. It is a key element of his desire to dominate the ball.
Villa conceded 11 goals in the final four games of Smith’s reign, including four to West Ham and three against both Arsenal and Wolves.
As those figures might suggest, they were giving up plenty of opportunities — 12 big chances in those four matches.
Gerrard has quickly stemmed the flow, with Villa restricting their opponents to only one big chance apiece in their four outings since.
They even held Manchester City to their lowest single-game expected goals output this term (0.9).
In beating Leicester, Villa looked as potent in the final third as they have all season. Gerrard’s men posted a season-high xG total of two, which correlated with their finishing on the day.
They also fashioned four big chances, at least twice as many as they had in any previous match.
Ezri Konsa’s two goals both came from dead-ball situations as Villa continued to benefit from having set-piece coach Austin MacPhee.
If Aston Villa and Gerrard continue on the same upward trajectory, the Liverpool legend could have just as much success in the dugout as he did on the field.
And winning on his old stomping ground will certainly raise more than a few eyebrows.