Why the knives are being sharpened for Steven Gerrard at Aston Villa

Steven Gerrard is under growing pressure at Aston Villa following a difficult start to the season that has seen them lose three of their opening four matches.

The 42-year-old has endured a tough start to the 2022-23 Premier League campaign, as Villans sitting 15th in the table with just three points to their name. 

And after Gerrard was booed off after Sunday’s home defeat by West Ham, Sportsmail has looked at the issues that have thrust his future into the spotlight.

Steven Gerrard is facing mounting pressure as Aston Villa continue to struggle this year

MISSING THE BRAINS 

The loss of trusted assistant Michael Beale, who took the manager’s job at QPR over the summer, was a huge blow.

Widely recognised as one of the most innovative young coaches in Britain, Beale’s day-to-day influence should not be underestimated. ‘He’s the brains of the operation,’ said one source.

The pair propelled Rangers to the top of Scottish football, culminating in the club’s first title in 10 years in 2021. Beale took charge of planning and implementing training sessions as Gerrard oversaw the operation much like a traditional manager would. Beale’s influence at the club’s Bodymoor Heath HQ is sorely missed, with many believing his departure is a key factor behind the club’s difficult start.

Beale’s replacement Neil Critchley arrived from Blackpool with his own burgeoning reputation. But his impact was stunted by the fact that he could not travel on the club’s pre-season tour of Australia due to passport issues. Critchley was still able to speak to Gerrard on Zoom calls, while he was sent recordings of training sessions to watch. Nevertheless, his absence during such a crucial period was hardly ideal.

Gerrard's former assistant Michael Beale left to become QPR manager in the summer

Gerrard’s former assistant Michael Beale left to become QPR manager in the summer

MERCILESS WITH MINGS

Plenty has been made of Gerrard’s relationship with Tyrone Mings. The manager’s decision to strip the England defender of the captaincy days before the start of the season certainly raised eyebrows.

Ultimately, it was Gerrard’s call and he will live or die by it. However, the timing was odd. Why not do it earlier in the summer when it would have created less fuss? That way, by the time the season began, it would have been old news. Perhaps something occurred during pre-season that pushed Gerrard into the call.

Being stripped of the armband is not believed to have come as a major surprise to Mings, who is said to have long suspected that his boss may not be totally sold on him. But then came Gerrard’s thinly-veiled public dig after he dropped him for the opening day defeat by Bournemouth.

Tyrone Mings was stripped of the Aston Villa armband by Gerrard at the start of the season

Tyrone Mings was stripped of the Aston Villa armband by Gerrard at the start of the season

‘When Tyrone is back at his best and looks me in the eye and shows he is ready to play, he will get opportunities,’ said Gerrard, much to the squad’s surprise.

As it turned out, Mings started against Everton the following week — the club’s only Premier League win so far. Gerrard’s handling of it has been questioned externally with Villa legend Paul McGrath among those to have taken the defender’s side. Internally, such episodes can have implications in the dressing room, particularly when it involves someone as influential as Mings.

You wonder how certain players feel about their manager publicly flexing his muscles in such a way. Could it be them next?

Gerrard says he is willing to give Mings opportunities again once he has earned his place

Gerrard says he is willing to give Mings opportunities again once he has earned his place

QUELLING THE FANS’ FURY 

Turning around the growing disquiet among fans will be key to Gerrard’s future. The knives are being sharpened — the boos that echoed round Villa Park on Sunday indicative of a growing sense that Gerrard is not the man to propel Villa to its former glories. Results and performances will ultimately dictate whether Gerrard can win over the doubters.

His aura and status comes with its benefits, particularly with regard to the club’s global profile. But perhaps part of the reason why some fans are not taking to Gerrard is the fact he does not have historic links to the club.

John Gregory, who played for the club, and Dean Smith, who supported them from childhood, were both given significantly more leeway than other managers.

Villa fans are particularly fond of their own. The expectation among them is massive. Traditionally, they are one of English football’s giants. Gerrard must find a way to balance those expectations with the modern-day reality that Villa are no longer the force they were.

There is a growing discontent among Aston Villa supporters as they continue to struggle

There is a growing discontent among Aston Villa supporters as they continue to struggle

RISKY RECRUITMENT  

Gerrard has been backed in the transfer market since his arrival in November.

Philippe Coutinho, Lucas Digne and Diego Carlos have been signed for combined fees of close to £70million.

The trio are all 29 or over, meaning there is unlikely to be much of a sell-on fee. Villa and Gerrard are hoping for instant success.

That strategy is in contrast to Smith’s era when the likes of Mings, Matt Targett, Ezri Konsa, Douglas Luiz, Ollie Watkins and Emi Buendia were signed in their mid-20s. Gerrard’s arrival appears to have heralded a change in transfer policy.

So far, the signings he has made are not proving value for money. That will not sit well at the top of the club.

Summer signing Diego Carlos lies on the ground after picking up an injury against Everton

Summer signing Diego Carlos lies on the ground after picking up an injury against Everton

BACKING IN BOARDROOM 

Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow is fully invested in making Gerrard’s appointment a success. He nominated the former Rangers boss as Smith’s successor and executed the entire plan.

Purslow has as much riding on Gerrard turning it around as the manager himself. So with that in mind, Gerrard is under no immediate danger. But the numbers do not lie. Sunday’s loss against West Ham was Villa’s 13th in the last 25 matches and they have won just seven of those.

With league leaders Arsenal up next tomorrow before champions Manchester City on Saturday, the prospect of improving that sequence appears small.

Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow is fully invested in Gerrard’s appointment

Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow is fully invested in Gerrard’s appointment

Would two further defeats change the course of Gerrard’s future? You would imagine he would continue to have Purslow’s backing in that scenario.

The real question is whether the club’s owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens — who have a net worth of more than £10.5billion — will be as supportive?

As for Gerrard himself, would he shirk this challenge? No chance.

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