Villa late show sinks Brighton - player ratings and what we learned from Gerrard's first game

by 24britishtvNov. 20, 2021, 7 p.m. 17
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The Steven Gerrard era at Ason Villa began with a 2-0 victory over Brighton thanks to Ollie Watkins’ moment of quality and Tyrone Mings’ terrific first-time strike at Villa Park.

Watkins had endured a frustrating afternoon before the goal, but backed himself when Villa went on the counter in the 83rd minute, ignoring the wide-open Leon Bailey before firing an unstoppable effort past Jason Steele.

The goal burst Villa into life, and they were clinical for a second time when Mings latched onto a loose ball that sent the Holte End into raptures.

The win ends Villa’s run of five straight defeats and puts them on 13 points after 12 Premier League games, while Brighton have now gone seven games without a league victory and remain on 17 points.

First called into action just before the half-hour mark when it got a bit messy in front of him, but the goalkeeper was on hand to bat away Leandro Trossard’s strike. Martinez then made a magnificent save to deny Lamptey, and was central to Villa keeping a clean sheet.

Had Villa’s first big chance of the match, with his header forcing Jason Steele into making a decent stop. In the second half Cash wanted a penalty when going down under pressure from Solly March, but VAR did not take long to dismiss the appeals.

Plenty busy as the left-sided centre-back, often dragged out of position to help Targett deal with the threat of Tariq Lamptey. Mings almost headed Villa in front just after the break, with Steele making a flying save to deny the skipper. With Villa 1-0 up, he was then in the right place at the right time, and showed great poise to keep his effort down and double Villa’s lead.

Konsa missed Smith’s last game, the 1-0 defeat at Southampton, but was back next to Mings to continue what will likely be the first-choice partnership going forward under Gerrard. There was not much of note that Konsa did in the match, but as a centre-back that is no bad thing.

Put in a pinpoint cross which fellow full-back Cash almost converted, but defensively Targett struggled in the first half, escaping a yellow card despite two fouls arguably being bookable offences, and the one time he did intercept Lamptey his subsequent pass was misplaced and led to Brighton’s first shot on target.

Targett’s side was, ahem, targeted throughout by Brighton, with Lamptey evidently getting some joy against the Villa left-back, although he did improve after the break.

The 20-year-old was backed to start by Gerrard, but had a relatively quiet afternoon and was replaced by Anwar El Ghazi late on.

Played the deepest of Villa’s midfield three, and was solid enough in front of Mings and Konsa. A yellow card for a late challenge on Lamptey was the most notable moment of Nakamba’s match.

Played with a spring in his step from the first minute, with a fine tackle early on and a terrific cross from deep which put Brighton in trouble. Barely 10 minutes in it was clear how integral a figure McGinn is going to be for Gerrard, this time a spin and subsequent long ball setting up Villa’s first chance when Cash’s header was saved by Steele. McGinn’s influence faded somewhat in the second half, and he was caught in two minds when inside the Brighton box, opting against the shot but ultimately gifting the visitors a goal-kick.

The Argentine certainly benefited from Gerrard’s tendency to play two No 10s behind the striker rather than out-and-out wingers, and Buendia was at his most dangerous when attacking centrally. However, the frustrating thing for Villa was that this was all too infrequent, and Buendia was evidently annoyed with his own output when subbed off in the 73rd minute.

Watkins could well end up challenging Danny Ings for the starting position up front, having initially been handed the supporting role. He spent half the time as a No 10, the other on the wing, and unlike Buendia he looked most threatening when further out wide.

Watkins played with plenty of endeavour, which did not always lead to a decent end product, but after Ings was brought off he had 25 minutes to play as the striker – a spell which resulted in him scoring the winner, a move where he somewhat ironically started out wide and drifted in before finding the top corner. This final half-hour will have Gerrard racking his brain over who is the first-choice stiker, although a fully-fit Ings will hope to have his say.

It was a tricky first half for the striker, who was returning from injury, with Ings touching the ball just 11 times in the opening 45 minutes. Service to the former Southampton forward was poor, with Buendia’s flick through the closest he got to getting a shot away before the break.

Replaced Ings with around 25 minutes to go, pushing Watkins central in a move which paid off for Villa.

Came on for Buendia, and played a key role in the first goal when setting up the counter-attack which led to Watkins’ goal.

Came on late but did not make a telling contribution despite the late flurry.

Analysis: What we learned from Gerrard’s opener

Villa had fleeted between four formations in the opening 11 Premier League games under Smith, and while Gerrard may yet experiment in weeks to come he unsurprisingly started life at Villa Park by importing his fancied 4-3-2-1 approach often implemented at Rangers.

You may need a magnifying glass to argue the difference between a 4-3-2-1 and 4-3-3, but the former was on display when wingers Watkins and Buendia drifted inside to allow the full-backs to go on the attack.

This suited Buendia more than it did Watkins, and almost came to fruition when Villa’s best move of the first half saw Buendia play a fine flick through which Danny Ings couldn’t quite meet.

A change in personnel certainly helped Villa’s cause in the end, and while Watkins’ goal will have Gerrard pondering his options up front, the formation will likely remain when heading to Crystal Palace next weekend.

One a former central midfielder, the other Villa’s current best in that position, it was no surprise to see Gerrard deep in conversation with McGinn halfway through the first half when Adam Webster was receiving treatment.

This moment allowed Gerrard to further explain what he wants from McGinn after a period where the Scotland international had already displayed his quality both defensively and going forward.

“Pet project” is a phrase often used with new head coaches, and McGinn could be Gerrard’s focus as the Villa head coach targets a rise up the table.

Villa had shipped in the third-most amount of goals this season heading into the weekend, looking a far cry from the side that had the joint-seventh best defence last term.

Problems do not get fixed overnight, and at times Villa lost their shape quickly at the back, with a couple of messy passages of play almost allowing Brighton to break the deadlock in the first half.

Nevertheless, the victory led to a fourth clean sheet of the season – a huge positive to build from.

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