How Steven Gerrard’s tactical tweaks have made Aston Villa hard to beat – Matty Cash exclusive | Football News

When Steven Gerrard arrived at Aston Villa in November, they were looking steadfastly behind them. The relegation zone, an unthinkable dwelling at the beginning of the season, has crept in threateningly to drag them inside.

Villa had stepped into quicksand, slipping from eighth to 17th place in just five games in 42 days. Dean Smith doesn’t need to say how much that can change in six weeks, on top of the world after Villa’s first win at Old Trafford since 2009 to a layoff that just a few weeks earlier seemed impossible.

Now, Villa is just looking at the table. Four out of six wins under Gerrard, whose nomination has understandably sparked a mixed reaction given Smith’s relationship with Villa and Gerrard’s record with only one club, has them in the top 10 and are aiming for European places.

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It’s still early days, but the change in mood is tangible. Gerrard has seen a reaction from many of Villa’s squad – Marvelous Nakamba, John McGinn, Tyrone Mings and Matt Targett to name a few – but full-back Matty Cash doesn’t necessarily need it.

The 24-year-old has been among the Villa’s most consistent players all season, following a solid debut campaign in the Premier League in 2020/21.

Matty Cash battles for possession with Brandon Williams
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Cash has been among Villa’s most consistent performers this season

With Villa getting tough on defense, the action-packed right-back is perhaps the perfect man to ask about Gerrard’s tactical changes.

“Defensively, the first job for me is to defend my goal, and be strong and aggressive with it,” he told Sky Sport, ahead of Villa’s home clash with Chelsea in Boxing Day, live on Sky Sports. “This is what he told me.

But also forward we want to have a lot of ball possession, to create as many chances as possible because with the attackers we have we can be very dangerous. As a full-back I want to get high in attacking positions, like a winger, and get as many crosses and assists as I can, and even goals.

“So far we have done really well and hopefully the more we train with him and get used to each other and training, we can be more successful.

Steven Gerrard
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Gerrard’s Villa have won four of their last six games

“The atmosphere around the place is really good and that came from the results. We went out there, enjoyed our football and for being hard to beat, that’s what [Gerrard] he implemented, being aggressive with it. “

Getting hard to beat was a good start. Manchester City scored the first half at Villa Park but suffered in the second, while Liverpool only managed to overtake Gerrard’s side with a questionable penalty.

The stats indicate a more conservative approach, but fans don’t have to worry about entertainment; the intensity and energy were clear. And after all, for a team in Villa’s current position, the results must exceed theatrical value.

Their threat at goal hasn’t changed much; in the Premier League rankings, Villa was fourteenth for xG under Smith, and has been fourteenth since Gerrard took over.

The drastic change happened in defense. Villa has jumped six positions for xG against, five positions for shots against in the area, 12 positions for shots against outside the area and 13 positions for goals conceded. Their target granted xG is also improved by nine places.

Aston Villa with and without Steven Gerrard as manager this season
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Aston Villa with and without Gerrard as manager this season

Cash, who is now a true Polish international, says: “We definitely have a different way [of playing now], maybe becoming more united and changing teams, which makes it really difficult for the other teams against us. So people are seeing what we are talking about.

“He brought a lot, a lot of intensity in training, energy for our game, we have a style of play, an attacking football. So a lot of changes and they really benefited us.”

It’s an important part of this task, as full backs cover the length of the court more than any other player.

But without the ball, Villa’s defensive line is flatter and narrower. Gaps in the last third ended and the result was just five goals conceded in six games, three of them against the two best teams in the Premier League.

But Cash can go both ways. Although his main strength is in defense, he is arguably more important for Villa in the opposing half of the pitch. Of all the Premier League defenders, he is in the top six for crosses and passes into the bottom third.

Statistics Matt Cash 21/22

Sky Sports’ Gary Neville’s recent praise of Liverpool full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson has not gone unnoticed by Cash, who insists that the role of a full-back is more important than ever, particularly in a creative sense.

“I heard Gary Neville say the other day that a full-back can now be one of your most creative players, and that’s so true. We see Trent and Robbo bombing down the winger and getting crosses. I think Trent must get around 20 crosses. per game!

“In the formation we are playing, it is the kind of path we want to take. It gives us an extra option when we have a full-back that overlaps.

“I work hard every day on my final product, getting into those positions. I watch videos and analytics of my games to see where I can improve.

“It’s really hard work, to be honest. You have to run up and down loads, and being a creative full back you have to join the game forward but also do your defensive work.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Aston Villa’s victory over Norwich

“In the end, you are judged for your defense as well. If you get caught out of position and they score, it’s your fault. You have to find the balance between when to go and when not. A. It’s in high demand, but that’s why you train. , and I really love it. That’s what I’m here for. “

The mansion is hosting Chelsea on Boxing Day looking to further cement a spot in the top half after finishing just off last season.

But for a club from Villa’s team, the goal is European football.

“Everyone knows the ambition that the Villa has. The club wants to be right there in Europe, but we have to win games to be there. I think we have built a good platform to progress, we are in the top 10 and we are growing after winning some matches, it’s commonplace but we have to focus on every match.

“When you win games, the environment is always good, that’s right. But it’s also nice to win games and play really well.

“The atmosphere around the place is really good and that came from the results. We went out there, enjoyed our football and for being hard to beat, that’s what [Gerrard] he implemented, being aggressive with it.

“When we have the ball, we have fun and try to play with a smile on our face.”

Watch Aston Villa vs Chelsea live on Sky Sports Premier League from 5pm on Boxing Dayl; kick-off 17:30

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