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

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Steven Gerrard is under increasing pressure at Aston Villa after a difficult start to the season, in which they lost three of their first four games.

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

And after Gerrard was booed after Sunday’s home defeat to West Ham, Sportsmail has looked to the issues that have cast a spotlight on his future.

Steven Gerrard faces mounting pressure as Aston Villa continues to struggle this year

MISSING THE BRAIN

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

Widely recognized 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,” a source said.

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

Beale’s replacement Neil Critchley came from Blackpool with his own burgeoning reputation. But his impact was hampered by the fact that he was unable to travel on the club’s pre-season tour of Australia due to passport problems. Critchley was still able to speak to Gerrard via Zoom conversations, while recordings of training sessions were sent to him to view. Yet his absence during such a crucial period was not ideal.

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

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

merciless with MINGS

Much has been made about 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 undoubtedly raised eyebrows.

In the end it was Gerrard’s call and he will live or die by it. However, the timing was strange. Why not do it earlier in the summer if it would have been less hassle? That way, by the time the season started, it would have been old news. Maybe something happened during prep that pushed Gerrard into the call.

It’s not considered much of a surprise to Mings, who has long suspected that his boss might not get him completely sold. But then came Gerrard’s thinly veiled public dig after dropping him for the opening day defeat to Bournemouth.

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

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

“If Tyrone is back to his best and looks me in the eye and shows that he is ready to play, he will have opportunities,” Gerrard said to the team’s amazement.

It turned out that Mings started the following week against Everton – the club’s only win to date in the Premier League. The way Gerrard handled it has been questioned externally with Villa legend Paul McGrath among those who sided with the defender. Internally, such episodes can have dressing room implications, especially when dealing with someone as influential as Mings.

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

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

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

THE FURY OF THE FANS ENTERPRISE

Turning the growing unrest among fans will be key to Gerrard’s future. The knives are being sharpened – the whoops that echoed through Villa Park on Sunday indicate a growing sense that Gerrard is not the man to propel Villa to its former glory. Results and performance will ultimately determine whether Gerrard can win over the doubters.

His appearance and status come with its advantages, especially with regard to the club’s global profile. But perhaps part of the reason why some fans don’t go to Gerrard is the fact that he has no historical ties to the club.

John Gregory, who played for the club, and Dean Smith, who supported them from an early age, were both given considerably more leeway than other managers.

Villa fans are especially fond of their own. The expectation among them is great. Traditionally, they have been one of the giants of English football. Gerrard must find a way to balance those expectations with the modern reality that Villa is no longer the force they were.

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

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

RISK RECRUITMENT

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

Philippe Coutinho, Lucas Digne and Diego Carlos have been signed for a joint fee of almost £70 million.

The trio are all 29 years of age or older, which means there are few selling costs. Villa and Gerrard hope for instant success.

That strategy contrasts with Smith’s era, when the likes of Mings, Matt Targett, Ezri Konsa, Douglas Luiz, Ollie Watkins, and Emi Buendia were drawn in their mid-20s. The arrival of Gerrard seems to herald a change in transfer policy.

So far, the signings he’s done don’t prove value for money. That will not sit well at the top of the club.

Diego Carlos summer signing on the ground after an injury against Everton

Diego Carlos summer signing on the ground after an injury against Everton

BACKING IN BOARD ROOM

Aston Villa CEO Christian Purslow is fully committed to making Gerrard’s appointment a success. He nominated the former Rangers boss as Smith’s successor and carried out the entire plan.

Purslow has as much influence over Gerrard as the manager himself. So with that in mind, Gerrard is in no immediate danger. But the numbers don’t lie. Sunday’s defeat to West Ham was Villa’s 13th in their last 25 games and they have won just seven.

With leaders Arsenal tomorrow ahead of champions Manchester City on Saturday, the prospect of improving that streak seems slim.

Aston Villa CEO Christian Purslow is fully invested in Gerrard's appointment

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

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

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

As for Gerrard himself, would he shy away from this challenge? No chance.

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