Off the back of two wins under new boss Steven Gerrard, Villa now arguably face their toughest test yet this season when Pep Guardiola’s slick side make the trip down the M6.
City have lost just two Premier League games on the road in more than six months and have won eight of their last 10 games across all competitions.
Yet, Villa won’t be fearing Guardiola’s star-studded City side. More than 40,000 fans will create a cauldron of noise at Villa Park.
City face the prospect of being without £100m worth of talent in Jack Grealish, with the former Villa captain a doubt due to injury. Phil Foden is also a doubt, while Kevin De Bruyne (Covid-19) and Aymeric Laporte (suspension) have both been ruled out.
Ahead of Gerrard’s latest Premier League challenge, the new head coach has been putting his players through their paces at Bodymoor Heath. Here’s what stood out on Monday from the latest VillaTV video…
High spirits ahead of City clash
Snoods, gloves, long coats… amid Baltic weather conditions, it was no surprise to see Jordan Milsom put the Villa squad through an extra long warm-up.
First onto the Bodymoor pitches were two of Gerrard’s backroom team, Milsom and Aaron Danks, swiftly followed by Emi Martinez, Matt Targett, Emi Buendia and Trezguet – with snow down his back!
Skipper Tyrone Mings saw an opportunity to hurl a snowball at the Egyptian before Jacob Ramsey flicked snow at Carney Chukwuemeka, while Ashley Young, shouting ‘here we go cameraman’, pinged a snowball straight down the barrel of the camera lens to start the first session of the week.
Last onto the pitch was head coach Gerrard, who gave a wink and a warm welcome to his staff, “cold enough chaps, fresh ain’t it.”
He wants his squad to skip into training, but also to realise when it’s time to work, and judging by his players’ level of performance in the wind over Brighton and Crystal Palace, they’ve found an effective balance so far.
Buendia looking sharp
Attacking shape and link-up play in the final third is very much at the top of Gerrard and his backroom team’s agenda at Bodymoor Heath.
In one attacking drill, Buendia, Keinan Davis and Carney Chukwuemeka lined up to work through the details, while Leon Bailey, Ollie Watkins and Anwar El Ghazi alternated with the first group.
Matty Cash and Matt Targett started the drill from a deeper position, while John McGinn, Jacob Ramsey, and Marvelous Nakamba provided support from central positions, just like on a match day.
It’s now clear that £35million man Buendia will be used from off the right flank, rather than as a 10 or a winger off the left side of an attacking front three.
He, like Bailey, was encouraged to break lines, combine and convert shots in this particular drill which said a lot about the tactics Gerrard will look to deploy throughout the rest of the season.
Wingers on the pitch tucking in narrow and allowing full-backs Targett and Cash to bomb on past them to attack the flanks, while central positions are crowded by wingers, midfielders and a number nine – those are the attacking plans Gerrard and assistant Michael Beale want to bring to the Bodymoor pitches.
‘Shapes and distances!’
It’s one thing having over £100million of attacking talent in your squad, but Gerrard and Co have a clear plan to get the most out of their players, as individuals and as a collective.
Beale, who worked in South America for over six months as an assistant coach at Sao Paulo FC, wants to promote ‘street football’ at Bodymoor and allow his players to express themselves on the ball.
During the training session on Monday, shouts of “work on those shapes and distances” were called out as attacking players Buendia, Bailey, Watkins, El Ghazi and Chukwuemeka combined to create goal scoring opportunities.
In another attacking drill, attacking coach Danks shouts, “break out, 2v1, goals!” Tight spaces and smaller boxes to work in will bring out the best in technical players like Buendia and Chukwuemeka.Internet Explorer Channel Network