What Steven Gerrard had planned for Cristiano Ronaldo as Aston Villa transfer decision explained

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Any chance?

The shoddy reasoning behind chalking off Danny Ings’ perfectly-fine equaliser last night will continue to sting over the next few days knowing it cost Aston Villa the chance to go on and beat Manchester United.

Steven Gerrard’s side were top drawer for large parts at Old Trafford on Monday evening, with the boss himself outlining afterwards how that near-four minute VAR decision killed Villa’s momentum.

As Villa exited the FA Cup third round for the sixth season on the spin, BirminghamLive’s Aston Villa reporter Ashley Preece picks out some of the quirks and talking points as we look ahead to the Premier League meeting with United at Villa Park on Saturday…

‘NEARLY IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH’

We can probably go on all day about that shambolic VAR decision but, in his post-match press conference, Gerrard refused to blame that moment shortly after half-time and, instead, outlined how his Villa side were still just short of the immaculate levels he demands.

Villa have picked up an unwanted ‘nearly men’ tag in recent weeks, showing plenty of effort, spirit and bravery in defeats against the likes of Man City, Liverpool and, for parts, Chelsea, while it was different last night in defeat against United with Villa the far better team.

Gerrard himself put it bluntly, and said: “There’s a gap between nearly and being good enough at the moment. We need to close the gap. Nearly is not good enough for me or Aston Villa.”

The manager was critical of his players lacking that killer instinct against Ralf Rangnick’s men with Ollie Watkins and others guilty of missing big chances at big moments.

“At this level, you’ve got to execute, you’ve got to be ruthless, you’ve got to take your chances,” he said, with perhaps the arrival of a certain Philippe Coutinho set to add that little bit of magic needed at the front-end of the pitch.

RONALDO’S BIG WEAKNESS

Manchester United players during their side’s 1-0 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers

Prior to kick-off, Gerrard and his team of coaches had a clear plan up their sleeves to get the better of United from set-pieces.

BirminghamLive spotted a screen-grab on a monitor with the words, ‘Expect Ronaldo to leave space’ from corners and free-kicks.

This was a clear ploy on Villa’s behalf had Cristiano Ronaldo played as we all envisaged he would have done.

The Portuguese, however, was ruled out with a muscle issue but could well return this weekend at Villa Park.

And, as the monitor suggested, it was Gerrard who attempted to target Ronaldo’s lackadaisical approach to defending set-plays in United’s penalty area. It’ll now be interesting to see who stays close to Ronaldo on Saturday, should he start, knowing there could be a weakness to exploit.

GERRARD IS BOX-OFFICE

Steven Gerrard walks out ahead of the Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Manchester United and Aston Villa at Old Trafford
Steven Gerrard walks out ahead of the Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Manchester United and Aston Villa at Old Trafford

Back to kick-off now and Gerrard’s always a box-office watch on the touchline. The manager tends to stay in and around the dressing room ahead of kick-off, whereas his predecessor Dean Smith liked to watch the opposition warm up in an attempt to spot a chink in their amour.

Gerrard, meanwhile, was given a hostile welcome at Old Trafford and was booed onto the pitch – before turning directly towards the Stretford End to stare down the United fans who were hissing at him.

The Villa boss looked United supporters directly in the eyes and, amid anti-Scouser chants launched at him, Gerrard kept cool and lapped it up.

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During the game, the 41-year-old kept urging Villa to be more adventurous knowing United were there for the taking. He shouted at Matty Cash to keep bombing forwards as the ex-Forest man wasn’t being tracked by either Marcus Rashford or Luke Shaw down that channel.

Gerrard did, though, cut a frustrated figure as chance after chance went begging for Villa, while the inconsistencies in Emi Buendia’s game did have the gaffer almost tearing his hair out.

On the abuse he got at Old Trafford last night, Gerrard smiled and said: “I have been to noisier stadiums than this. It was a good cup tie, a good atmosphere but in terms of what I got, water off a duck’s back.”

KESLER, DIGNE AND FULL-BACKS

Kaine Kesler Hayden during his final game for Swindon Town, an FA Cup third round clash with Manchester City

Staying with Gerrard’s post-match comments and the Villa chief addressed interest in Everton left-back Lucas Digne.

“We are working hard on targets,” he said. “It is not respectful to mention any names but there is no smoke without fire and we want to try and improve certain areas of our team and our squad.”

Villa are still in negotiations with the Toffees over the £25million-rated Frenchman as Gerrard looks for an improvement at full-back.

The boss spoke at length about his full-back department last night, and explained why he recalled highly-rated right-back Kaine Kesler-Hayden from his loan spell at Swindon on Monday.

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“I want to see him,” Gerrard said. “I want to see him up close and analyse him up close, and then decide whether he goes back to Swindon or whether he finds a different challenge.

“But… whether we see enough to keep him in because in the full-back areas we’re really short.

“We’ve only got one option in both. Ashley Young covers full-back but he’s been injured with a broken toe and I know, if Ash had his choice, he’ll want to be further up the pitch so… it’s my job to find a solution and cover and try and add to the full-back areas.”

The pressure has seemingly been ramped up on Matty Cash and Matt Targett from hereon in knowing underwhelming performances will cost them their starting shirts should Gerrard add to that department in the coming days and weeks.

Both Cash and Targett haven’t had viable competition this season and that’s about to change, with the pair not at their absolute best again last night.

NEW QUARTER-BACK ROLE

John McGinn takes on Scott McTominay during the Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Manchester United and Aston Villa at Old Trafford
John McGinn takes on Scott McTominay during the Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Manchester United and Aston Villa at Old Trafford

An interesting watch over the last couple of fixtures has been a certain John McGinn.

The Scot is no longer making lung-busting runs into the box to get on the end of things. Instead, he’s taking up a Gerrard-esque quarter-back position on the halfway line and popping balls in over the top or through opposition defences.

At Old Trafford, McGinn was Villa’s pass master (45) with 10 of them long balls from deep. The midfielder, who also topped Villa’s stats for long balls against Brentford last week, threaded a beauty in for Watkins early on and that set the tone in Manchester. No other player crossed more than McGinn last night either (five), with one helping to tee-up what should have been Villa’s second-half equaliser.

McGinn’s positioning and current role in this Villa side mirrors Gerrard’s under Brendan Rodgers during their time together at Liverpool. There appears to be a method to McGinn’s play now as opposed to being like a bull in a china shop. The Villa favourite scans what’s in front of him and looks for the clever and intricate runs of Danny Ings and Watkins.

Sadly, McGinn’s banned for this weekend’s encounter with United at Villa Park, as are Scott McTominay and Luke Shaw. Morgan Sanson appears the man most-likely to come in for McGinn.

ENGLAND SCOUTING MISSION

Marcus Rashford vies with Ezri Konsa during the English FA Cup third round football match between Manchester United and Aston Villa at Old Trafford
Marcus Rashford vies with Ezri Konsa during the English FA Cup third round football match between Manchester United and Aston Villa at Old Trafford

Gareth Southgate’s right-hand man Steve Holland was in the posh seats at Old Trafford last night casting his watchful eye over a whole host of England performers.

Shaw, Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard were United’s English quartet on show while, for Villa, Tyrone Mings, Targett, Jacob Ramsey, Watkins and Danny Ings were all looking to impress.

However, of all those mentioned, it’s Konsa who looked a class act once again as he bids to force his way into the Three Lions setup for the World Cup in Qatar later this year.

The 24-year-old has already spoken of his frustration at missing out on recent England squads, while admitting previously how he’s had Portugal monitoring his situation knowing he qualifies through his grandparents.

England’s next match is in June once the Premier League campaign concludes and there’s the carrot of a World Cup to keep standards high for Konsa and Co. at Villa Park.

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VILLA’S WHAM! CHANT

And lastly to a new tongue-in-cheek chant belted out by the 3,000 away following at Old Trafford.

To Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go by Wham!, Villa supporters sang, ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, who needs Grealish when you’ve got Coutin-ho!’

Sadly, I can’t see that catching on in the Holte End this weekend but we’ll see. It was a decent effort and it made me smile!



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