Next Manager to be Sacked Odds: Question marks looming large over Steven Gerrard after slippy start
Dismay. Anguish. Heartbreak. Resentment. Euphoria. Every football fan cycles through these and a whole host of other emotions every week, and the Premier League's return last weekend made sure that plenty of supporters across the country were experiencing them in full force.
If you're an Aston Villa fan, however, you're probably feeling fairly despondent already. Despite how reactionary it may seem, Steven Gerrard's position at AVFC could well be on its way to becoming threatened after a number of underlying issues during the boss' time in the Midlands resurfaced following an opening day defeat in vulgar fashion to league newbies Bournemouth.
From the perspective of a Villa supporter, allow us to talk you through the current situation, highlighting how SG's price has shifted dramatically in the sack race market, as well as providing some insight into how we see things playing out from this point for the 42-year-old in B6...
No Buendia, No Idea
The nature of fickle football fans means that Gerrard and his Villa side are only a couple of consecutive wins away from sitting on top of the world, or another few losses from the boo brigade coming out in full force.
Although, the criticisms being levelled at the Liverpool legend were prevalent thoughts among the Villa faithful last season. Identity issues are a serious concern for this team - particularly during a rough patch of just two wins from 12 matches which has bled into this new campaign - and between persisting with an unsuitable formation to still appearing unsure about his strongest starting XI, problems are rapidly mounting for the West Midlanders.
He's suffering from a similar conundrum that Dean Smith had before him: getting the best out of Ollie Watkins/Danny Ings, while including a raft of talent in the same side that includes the likes of Leon Bailey and Emi Buendia at his disposal.
The latter is proving to be quite the point of contention, with the gaffer's latest remarks insinuating that he values the player as highly as supporters do, but that the Argentinian must work to earn his place in the lineup just like everybody else.
Villa's no.10 has displayed his spark from the bench multiple times under Gerrard's stewardship, yet despite being arguably Villa's most creative outlet, cannot find his way onto the pitch from the first minute.
While Saturday's result was a damaging one, it was the manner in which Villa fell to defeat more than anything. Conceding that early can and will knock the wind out of your sails, but no imaginative response from a team who did their business early this summer, recruited well and have had a full pre-season to bed in their signings, implement new ideas and solidify existing ones, is inexcusable.
Some selections or lack thereof, seem to suggest there have been unheard exchanges behind-the-scenes. Take Tyrone Mings' exclusion as a prime example of that. Villa's £20m man was not only a mainstay in the heart of the defence, but was also made captain this time last year, prompted by the departure of Jack Grealish.
Before a ball was kicked this time around, the England international's captaincy was stripped and his place alongside Ezri Konsa was earwigged by new arrival Diego Carlos. SG then dug out his former captain post-match against Bournemouth and suggested that the defender needed to look his manager in the eye and show that he's ready to play.
You don't make a cut-throat decision like this without at least instating that player as the vice or club captain. You certainly don't remove them from the lineup entirely, so clearly something's got to give between these two.
Add to that deteriorating body language from the sidelines where he's largely pictured slumped in his chair when things aren't going right during the game and it's not a good look. Especially when you compare this to the animated Gerrard on show during the earlier stages of his tenure coming up against the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City.
Here's how Villa's fixtures look from now until the international break in the middle of September:
- 13th August: Everton (H)
- 20th August: Crystal Palace (A)
- 28th August: West Ham (H)
- 31st August: Arsenal (A)
- 3rd September: Manchester City (H)
- 10th September: Leicester (A)
- 16th September: Southampton (H)
Things look challenging for the foreseeable future, without any real signs of letting up as Villa face four of last season's top eight clubs in the coming seven games.
If he can keep his head above water, more forgivable fixtures are on the horizon, with Leeds, Nottingham Forest, Fulham and Brentford making up four of the next five after the Premier League pause.
But on the flip side, if he comes out of this patch with a points total sub nine, the pressure will be at boiling point.
At the time of writing, he's as short as 13/2 to be the first Premier League manager to leave his position. Still available at 8s elsewhere in the betting, is there a real case to be made?
Considering that this leaves open the possibility of the Scouser walking away from the job to save face as well as the Villa board pulling the trigger, it sure seems so.
Many are clearly of the same thinking and have been since the market was posted during the offseason as he's seen his price come in all the way from 40/1 in July.
What Do the Fans Think?
Contrary to popular belief, Villa fans' expectations are largely grounded. Like with any football supporter, they expect their team to challenge each week - regardless of opponent - and believe in the model of year-upon-year progress.
Most would agree that continuing the positive momentum gained from promotion back to the PL was of the utmost immediacy, looking to win considerably more games than the last time they were present. It's been owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens, along with CEO Christian Purslow, broadcasting European aims for the club and the Villa faithful have simply taken them on their word.
When you set the bar where the Aston Villa hierarchy have - Gerrard included - don't be so surprised when the walls come tumbling down and fans make their voices heard.
They might have edged past Saturday's opponents Everton last season without the home advantage under Gerrard, but this lunch-time test is quite possibly his greatest to date. No disrespect to the Toffees but if Villa don't win it's more than likely to be through a lack of desire and commitment - two things that are almost impossible to recover when lacking or completely absent.