Did Gerrard Deserve to Go?

Gerrard and Klopp

Scott Parker, Thomas Tuchel, Bruno Lage, and now Stephen Gerrard. The Premier League continues to prove as ruthless as ever when it comes to the men in the hot seat.

As is generally the case when such decisions are made, some fans and pundits are in favour of the sacking, whilst others believe the manager should have been given more time. So, which side has it right in the case of Stephen Gerrard? Here we take a look at the data in an effort to answer that question.

Eleven the Unlucky Number for Both Gerrard and Smith

Aston Villa fans can be forgiven if they are experiencing a case of déjà vu. It was after game number 11 of the 2021/22 season that Dean Smith was relieved of his duties and, nothing if not consistent, game number 11 of the 2022/23 season once again proved to be the final straw for the Villa board. That synchronicity does prove useful from a data perspective, as we can make a direct comparison between performances under Smith and Gerrard immediately before they were relieved of their duties.

According to data presented by NewBettingSites the performances of the two managers was broadly comparable, with Smith leaving Villa in 16th spot, and Gerrard departing with the side sitting one spot lower in 17th. However, on balance, the efforts of Gerrard’s version of Villa were even worse at the beginning of this season than they were under Smith in 2021/22.

Under Smith, Villa picked up just one more point but were also significantly better in front of goal. That attacking thrust did come at a cost, leading to Gerrard’s only victory over Smith in the goals-against column. That said, an average of almost 1.50 goals against is hardly anything to shout about, and the beleaguered Tyrone Mings and co. have looked as shambolic as ever at times this season.

All told, the above suggests that if Dean Smith deserved to be sacked, then Steven Gerrard certainly did.

Gerrard and Smith 21/22

Smith vs Gerrard Overall Record

Of course, eleven games is a pretty small sample size. As such, a fairer approach may be to look at the overall records of Smith and Gerrard during their time at Villa Park.

Dean Smith Steven Gerrard Premier League Games 87 38 Wins 28 12 Points Per Game 1.15 1.16 Avg Goals Scored 1.25 1.21 Avg Goals Against 1.54 1.29

The above table largely mirrors the findings from the eleven-game analysis, with Villa appearing to be a better attacking side under Smith, but tighter at the back under Gerrard. Gerrard does come out fractionally ahead in terms of average points per game, but this stat is probably a little unfair comparison for Smith. Whereas Gerrard was taking over a fully-fledged Premier League club, Smith’s data includes the club’s first year back in the topflight – always a tough season as sides make the transition from the Championship and survival is the number one objective.

Overall, there is again nothing to suggest that Gerrard had done enough to keep his job. The best finishing position of the two managers doesn’t do much for the Liverpool legend’s case either. In Smith’s final full season in charge, he guided the club to a respectable eleventh-placed finish. Gerrard ended the 2021/22 season with Villa in 14th spot and departed with the club sitting in 17th .

Smith vs Gerrard Overall Record

A Team Falling Below Expectations

Whilst seeing the club sitting in 16th and 17th position in the table is clearly disappointing for Aston Villa fans, it doesn’t automatically mean that the club is underperforming. In order to determine this, we need to assess where Villa can reasonably expect to finish.

This is never an exact science, but over the years, one of the most useful predictors of a side’s finishing position is the overall value of the squad. On average the most valuable squad in the league will finish at least within a couple of places of the top, the fifth most valuable squad will finish in and around fifth and so on.

So how do Villa perform on this measure? In 2021/22 the club possessed the eighth most-valuable squad in the league but finished only 14th. Fast forward to the current season and the summer investment had pushed Villa up to seventh in the squad value standings. By that measure, the club under Gerrard has come nowhere near meeting the expectations of the board.

It must be noted however that Gerrard has been pretty unlucky with the players he has brought in. Lucas Digne. Diego Carlos and Boubacar Kamara were all praised as excellent pieces of business at the time of their arrival. Unfortunately for Gerrard at the time of his departure, all three were out injured. No doubt Gerrard would have appreciated a little more time to work with a fully fit squad and first-choice line-up but, as so many have found before, the owners of Premier League clubs are not renowned for their patience.

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