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Talking Points: Is a European finish still in reach as Steven Gerrard inspires his Aston Villa side to a second victory as boss?

The new Head Coach wins his second game in charge, beating Patrick Vieira’s Crystal Palace. Here are all the key talking points from Villa’s trip to Selhurst Park.

Crystal Palace v Aston Villa - Premier League
Pictured: Steven Gerrard and Michael Beale applaud travelling fans following an away win.
Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

Steven Gerrard joins John Gregory as the second ever Aston Villa manager to achieve two wins from their first two games in charge, as his side defeat former midfield rival Patrick Viera’s Crystal Palace in the capital.

Here are the main talking points from a highly dramatic affair at Selhurst Park.

Ruthless Gerrard

Once again, Aston Villa fans eagerly awaited the team news that was to be released an hour before kick-off, with many unsure as to who Steven Gerrard would select following mixed performances from last weekend’s win over Brighton and Hove Albion.

The majority of the team picked itself, with the defense and midfield dazzling last time out, and for that reason, difficult to alter.

However, areas of the attack were arguably a weakness and struggled to make an consistent impact, and so, forwards Danny Ings and Emiliano Buendia were dropped in place of Leon Bailey and Ashley Young for this game.

Both Ings and Buendia were over £30 million signings in the summer, and the new Head Coach has showed that he is not afraid of dropping players who don’t perform for the team, expressing a ‘no excuses’ approach and the demand for an instant impact from his players.

Of course, these two individuals have exceptional quality and have demonstrated their abilities in the top flight of English football over the years, earning their way into a progressive Aston Villa squad, but have both been rather hit or miss during their time at the club so far.

Each have shown how capable they are this season, with Danny Ings scoring three goals during the campaign, including that wonderful acrobatic strike against Newcastle United in the second game of the season, and Emi Buendia showing signs of creative spark throughout — producing that moment of magic against Brentford with a long range equaliser at Villa Park.

Crystal Palace v Aston Villa - Premier League
Pictured: Emiliano Buendia in action against Crystal Palace.
Photo by Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images

That being said, neither have shown enough on a consistent basis to deserve a guaranteed starting place, hence the dropping of the pair.

Under Gerrard, Ashley Young made a quick impression with his cameo in the win over the Seagulls last Saturday, gaining an assist and therefore earning a place in the side in the most recent round of fixtures.

Leon Bailey also looked good when coming on in place of Danny Ings in the previous match, and has illustrated his talent over the course of the season, such as the showing against Everton where the Jamaican registered a goal and an assist in which proved he is more than worthy of a starting place in the attack.

During the second half, Buendia was brought on in place of Ashley Young, and was involved in the lead up to John McGinn’s decisivie goal after nice interplay between him and fellow substitute Anwar El Ghazi.

Danny Ings did not feature, unsurprisingly, with Villa requiring more defensive midfield bodies on the field rather than out and out offensive players given the scoreline and circumstances of the game.

Given the new boss’ approach and attitude to team selection, it will be a hot topic throughout the start of the week for the Villa faithful as to which line-up he will pick against title contenders Manchester City.

Will Gerrard remain with the side that was successful against Crystal Palace, or will he pick a more defensive outfit that is more suited to help contain the champions, particularly given their attacking threat and prowess?

Controversial officiating

Referee Michael Salisbury has faced a lot of criticism during his time officiating in the Sky Bet Championship, and was once again in the headlines for his first game in charge in the Premier League after originally deciding to send off Douglas Luiz for an incident with Crystal Palace midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate.

The event at Selhurst Park was instantly reviewed under VAR and after multiple looks at the tackle, Salisbury reverted his decision and issued Luiz with a yellow card — a decision that was still questioned by Villa fans who didn’t see the challenge as a foul at all.

Last month, Salisbury officiated a game between Championship promotion favourites Fulham and West Bromwich Albion, and was heavily criticised by former Baggies player Nigel Quashie, who said “Michael Salisbury you’ve had an absolute shocker”, after Fulham were controversially awarded a penalty for a ‘foul’ on striker Aleksandar Mitrovic.

This goal kick-started a 3-0 win for the Cottagers, but the game was relatively even and could’ve gone either way leading up to the penalty incident, indicating just how significant the referee’s call was in the outcome of the game.

Given this game was just a month ago, should Salisbury have been promoted to the Premier League as quickly as he has after making such a tendentious decision in what could be a deciding fixture come the end of the season?

Crystal Palace v Aston Villa - Premier League
Pictured: Michael Salisbury issuing Douglas Luiz a yellow card, reverting his decision to dismiss the Brazilian.
Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

This wasn’t the only refereeing dispute that was up for debate in the game, with Ollie Watkins the player who would have felt hard done by given that the striker could have had a couple of penalties awarded in his favour and a red card shown to Luka Milivojevic.

The first incident saw the striker cutting in from the left and seemingly upended by Palace captain Milivojevic, but the shouts were waved away by the man in charge who felt the contact wasn’t enough to warrant a foul.

The next moment of controversy came in the second half after Watkins was clean through on goal, and was taken down once again by Milivojevic, who was only shown a yellow card for his disruption.

The referee believed there was a defending player who could have covered/caught up with the Villa talisman, so therefore issued a caution rather than a dismal.

Interestingly, the Serbian was substituted soon after, signifying the lack of belief that Patrick Vieira had in the midfielder to remain cautious and not commit another offence for the remainder of the game.

The final incident was more ‘up in the air’ after Watkins once again went down under contact from Joel Ward, but the Eagles’ defender appeared to touch the ball and as a result, the claims were waved away by the league’s new official.

If Michael Salisbury was hoping for a quiet start to life in the Premier League, he certainly did not get it, and was abruptly introduced to the high-pressure scenarios that referees in the top tier of English football find themselves in week in, week out.

Thankfully, these moments in the game did not prove to be critical and Villa did come out as deserved winners, but Ollie Watkins will be disappointed, on an individual level, that he could not contribute more for his team to make the win that a bit more convincing.

A midfield masterclass

Taking the attention away from Premier League new boy Michael Salisbury, let’s move the focus over to Aston Villa’s midfield, consisting of John McGinn, Jacob Ramsey and Marevlous Nakamba, who put in truly remarkable performances as a three, which proved significant as it helped their team secure a second victory under the new Head Coach.

McGinn, who has looked good for most of the season, looked untouchable against Brighton last time out, and impressed for a second game running this weekend, particularly with his non-stop running and moments of flair.

His ability to break up play and win the ball back has caught the eye again this matchweek, and his trademark lower-body turn was demonstrated on a number of occasions — nearly leading to a goal in the first half, as he saw an edge of the box shot travel narrowly wide.

His midfielder partners, Marvelous Nakamba and Jacob Ramsey, were also just as imposing and effective in and out of possession, with Nakamba winning the plaudits and subsequently the man of the match accolades for his standout performance in the heart of the midfield.

The spatial awareness of the three made them difficult to break down for the full 90 minutes — a complete contrast to this part of the side under Dean Smith, who were passed through too often and too easily.

Douglas Luiz, who came on for Ramsey in the 67th minute, slotted in nicely and continued the impressive work ethic shown by the man he replaced. Bar the controversial red card moment, Luiz looked as accomplished as ever, dispossessing his opponents when necessary and retaining the ball in additional time to see the game out.

Villa didn’t see a lot of the ball in the second half, but never looked like conceding and it was mainly down to the rigidness of the team in the defensive phases of play. Mings and his defence were immense, emulating the fine display seen at Villa Park last week, but the midfield deserve a lot of credit for their dogged display.

McGinn capped his performance off with the moment of the match in the 86th minute, putting away a superb 20-yard strike. After some nice work from substitutes Anwar El Ghazi and Emiliano Buendia on the left, the ball ended up at John McGinn’s feet on the edge of the box, who produced a fine curling effort into the top corner of Vicente Guaita’s goal.

Crystal Palace v Aston Villa - Premier League
Pictured: John McGinn and his Aston Villa teammates celebrating their second goal of the game in front of the travelling away fans.
Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

The Scot scored his third of the season, joining Danny Ings as the claret and blues top scorer, and has been one of the standout performers in a rather mixed twelve games thus far.

Steven Gerrard is known to be a fan of the Villa number seven, and the former Liverpool man was interested in the club’s vice-captain during his time at the reign of Rangers.

In an interview with the the Daily Record, Gerrard described McGinn as “... your power, your runner and goal threat.”, highlighting the admiration the new Head Coach has for McGinn with a description of his versatile ability in midfield.

Gerrard was quick to praise the performance shown by Marvelous Nakamba after the game too, describing the Zimbabwean’s showing as “Massive”, with the defensive midfielder putting in one of his best displays as an Aston Villa player.

The Villans seemed to switch to a narrow, diamond midfield late into the second half as they attempted to shut out their London-based opponents — getting more bodies in the defensive areas, with Ashley Young dropping into a more central position.

Steven Gerrard will be hoping that his team can continue their outstanding work against one of the toughest opponents in the league in Manchester City on Wednesday. It will take a huge effort from every player, as well as a bit of luck and quality to get a result, but it is hard to write-off this Aston Villa side under Steven Gerrard who boasts a 100% win record as a Premier League boss thus far.