Aston Villa had lost five games in a row before Steven Gerrard was appointed manager, but already the Liverpool legend has made a huge impact after securing a second consecutive win.
Villa beat Brighton and kept a first clean sheet since September in his first game in charge last weekend, before inflicting a first home defeat of the season on Crystal Palace this weekend.
Prior to kick-off at Selhurst Park, the Eagles were the only club other than Liverpool yet to have beaten on their own patch this season. They had also lost only once in 11 Premier League games since the opening weekend of the campaign and had become hard to beat.
It would have been easy to doubt Gerrard, coming back into the Premier League with his only senior managerial experience in Scottish football, but he has nailed it so far.
The tactics were spot on against Palace, with Villa working hard to suppress the hosts’ strengths. It is almost as if Gerrard has pushed the reset button and gone back to basics to ensure that Villa are, first and foremost, difficult to beat and not conceding goals. The rest follows from there.
They congested the middle of the pitch in south London, pressed from the front, jockeyed, harried and covered, making Palace work for an opening that was always going to be close to impossible to create in the circumstances.
But for a stoppage time consolation, it would have been two consecutive clean sheets for Villa. It was still impressive all the same that Palace couldn’t land a first shot on target for 80 minutes.
Marvelous Nakamba, who was in and out of the starting lineup under Dean Smith, deserves immense credit for his performance – he was everywhere and never let Palace gain a foothold in midfield or get a clear run at the Villa back four. John McGinn was excellent, as was Jacob Ramsey.
Villa were still comfortable when Palace were trying to find a way back into the game, but from there Gerrard could turn to the likes of Anwar El Ghazi and Emiliano Buendia off the bench to make a key difference at the other end – both subs played key roles in McGinn’s decisive goal.
Being functional before being flashy suits Villa. They have a potentially very good defensive structure and, once you get that bit right and add flare players on top, the positive results will come.