In less than three months, Tyrone Mings has lost his place in the England squad, been relieved of the Aston Villa captaincy and now been dropped from the team’s starting XI.
They were decisions that might individually have been understandable but, taken together, would test the confidence of even the most resilient character. It was curious, and questionable, then to hear Steven Gerrard put the onus so firmly back on Mings after a limp opening day defeat in which his team hardly oozed character and leadership (scroll down for match report).
“I think the easy thing to do after defeat is to look at the people who weren’t on the pitch,” said Gerrard, upon being asked about his decision to leave out Mings and pair £26 million new signing Diego Carlos in central defence with Ezri Konsa.
Then came the passage that provoked considerable debate among Aston Villa fans after it was posted by the BBC West Midlands reporter Steve Hermon. “I'm confident and have full belief [that] when Tyrone is back at his best and looks me in the eye and shows me he’s ready to play, he’ll get opportunities,” said Gerrard.
“He's missed some training time with an injury and there's a niggle in the background. That's the challenge I set him when I made the decision over the captaincy. We said to Tyrone, ‘You get back to your consistent best and you'll get back in the team’. We haven't lost the game because Tyrone Mings wasn't playing.”
There were indeed other problems on Saturday — not least the meek attacking contributions of Danny Ings and Philippe Coutinho — but Villa would surely have stood up to Bournemouth’s considerable physical presence rather better with Mings in the team.
He certainly made mistakes in the final months of last season but the wider statistics are also firmly in his favour. In only 12 league matches when Mings has not been in the starting team since he signed in February 2019, Villa have lost eight times and won just twice.
It all points to a wider on-field influence that extends far beyond whatever narrow performance statistics might have been pored over.
Beyond that and Gerrard’s remarks - especially the suggestion to ‘look me in the eye and show he is ready’ - felt surprisingly pointed. Gerrard has previously already said that Mings was “ a little raw” over losing the captaincy to John McGinn and, while we cannot judge what the manager sees in training, he has certainly appeared to take recent decisions like a model professional. Mings sent his England team-mates a good luck message after losing his squad place in May and was similarly gracious after McGinn was confirmed captain last month. “I’ve no issues with the manager’s decision - it will be an honour to play under his [McGinn’s] captaincy,” he wrote.
By all accounts, Mings threw himself into the captaincy role last season and took it upon himself to represent the club at many community events. Part of the rationale for the change, therefore, was to allow him more time to focus on his football.
How the situation now unfolds will be fascinating. Football moves quickly and, while Gerrard’s words seem designed to get a reaction, the immediate aftermath of a disappointing defeat is not always the ideal moment to express exactly what you mean.
Barcelona flop Philippe Coutinho fires blanks as Aston Villa lack killer instinct
By Jeremy Wilson
It had been a week in which Philippe Coutinho was voted among the biggest Barcelona flops of the 21st century, even if another mercurial attacking talent was optimistically keeping the faith.
“I expect him to dominate this match,” declared Paul Merson ahead of Aston Villa’s visit to Bournemouth, a club who are back in the Premier League but themselves facing uncertainty after a passive summer transfer window that had left a frustrated Scott Parker openly declaring that they were weaker now than when they gained promotion three months ago.
It was some surprise then, that his team should not just mark their top-flight return with Jefferson Lerma’s goal inside two minutes but also absorb Villa’s possession with such ease. Villa manager Steven Gerrard was blunt in assessing a performance so lacking in creative spark and, in acknowledging that he had been left with more questions than answers, one of the most pertinent must surely relate to the transfer strategy. “We need bigger, better quality,” he said. “Our quality was off, we never had enough shots on goal, we never crossed the ball enough, we never showed enough invention.”
Gerrard’s mention of bigger as well as better talent felt especially telling after seeing Bournemouth so benefit from a variety of attacking options – notably an old-school No 9 in Kieffer Moore.
Coutinho’s strike partner Danny Ings also rarely looked like threatening here but there was little more thrust when Ollie Watkins came on and Bournemouth’s superior creative threat was underlined when Moore sealed their 2-0 victory with a trademark towering header. Coutinho was substituted immediately after the goal.