The five key areas that helped Steven Gerrard's Aston Villa get the better of Patrick Vieira's Crystal Palace

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The five key areas that helped Steven Gerrard's Aston Villa get the better of Patrick Vieira's Crystal Palace - GETTY IMAGES
The five key areas that helped Steven Gerrard's Aston Villa get the better of Patrick Vieira's Crystal Palace - GETTY IMAGES

Steven Gerrard made it two wins from two as Aston Villa manager as his team proved too strong for in-form Crystal Palace. Telegraph Sport analyses the five key areas that laid the platform for their win at Selhurst Park.

Preying on weakness

For all their improved displays under Patrick Vieira, there is a soft underbelly to Crystal Palace which Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa were determined to expose – and all the more so when Joachim Andersen was ruled out with a hamstring injury, forcing the hosts into a first change to their back five since the second game of the season.

With Ollie Watkins a ball of energy, Villa preyed on the central defensive uncertainty between Marc Guehi and James Tomkins, who took time to settle into their rhythm as a duo, and targeted Palace’s right side, where Joel Ward’s lack of pace can be a vulnerability. Almost 50 per cent of their attacks came down that side. “We have enough players,” Vieira insisted. “New players need to step up and take the opportunity. We didn’t allow ourselves to perform.”

Villa’s disciplined defence were of one mind with and without the ball until they dozed off in the 95th minute to give Guehi a goal.

Set-piece nous

Matt Targett’s opener was the 14th Premier League goal Palace have conceded from a set-piece, the most in the division. It is a glaring weakness and, as Targett wryly noted, Villa spent much of last week targeting that very area: “We know they’re not great at defending them”.

Villa struck when Young took an eternity to amble from left to right to take the corner kick, giving Palace the opportunity to lose concentration, which they obligingly did. Young’s kick was a beauty, an outswinger to the back of the area. Tomkins allowed the ball to sail over him and by the time Cheikhou Kouyate and Conor Gallagher grasped Targett was waiting, the full-back had thrashed the ball past Vicente Guaita. For Young’s second corner, Palace bunched themselves where Targett had been for the first. Young sent it much shorter, which kept the hosts guessing.

The dark arts

This was not a tender encounter or, at times, the most edifying. Once they had established their lead, Villa showed no hesitation in repeatedly breaking up the play and ruining whatever rhythm Palace were trying to establish. Home fans were enraged by Ollie Watkins repeatedly throwing himself to the floor in search of penalties, while Matty Cash ensured a booking for Wilfried Zaha by collapsing after his own foul on the winger brought a tetchy response. Throw in a convenient bout of cramp in the dying stages for goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, and it was textbook game management.

“They tactically took their time,” Palace defender Joel Ward said. “They certainly managed the clock. It’s annoying, it’s frustrating. But we have to deal with that better.”

Marvelous Nakamba and Marvellous McGinn

Villa’s midfield dominance was key. John McGinn was outstanding again. McGinn’s late clincher – curled into the top corner – was a delight, but beside him, Marvelous Nakamba gave his most complete performance as a Villa player. Kouyate and Luka Milivojevic – their equivalents in the Palace ranks – could not handle their energy or quality. The pair each do the things the other cannot and Nakamba’s enforcing allowed McGinn to blossom. “Being the middle man suits Marvelous,” Gerrard said. “He does a lot of unnoticed work and played with composure after his yellow card. His contribution was massive.”

Snuff out Gallagher and Zaha

Palace’s seven-match unbeaten run had owed much to the attacking thrust offered by Zaha and Gallagher, but both were muzzled. Zaha rarely ruffled Cash and his supply line was squeezed by Villa’s midfield hegemony. Without his injured Scottish sidekick, James McArthur, Gallagher also struggled to receive the ball in areas that were likely to hurt Villa. “Macca’s energy, tenacity, quality and his understanding of the game is vital,” Ward admitted.

Villa's revival under Gerrard continues with victory at Palace

Two games, two victories, 2-1. Already things are looking rosy for Aston Villa under Steven Gerrard. A first away triumph since the game at Old Trafford in September against a disappointing Crystal Palace may have something to do with new manager bounce, but Villa were expertly drilled, tactically sound and brimming with commitment.

“Our first-half performance was excellent,” Gerrard said. “We were top in a lot of departments. In the second half, Palace made it difficult for us, but overall this was a fantastic away performance.” Still, though, Gerrard was not wholly satisfied.

“We want to find real structure, mostly in how we move around the pitch together to make ourselves difficult to play against. Tweaking, improving and evolving will put us in good stead.” Having observed his new Villa charges for the first time last week, Gerrard sifted through his options. Danny Ings and Emiliano Buendia made way for Leon Bailey and Ashley Young, the men who replaced them during the victory over Brighton.

Young began as a fairly orthodox left-winger and would flourish, while Bailey had a less defined, less successful role on the right.

For Palace, Joachim Andersen’s troublesome hamstring meant a first defensive change since the opening day and a first league start of the season for James Tomkins. Jordan Ayew made way for Michael Olise and – facing his old club – Christian Benteke was more of a sole striker than in recent weeks.

But their biggest loss was James McArthur, a gap Luka Milivojevic never came close to filling. “You can lose a game any time, but it’s the performance I’m not happy about,” Patrick Vieira, the Palace manager, said. “We didn’t play well enough, we didn’t move the ball quick enough, we didn’t defend well enough as a team. The consequence of that is not getting anything. We didn’t play well enough collectively. There’s a lot of frustration. Yes, we missed Joachim, but we should have enough players to step in.”

Villa defended comfortably, bided their time and went ahead in the 15th minute when, not for the first or last time, they preyed upon Tyrick Mitchell, forcing the tyro into conceding a sloppy corner. Casual as you like, Young ambled from left to right to take it.

His outswinger sailed over everyone until it reached Matt Targett at the back of the area. Conor Gallagher was slow to react, Cheikhou Kouyate barely reacted at all. Targett took one touch to steady himself and another to wallop his first league goal since October 2019 past Vicente Guaita.

Palace’s trademark inability to defend set pieces had derailed them once more. Without Andersen, Palace looked fragile at the back. In contrast, being ahead rather suited Villa.

Tight at the back and uncowed by Palace’s descent into midfield roughhousery, the visitors might have had a second when John McGinn turned Kouyate and, from the edge of the area, launched a curler that beat Guaita, only to fly inches wide of the top corner.

And just before half-time, Bailey’s cross took a deflection which spun the ball past Guaita and Tomkins, before Joel Ward appeared from nowhere to hack off the line. Gallagher struggled for traction. He was shackled by Jacob Ramsey when he drifted wide and Marvelous Nakamba when he ploughed a more central furrow.

Lumpen as Palace were, Vieira did not plump for the potential game-changing talents of Eberechi Eze for an hour and Emiliano Martinez remained merely an interested spectator until two standard saves in the 80th minute.

After an hour, Vieria made his move. Off went Milivojevic, on came Eze, injury-ravaged since this fixture last season. Inevitably, Eze was not up to speed with the cut and thrust Premier League, but his presence and the promise it brought briefly transformed the atmosphere. Indeed, when Douglas Luiz scythed through Kouyate and was shown a red card, it turned white-hot until Var intervened and referee Michael Salisbury downgraded red to yellow. Villa headed north with the second goal they deserved when Targett and Buendia linked smartly down the left to free Anwar El Ghazi, who cut in and found McGinn.

The Scotland international crowned his man of the match performance with another curler which, this time, did make the top corner.

“He came back after international duty in a real good place and performances have been outstanding since we came in,” Gerrard noted. “He’s a really infectious character, a ball of energy around the place.”

Surprisingly, Villa needed the cushion. There was a little scare deep in added time when they dozed off and Marc Guehi bundled Kouyate’s cross over the line, but ultimately both teams had the reward they deserved.

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