Aston Villa on Thursday announced Steven Gerrard as their new manager to replace the sacked Dean Smith.
The former Liverpool captain has left his role as Rangers boss to take the reins at the club, who have lost five straight Premier League matches.
Gerrard guided Rangers to a first Scottish Premiership title in 10 years last season, finishing the campaign undefeated in the league.
“The board of Aston Villa are delighted to appoint Steven as our new head coach,” said CEO Christian Purslow.
“He then took the brave decision to test himself in the intense and high pressured environment of the Scottish Old Firm. His subsequent achievement in winning the Premiership title with Glasgow Rangers really caught our eye as did his experience in Europe.”
Paul Pogba delivered a withering assessment of the state of Manchester United’s form after a 4-2 defeat to Leicester left the Red Devils already five points adrift in the Premier League title race.
United have not won an English top-flight title since 2013 but were expected to challenge this season after splashing out to sign Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane in the transfer window.
However, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men have taken just one point from a possible nine against Aston Villa, Everton and Leicester in their last three league games.
United also crashed out of the League Cup last month and are under pressure for Wednesday’s Champions League clash with Atalanta after losing their opening group game to Swiss side Young Boys.
“If we want to win the title, these are the games we need to win, even if they are very hard,” Pogba told Sky Sports.
“We have been having these kinds of games for a long time and haven’t found the problem. We have conceded easy and stupid goals.”
United’s defence was easily exposed by a Leicester side that had not won since August before Saturday.
Solskjaer started with all of Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Sancho, Mason Greenwood and Ronaldo and hinted afterwards he may have to sacrifice some of his attacking stars to better balance the side.
“We know that the fans were going to push and put pressure on us and we need to be more mature, play with more experience and arrogance – in a good way – by taking the ball and playing our football,” added Pogba.
“We need to find the key for this change because we deserved to lose.
“I don’t know if it is the mindset of the players. We need to change something. We need to find the mentality and tactics to win. We have to look as individuals and as a team to fix this.”
Former Manchester United captain Gary Neville said Solskjaer’s forward players were not working hard enough defensively.
“I love them as players those five, but having them all in the same team there’s not enough workhorses,” said Neville.
“We needed workhorses alongside the great players. Manchester United at this moment in time are imbalanced.”
The pressure is rising on Solskjaer to turn things around quickly ahead of a demanding run of fixtures.
Solskjaer’s men face Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal in their next six Premier League games.
John Terry has left his position as an assistant to Aston Villa boss Dean Smith with the aim of becoming a manager in his own right, the Premier League club announced Monday.
Terry, a 40-year-old former Chelsea and England captain, joined Villa ahead of the 2017/18 season and became the skipper of his new side.
One of the outstanding English central defenders of his generation, he played 32 games for the Birmingham club before becoming an assistant to Villa manager Smith.
Terry, speaking to Villa’s website, said: “It has been a tremendous honour and privilege to have spent these last three years at Aston Villa, but I feel now is the right time to make the extremely difficult decision to move on.
“I want to be as respectful to the manager and everyone at Aston Villa as I can and, having given my future serious consideration over the summer, I genuinely don’t feel it is fair to move into a new season without being certain of seeing that through.”
He added: “My immediate plan is to spend some quality time with my family and, thereafter, hopefully take up some invitations to visit clubs and managers around Europe to develop my aim and objective of becoming a manager.
“It has always been my ambition to move into football management and, providing the right opportunity presents itself, I feel ready to take up such a challenge.”
Terry thanked Smith for “giving me the opportunity to start my coaching career at such a wonderful club”, saying: “I can’t thank Dean enough for the support and guidance he has provided me with and I’m sure he will continue to lead the club from strength to strength.”
Terry’s time at Villa saw the Midlands side get promoted to the Premier League in 2019, with the club then finishing 17th in the top flight before ending last season in 11th place.
“I’m disappointed to lose John as part of my coaching staff but fully understand and respect his decision,” said Smith.
“John has played a huge role in the success the club has enjoyed over the last few years and has been very supportive of myself throughout that period.
“I have no doubts he will go on to be a first-class manager in his own right and wish him well for the future.”
Terry, capped 78 times by England, finished his playing career at Villa after making 717 appearances for Chelsea and winning 15 major trophies with the London club.
Manchester City will be crowned Premier League champions if their arch rivals Manchester United lose at Aston Villa on Sunday, while Brighton blew a chance to secure their survival in a dramatic 2-1 defeat at Wolves.
Pep Guardiola’s side missed a chance to seal the title when they lost 2-1 against Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, but Marcos Alonso’s late winner will only temporarily delay their celebrations.
City are 13 points clear of second placed United, who have five games left including their trip to Villa Park.
United play three times over the coming week — against Villa, Leicester and Liverpool — and a defeat in any of those matches would seal the title for City before the leaders next play at Newcastle on Friday.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side would love to keep City waiting for the title as long as possible.
The Europa League finalists also want to wrap up a second place finish, which would be their highest end of season position in the Premier League since Solskjaer took charge in December 2018.
But City have turned the title race into a procession since the new year and it is only a matter of time before they are crowned English champions for a third time in four seasons.
Pep Guardiola’s team have enjoyed a remarkable revival after a spluttering start to the season.
After a 1-1 draw at home to West Bromwich Albion in mid-December, City had won just five of their opening 12 Premier League games and started their next match at Southampton 11 points adrift of defending champions Liverpool.
It was the worst start of Guardiola’s managerial career, but since a transformative 3-1 victory at Chelsea on January 3, City have left their rivals trailing in their wake.
That was the start of a run of 18 successive wins in all competitions, a record sequence for an English top-flight club.
They have also won their last 18 away games in all competitions, also a record a team from England’s top tier.
City’s achievements have been even more impressive given the issues posed by a frantic fixture list amid the coronavirus pandemic.
– Brighton rocked –
In Sunday’s early game at Molineux, Brighton took the lead after 13 minutes when Lewis Dunk headed in Pascal Gross’ corner.
Graham Potter’s side needed a victory to be sure of avoiding relegation.
But Brighton captain Dunk was sent off in the 53rd minute after he pulled back Fabio Silva as the Wolves forward raced through on goal.
Wolves made the most of their numerical advantage in the 76th minute as Adama Traore fired home after exchanging passes with Silva.
Brighton were unable to hold on and Morgan Gibbs-White won it for Wolves in the 90th minute with a fine finish for his first Premier League goal.
Adding to Brighton’s woes, French striker Neal Maupay was sent off for foul and abusive language after the final whistle.
The Seagulls are 10 points above the relegation zone, with third bottom Fulham, who have four games left, playing Burnley on Monday.
Later, fifth-placed West Ham host Everton as they bid to close the gap on fourth-placed Leicester.
The Hammers, making an unexpected charge for Champions League qualification, are five points behind Leicester, who lost to Newcastle on Friday.
Troubled Arsenal, who crashed out of the Europa League against Villarreal on Thursday, face second-bottom West Bromwich Albion in Sunday’s final game.
West Brom, 10 points from safety with four games left, will be relegated if they lose at the Emirates Stadium.
Jurgen Klopp admitted a weight has been lifted from Liverpool’s shoulders after Trent Alexander-Arnold’s injury-time winner secured a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa and ended a record run of defeats at Anfield on Saturday.
The English champions had lost their previous six games at Anfield and fell behind again when Alisson Becker failed to keep out Ollie Watkins’s first-half strike.
Liverpool were then controversially denied an equaliser as a dubious VAR review ruled out Roberto Firmino’s reply.
But Mohamed Salah levelled before Alexander-Arnold responded in style to the criticism he has received of late.
“It felt massive to win. A real relief,” said Klopp after victory briefly took Liverpool up to fourth in the Premier League.
“I can’t remember the last time we did it easy but it’s fine in our situation after losing six home games.”
Alexander-Arnold was dropped from England manager Gareth Southgate’s squad last month and was at fault for Real Madrid’s second goal as Liverpool lost the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final against the Spanish giants 3-1 on Tuesday.
But the right-back’s attacking output has been a prominent part of Liverpool’s success in the last three seasons under Klopp and the 22-year-old showed what he can do with a brilliant finish to curl the ball into the far corner.
“We can stop that chat about Trent, everyone agrees that he is an outstanding player,” added Klopp.
“It’s Gareth Southgate’s decision what he does for the squad but we don’t have to talk about it every week. We don’t have to justify the players’ status every week.”
Liverpool have now won three consecutive league games for the first time since the opening three matches of the season to boost their chances of climbing back into the Champions League next season.
Alisson at fault
The first cracks in a difficult season for Liverpool emerged when Villa won their first meeting of the season 7-2 at Villa Park in October.
That was prior to the Reds losing Virgil van Dijk to a season-ending injury that has destabilised their entire campaign.
Villa have also suffered losing their talismanic talent in Jack Grealish over the past two months.
Dean Smith’s men have now won only twice in eight games without the England international to see their hopes of a top-four finish come up short.
Villa went in front against the run of play. Watkins’s strike was straight down the middle of the goal, but had too much power for Alisson’s weak hand two minutes before half-time.
Liverpool still thought they had levelled before the break when Firmino turned home a loose ball at the back post.
However, the goal was ruled out after a lengthy VAR review for offside against Diogo Jota in the build-up despite inconclusive evidence.
To their credit, that disappointment did not knock the stuffing out of the hosts as they started the second period on the front foot.
Liverpool got their reward on 57 minutes when Salah headed home his 28th goal of the season after Emiliano Martinez could only parry Andy Robertson’s powerful strike.
Another Egyptian international was inches away from restoring Villa’s lead at the other end moments later as Trezeguet’s shot came back off the inside of the post.
Klopp introduced Thiago Alcantara, Sadio Mane and Xherdan Shaqiri off the bench in a bid for a winner and the changes made the desired impact.
“We took a risk with the change,” said Klopp. “We brought in an extra midfielder and that had a proper impact. It’s exactly what you wish for.”
Martinez produced another stunning save to deny Thiago turning home Shaqiri’s cross, but the loose ball came to Alexander-Arnold, who with Southgate in attendance, fired a timely reminder of the quality he possesses.
“Really strong performance. We completely dominated the game, we dominated every department, and we should have won,” Arteta said.
“But in the Premier League when you give a goal to the opponent – and we gave them another three opportunities to be fair, just giving them to them – and then you are not ruthless in the opponent’s box, you don’t win games.
“That is something we have to do better, and it cost us two games in the last few days because the reality is we should have won both games. It’s a big blow.”
When Arsenal faced Villa in November, they suffered a lacklustre 3-0 defeat that sent them sliding towards the relegation zone.
Although Arsenal had managed to claw their way back up the table, eighth-placed Villa once again revealed the flaws that plague Arteta’s men.
Arsenal, badly lacking a cutting edge, have scored just once in their last three matches and retain a fatal inability to stay focused at the back.
Villa took the lead with their earliest Premier League goal since 2014, aided by some woeful defending from the Gunners.
Arsenal’s Cedric Soares gave the ball away and Bertrand Traore crossed to the unmarked Watkins, whose shot went in via a deflection off Rob Holding.
Former Arsenal keeper Emiliano Martinez made a superb save to keep Villa ahead when he tipped over Granit Xhaka’s free-kick, with Holding headed just wide from the resulting corner.
With Bernd Leno suspended, Mat Ryan was making his first appearance in goal for Arsenal after joining on loan from Brighton.
Ryan did well to keep out Traore’s close-range chip before Gabriel blocked Ross Barkley’s follow-up effort.
Villa had won 10 of the 11 league games in which they had scored the first goal this season.
They were back on top at the start of the second half and John McGinn’s blast was saved by Ryan.
Barkley fired just over after a fine run from Jack Grealish opened up the Arsenal defence.
Back in the squad for the second successive game after his mother’s illness, Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came off the bench with 30 minutes left.
The Gabon forward was unable to convert Nicolas Pepe’s cross as Martinez beat him to it with an out-stretched hand.
Pepe was Arsenal’s lone bright spark and the Ivorian’s low strike forced Martinez to save with his feet.
Arsenal’s Martin Odegaard, on as a substitute, wasted a late chance to equalise. The on-loan Real Madrid midfielder smashed over from the edge of the area.
Liverpool survived a scare from coronavirus-ravaged Aston Villa to reach the FA Cup fourth round with a 4-1 win against opponents missing their entire first-team squad as the pandemic wreaks havoc on English football.
Villa fielded a raw side comprised entirely of youth academy players and were without boss Dean Smith after being hit hard by a Covid-19 outbreak earlier this week.
In all, 14 unnamed Villa employees — nine players and five staff — have tested positive, forcing the Premier League club to close their training base on Thursday because of the outbreak.
Liverpool played a strong side for the third round tie at Villa Park, but Villa’s youngsters acquitted themselves well.
Four of Villa’s starting line-up weren’t even born when Liverpool midfielder James Milner made his professional debut for Leeds in 2002.
But they gave Liverpool a shock when Louie Barry cancelled out Sadio Mane’s opener.
Eventually, the Premier League champions’ class told with a blitz of three goals in five minutes in the second half.
Georginio Wijnaldum struck before Mane and Mohamed Salah sealed a first win in four games in all competitions for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
“The kids did really well,” Klopp said. “We had problems in passing and moving. Too many on the wrong side of the ball, not enough recoveries of passes.
“We had chances and shot directly at the goalie. It was rusty but better in the second half. We have a lot players with no rhythm.”
Mark Delaney, the Villa Under-23 coach deputising for Smith, added: “We are all very proud as a club, as coaches and players. That was a monumental effort considering what the players have had to go through.”
That Villa, whose team had an average age of 18 and 294 days, ended the night with their heads held high was all the more remarkable given their CEO Christian Purslow’s frank pre-match assessment.
“Our experience of this situation in the past two days has been a frightening scenario because we went from 100 percent negative on 1 January to 14 cases,” Purslow told BT Sport.
“Many of the players tonight are so young their mums and dads will be dropping them off at Villa Park.”
There are growing concerns over whether the Premier League season can be completed on time as the new virus variant plagues Britain.
The FA Cup has not escaped the chaos and Southampton’s third round tie against Shrewsbury on Sunday has been postponed after several positive tests at the League One team.
Derby’s first-team squad will miss their tie at Chorley on Saturday because of a virus outbreak.
A record-high 40 positive tests were detected among top-flight players and staff in the week between December 28 and January 3 and four Premier League games have already been postponed this term.
The English Football League, which oversees the three divisions below the Premier League, reported 112 positive tests on Friday.
Newcastle boss Steve Bruce and Leeds manager Marcelo Bielsa claim there is a moral argument to suspend all matches after the latest national lockdown ordered by the government.
Despite the resurgent virus, Premier League officials are adamant the season will proceed and Liverpool took advantage of Villa’s problems to get back on track.
They needed just four minutes to take the lead when Mane headed home from Curtis Jones’ pin-point cross.
Yet Liverpool were caught with a stunning counter-punch in the 41st minute.
Barry, a 17-year-old striker who joined Villa from Barcelona last year, sprinted onto Callum Rowe’s pass, left Rhys Williams trailing in his wake and planted a brilliant finish into the far corner.
If Liverpool were experiencing flashbacks to the humiliation of their 7-2 Premier League defeat at Villa in October, Wijnaldum restored order in the 60th minute when the midfielder swept home from the edge of the area.
Mane netted with a looping header over Akos Onodi in the 63rd minute before Salah turned to fire home from 10 yards two minutes later.
In Friday’s other third round tie, Wolves beat Crystal Palace 1-0 thanks to Adama Traore’s 35th minute goal.
Aston Villa became the fourth Premier League club to suffer a coronavirus outbreak on Thursday, adding to growing concerns over whether English football’s top-flight can complete the season on schedule.
Villa were forced to cancel training and close their training ground after two rounds of testing returned multiple positive cases of Covid-19 among players and staff.
Britain is battling a highly infectious strain of the virus which has forced a new nationwide lockdown after cases soared in recent days.
“A large number of first-team players and staff returned positive tests after being routinely tested on Monday and immediately went into isolation,” Villa said in a statement.
“A second round of testing was carried out immediately and produced more positive results today.”
The Birmingham-based club’s FA Cup third-round tie against Liverpool on Friday is now at risk of being postponed.
“First-team training ahead of tomorrow’s FA Cup match with Liverpool was cancelled,” Villa’s statement added.
“Discussions are ongoing between medical representatives of the club, the Football Association and the Premier League.”
Premier League Southampton’s FA Cup home match against Shrewsbury has already been postponed because there have been a number of positive cases at the League One club.
Wayne Rooney’s Derby will fulfil their fixture at minnows Chorley with a youth team after nine positive tests among first-team players and staff.
– Fixture pile-up –
On Tuesday, a record high of 40 positive tests were detected among Premier League players and staff in the week between December 28 and January 3.
Three Premier League matches were postponed last week due to outbreaks at Manchester City and Fulham.
Due to the late end to last season, the league is less than halfway through the 2020/21 campaign.
The packed fixture schedule, with domestic leagues, cup and European competitions having to be finished before the delayed Euro 2020 starting on June 11, leaves little room for manoeuvre.
Despite the rising case numbers and calls from some within the game for a circuit breaker to buy time and bring infection rates down, the Premier League has so far been adamant that the season will proceed.
“With low numbers of positive tests across the overwhelming majority of clubs, the league continues to have confidence in its Covid-19 protocols, fully backed by the government, to enable fixtures to be played as scheduled,” the league said on Tuesday.
However, a number of embarrassing incidents have come to light in which prominent players have flouted coronavirus restrictions, doing little to aid English football’s case to keep going while movements in the rest of the country are highly restricted.
Pictures of Tottenham trio Erik Lamela, Sergio Reguilon and Giovani Lo Celso and West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini attending a Christmas party with family and friends emerged over the weekend, prompting Spurs to promise internal disciplinary proceedings.
Manchester City have also launched an investigation after left-back Benjamin Mendy admitted to breaching Covid protocols by hosting a New Year’s Eve party.
Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic and Crystal Palace captain Luka Milivojevic also broke the rules to attend a New Year’s Eve party.
Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow has been among those calling for tougher sanctions for players who break the regulations and put the season at risk.
Villa captain Jack Grealish was fined two weeks’ wages by the club for a breach of the rules last year.
“There are moments when young people will stray from the rules and, whether you’re a parent or the chief executive of a football club, that’s a time when you have to be very strict and remind people of their responsibilities,” Purslow said earlier this week.
Despite the new national lockdown that came into force in England on Wednesday, the British government has said elite sport can continue despite the tighter restrictions.
Aston Villa’s transformation from just staying up on the final day of last season to contending for Europe continued on Saturday as they held on a man down for the full second half to beat Crystal Palace 3-0.
The win moved Villa into the top six on the English Premier League table.
The Eagles were thrashed 7-0 by Liverpool last weekend and got off to another dreadful start as Bertrand Traore turned in the rebound after Vicente Guaita saved Ollie Watkins’s first effort.
A tussle between Tyrone Mings and Wilfried Zaha resulted in a yellow card for both and moments later when Mings blocked off Zaha, the England international was dismissed in first-half stoppage time.
However, Villa soaked up the pressure and the 10 men extended their lead when Kortney Hause forced the ball home from close range after Watkins’s header came off the bar.
Watkins also played a part in the third as he teed up Anwar El Ghazi to fire in off the far post for his fourth goal in four games.
Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish was given a nine-month driving ban on Tuesday after crashing his Range Rover during the coronavirus lockdown in March.
Grealish was sentenced at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court after previously pleading guilty to two charges.
The 25-year-old’s vehicle hit two parked vehicles in Dickens Heath, Solihull, West Midlands.
As well as the driving ban, England midfielder Grealish was also fined £82,499 ($110,271).
A judge was told that a witness said Grealish smelled of “intoxicating liquor” and was slurring his words immediately after the crash on March 29.
Grealish was involved in the incident less than 24 hours after issuing a Twitter video message urging people to stay at home to save lives and protect the NHS.
He also pleaded guilty to a separate offence of careless driving after prosecutors said an unmarked police car spotted him driving at more than 90mph along the M42 at “close to an intimidating distance” on October 18.