Steven Gerrard urges Aston Villa players to start ‘walking the walk’ in top flight

Steven Gerrard has said Aston Villa must start “walking the walk” if they are to achieve a top-half finish after being backed by the club’s billionaire owners to revamp the spine of his team.

Villa have made five signings, including Philippe Coutinho on a permanent deal, and Gerrard is hopeful of adding an attacking midfielder. Gerrard has replaced Tyrone Mings as captain, with John McGinn given the armband, and the manager hopes his decision allows the England defender to rediscover his best form.

Villa’s recruits, including the Brazilian defender Diego Carlos, have impressed during pre-season but Gerrard knows their Premier League opener at Bournemouth on Saturday will provide a true gauge of the club’s progress.

“It’s about walking the walk now,” Gerrard said. “It’s very difficult to gauge in pre-season whether you’ve improved or not from last season, but finishing 14th for Aston Villa wasn’t acceptable. I made that pretty clear to the players and we are looking for a better level of consistency, and we want to be operating in the top half of the table. We also want to have better cup runs. We need to give our fans more – we’re not going to shy away from that.”

Villa are in talks with the defensive midfielder Douglas Luiz over a new contract but Gerrard said neither he nor the Villa hierarchy could have done any more to keep Carney Chukwuemeka, who this week was sold to Chelsea after rejecting a new contract.

“Chelsea have got a player that is full of potential, I think that’s clear to see. But at the same time when we’re offering a pathway here and we’ve put in so much effort and so much work, we have to have a collective decision among us that if no one is prepared to commit then we are left with no decision but to let them move on,” Gerrard said. “He’s decided to move on to a different challenge, a different club and we wish him well.”

Gerrard hopes taking the captaincy off Mings will allow the defender to shine clear of the spotlight. “He’s been slightly quieter and I’m sure it’s still a little bit raw, and that he’s still a little bit disappointed by my decision, which I accept,” he said. “I’m hoping that maybe a little bit less focus on him can help him get back to his consistent best. If he does then I’m really looking forward to seeing that player because that [player] certainly pushes to be in this XI.”