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Tim Sherwood undone by his own machismo at Aston Villa


Soccer is a fickle world. Mere months ago, Aston Villa under Tim Sherwood were playing exciting football, with 4-0 wins against Sunderland and a come from behind victory against Liverpool in a cup semi-final at Wembley. Sherwood was planning on building something over a period of time at Villa, already having put into place steps to promote more youth players to the first team. Yet now he’s out of the job, after six consecutive losses.

Simplifying it, teams that are at the bottom end of the table either can’t score or can’t defend. Villa have experienced both extremes in the space of little more than a year. Paul Lambert set Villa up in a hugely negative way, regularly with less than 40% of possession, even against sides with the same stature as them.

At times, this structure did translate into fast-pace counterattacking with Christian Benteke and Andreas Weimann at its forefront, but too often it was stale and uninspiring. Lambert won less than 30% of his games in charge, but drew almost a quarter of them. For a club with Villa’s resources (9th highest turnover and 9th highest wage bill), that’s poor to say the least.

Tim Sherwood entered and immediately scrapped the old formation. Gung-ho to the point of obduracy, he played a far more expansive game. This season, Villa regularly earned over 50% of possession, and had no trouble scoring. The club have scored the same amount of goals as Liverpool and more than a Watford side that sits 7 places above them with triple the points. The problem is that they keep conceding, even when discretion is the better part of valor.

At times this season, Sherwood played with three strikers on the pitch, and during games earlier this season he consistently withdrew midfielders for forwards, including in two games that were lost at Leicester and Crystal Palace. Removing a defensive midfielder in Carlos Sanchez against a team that breaks quickly in Crystal Palace was a mistake, and bringing on a forward in Jordan Ayew for a midfielder in Carles Gil against Leicester unbalanced the team when they were looking comfortable to win three points.

Even against Swansea on Saturday, Sherwood started with three strikers and Jack Grealish, none of whom do much defensive work, in his front four. And when one striker in Gabriel Agbonlahor was withdrawn, he was replaced by former Barcelona forward Adama Traore. Villa had no problem creating chances. They shot roughly the same amount of times as Swansea, were not drastically out-passed and had far more crosses, their preferred method of attack on the day when Rudy Gestede was the most central of their strikers.

But they did not devote much time to shutting Swansea down, and when a side’s offense revolves so much around physicality and battering opponents with big strikers and lung-bursting runs down the wing to provide crosses for them, it is natural that gaps will appear as players tire late on. It wasn’t surprising to see nobody keeping up with Andre Ayew as he was first to a cross to bundle in a late winner. Keeping this in mind, the fact that Sherwood only made two substitutions, and both offensive ones, was criminal, especially when Villa had scored first.

SEE MORE: 7 leading candidates to replace Tim Sherwood at Aston Villa.

Tim Sherwood did the right thing when he first arrived in Birmingham in making the side more open. After all, scoring a point a game isn’t enough to keep Premier League status when there’s three points at stake. And it’s telling that even after six defeats on the trot, his win percentage of 35% is far higher than Paul Lambert’s. However his refusal to take a backward step, to get the first goal and then man the barricades was costly.

It’s a pity for Villa because when a new manager comes in, the first thing he’ll naturally want to do (as a signal to the press that he’s a steady hand as much as anything) is tighten up at the back. Villa will be more compact. Jack Grealish may go unused, and creativity will be a very low priority.

But this may merely bring Villa back to the problems they had before Sherwood arrived in that their negativity was preventing them getting into winning positions. A new manager shouldn’t batten down the hatches immediately, but rather tweak things so as to ensure the club doesn’t squander the good positions they were getting into.

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  1. StellaWasAlwaysDown

    October 26, 2015 at 10:49 am

    It remains to be seen who did what as far as players goes. If Tim truly didn’t have much of a say in bringing them in, then he can hardly be held responsible (though he was!).

    The big thing here was his line-ups and formations. Lescott has truly been awful but still got a run out. Gabby doesn’t have the quality but still featured (Lerner pressure?). Some of the our most exciting and creative players sat the bench (Gil, Sinclair, etc.). While he might not be blamed for the players, he can definitely be blamed for line-ups and substitutions (which were baffling at best!).

    Good luck Tim, but we needed better. I want to see someone who has experience managing lesser teams without a Top 4 budget. Then you TRULY see what they are made of as a manager. That’s why Moyes is my pick. He was nothing but steady while at Everton with a shoe-string budget. They are a mirror of AVFC except for in the standings! He wasn’t given a chance at ManU (van Gaal had a similar record at the same time). I can’t speak about his Spanish campaign as I haven’t watched him there.


    • Sameer Chopra

      October 26, 2015 at 11:43 am

      Tim Sherwood delivered what most expected, a strong motivational presence and a kick up the backside. The spark saved them from relegation but over time he was too naive tactically, and refused to take a backward step even when it was the wiser course of action. Even at Tottenham he won half his games, the problem being that he lost 36% as well.

      As for Moyes, his Sociedad have played very defensively in what I’ve seen of them. Some think poor results have been down to a lack of quality, but I don’t buy it. Esteban Granero and Aiser Illaramendi, and Sergio Canales were good enough for Real Madrid,(and Valencia in Canales’ case), and Carlos Vela is another full international. Perhaps it’s trying to condition a team of players that want to play football to sometimes do the opposite, as at Man U.

      Villa don’t have that poor a squad, I said this about Sunderland as well, globalisation and it’s consequent growing of the player pool, more and more money in a select few European leagues concentrating that pool, all 20 sides (with the exception of Bournemouth, Watford, and maybe Norwich I think) have the squads to stay up (poor recruitment techniques and all). The fact that Newcastle, Sunderland, and Villa might go down with their resources is absurd and speaks to awful decisions made by all concerned.

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