Aston Villa were easily one of the most lopsided teams of last season, both in terms of style and performance. Paul Lambert’s overthought tactics finally ground to a halt come February and thus the hand of Villa’s ownership was forced. Tim Sherwood took over and almost immediately imprinted his unique brand of daring-do onto the team’s DNA. They might have survived thanks to Sherwood, but in so doing they have discovered the fate of so many quality lower-table sides that produce one or two star players. Next season they will be looking to rebuild and find some much needed balance in Sherwood’s system.
By February of this year Villa looked to have already given up hope under Lambert. His techniques, once so potent with Norwich, were failing to find any traction on the pitch.
When he was replaced by Tim Sherwood shortly thereafter, it was as if the team had downed a can of spinach. Suddenly Christian Benteke began scoring again – he had only managed two goals prior to Sherwood’s appointment – and the whole team seemed tuned up to improve on their fortunes. A run of wins helped drag Villa up from the relegation zone, where they stayed for the remainder of the season.
Villa still only finished 17th last term, only three points ahead of being relegated. That comes down to Lambert’s poor form mostly, but Sherwood sometimes hurt more than he helped. His brand of attacking football could, at times, be politely referred to as reckless. Villa played in such a way that more or less demanded that they score at least one more than their opponents could. It was a style that left Villa always primed to score the next goal but rarely capable of defending their opponent’s next.
That methodology is all well and good when you’re desperate and need whatever points possible. Sherwood utilized similar tactics when he took over for Tottenham mid-season after Andre Villas-Boas’ sacking in December of 2013. They work in a manner of speaking, but it’s debatable how sustaining they would be over the course of a full season.
Ins and Outs
To that end, Sherwood has apparently recognized that he’ll need to find some more balance in midfield. Carlos Sánchez impressed for Colombia in this summer’s Copa America, and Villa has brought in Ligue 1’s brightest defensive midfielder Idrisse Gueye in an early summer transfer. Together they might begin to tone down Sherwood’s bombastic tendencies.
Unfortunately, so will the exists of Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke. The two players are off to Manchester City and Liverpool respectively. They comprised the two most crucial cogs in Sherwood’s attacking engine last season, Delph from midfield and Benteke in front of goal. Without them, Villa is seriously lacking in the verve that made their survival possible. The arrivals of Jordan Veretout and Jordan Ayew from Ligue 1 hint that the damage might not be too severe.
If there’s some upside to Delph and Benteke’s departures, it’s the £40 million suddenly in Villa’s coiffers. Provided Sherwood and company can continue to spend that money properly, they might not be the devastating losses they now appear to be.
The bigger question will be how Sherwood copes with a proper offseason. He’s proven that he can be an effective midseason replacement, but the ups and downs of a transfer window and the training ground are much more difficult to navigate.
If Sherwood can reign in his blitzkrieg ways and re-discover his defense, there’s some hope Villa can mostly stay out of the relegation fight. If he persists though, there’s every chance that Sherwood finds himself unemployed again before Christmas.
Predicted Opening Day Line Up