Tottenham Hotspur fans used to have a nickname for Tim Sherwood that corresponded to them being puzzled at times by their manager’s tactical choices. ‘Tactics Tim’ was a good-natured moniker and judging by some of Sherwood’s puzzling substitutions so far this season, Aston Villa fans are starting to understand why Spurs fans named him so.
The first alarm bells began to ring about ‘Tactics Tim’ when fans saw his like-for-like substitutes in the FA Cup final, when Villa desperately needed to change things up and chase the game. Still, that defeat perhaps had more to do with the quality of the opponents and Sherwood never really had a plan from the get-go to challenge Wenger.
This season the first decision that got those bells ringing again was the substitution of Carlos Sanchez in the Crystal Palace game, when he was having perhaps his best game for Villa and was helping fend off a Palace team who were very much in the ascendancy.
At 0-0 with just over an hour gone, Villa, after having the best of the first half, were under the cosh due to Pardew’s half-time switches. In response to Palace taking control of the game, Sherwood took off Sanchez on 69 minutes, who at DM was helping cut out the Eagle’s waves of attacks, and replaced him with winger Adama Traore.
Yes, by all means bring on Traore, but surely swap him for Agbonlahor, who was having one of his worse games in a Villa shirt. Villa needed to stay solid at the back, but with the back four’s cover removed they conceded within two minutes of the change.
Yes, Traore set up the equaliser forcing a deflected own-goal, but Villa’s lucky equaliser didn’t buck the trend of Palace’s control of the game and the Eagles were always more likely to score the winner; which they did 10 minutes later with three minutes of the game left.
That switch was the only substitute Sherwood made despite a tiring Grealish, a misfiring Agbonlahor (Sinclair remained on the bench) and a seemingly lost Gestede.
Against Sunderland in the 2-2 draw that followed in the league, Villa let points slip although Sherwood was perhaps lacking in fit creative forward players on the bench, although Gil on for Bacuna was a decent enough move.
Où est Veretout?
The game was the second consecutive time where Jordan Veretout was an unused sub. Clearly Sherwood doesn’t see him as ‘Premier League ready’ yet, because he would have added something to the flat midfield of Gana, Sanchez and Westwood.
Recently against Leicester City, Veretout was again overlooked. Surely, if Carles Gil was carrying a knock or was tired (it didn’t stop him scoring moments before), you’d replace him with another midfielder ala Veretout and not a forward?
A Leicester City assault was about to come in earnest and Villa were replacing a player with good ball retention with a forward with little confidence in a Villa shirt.
Villa needed more presence in midfield. With Gabby, Sinclair and Ayew up front, they were left with a midfield of a tiring attacking midfielder in Grealish, an under pressure Westwood and a painfully off the pace Carlos Sanchez (what did he get up to on international duty?), thus making Villa’s backline woefully under-protected.
Gestede on for Gabby on the 75 minute, when Villa were 2-1 down, removed the team of the only player in the forward line who could hold play up, if you wanted to hit Leicester on the break. Still Veretout wasn’t thrown on to fill out the midfield. Another idea would have been to throw Clark in there as a DM to protect the back-four.
As soon as Leicester scored their first goal, it seemed inevitable with Sherwood’s lack of changes to directly meet the Leicester threat, that defeat was actually on the cards with a good 20 minutes left.
Too Early to Judge
Of course, Sherwood has had barely 40 games as a first team Premier League manager, so he will be prone to decisions fuelled by inexperience. Whether a club like Aston Villa should have taken a punt on an inexperienced manager was always a big question mark when they gave him the job, but in the short-term Sherwood’s vigour and passion were qualities perhaps more important to reviving the club last season.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it could be argued that his poorly realised use of substitutes has cost Villa an extra six points from the last three games (a possible draw at Palace and wins against the Black Cats and Foxes).
It’s early days of course and this is a team that is very much coming together with little preseason game time together. They are learning on the job, as is Sherwood to a certain extent. Certainly another five games will give us a better understanding about Villa’s predicament and whether Sherwood’s promise last season of no more relegation battles were just empty words.
In those games though most supporters will feel that the Villa boss must be more practical in his use of substitutes. Previous managers like Paul Lambert and Martin O’Neill have been guilty of not making enough substitutes to gain more points. Sherwood makes them, but seems to lose points. This is a habit that needs to stop pronto.
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