There are few things more predictable than the British media's response when a side is in trouble.
With Villa in the relegation zone and rumours flying around Sherwood's job and a potential time limit of two matches to turn it round, the old trope of "are there too many foreign players?" is making the rounds.
Neil Moxey at the Mirror decided to trot out the cliché in the best tradition of lazy tabloid journalism in a hatchet-job on analysis-driven player recruitment, taking a job at the "invasion of the French Foreign Legion" and Paddy Reilly, the director of recruitment at Villa. In a companion story the Mirror also stirred the pot by suggesting Sherwood wanted Aaron Lennon, Andros Townsend and Emmanuel Adebayor over Jordan Amavi, Jordan Veretout and Adama Traoré.
Over at the Birmingham Mail, their Villa blogger Daniel Davies also picked up on the thread, comparing the Villa team to Tony Pulis and West Brom with a "group of, predominantly, British players who know what this league's about and know they'll have to roll up their sleeves occasionally".
The guff that English/British players have some magical qualities of grit, determination, heart and other such bollocks used to avoid actual analysis has somehow survived into the Premier League era, against all the evidence. So let´s do some analysis...
How foreign are Villa?
The BBC measured English and foreign-born players playing time in the Premier League and concluded that English players accounted for 32.36% of the playing time in 2013-14. So far, of the 7925 minutes played by Villa players this season, 3084 of those minutes have been played by English players (playing minutes taken from WhoScored.com, and include Jack Grealish as English) - 38.9%. That rises to 48% including Alan Hutton (Scottish) and Ciaran Clark (Irish).
So at the moment, Villa are a little more English than the average Premier League side. English players Micah Richards, Ashley Westwood, Scott Sinclair, Gabriel Abgonlahor and Jack Grealish are all amongst the top 11 players with the most minutes in the side. Veretout, Traoré, Carles Gil, José Crespo and Jordan Ayew are amongst the players who have played the least number of minutes, trailed only by Kieran Richardson.
Do teams with more English players avoid relegation?
Perhaps the argument is that relegation strugglers would benefit more from an infusion of English grit, determination and heart than the top teams who can afford foreign flair and fancy.
Well, TalkSport analysed the teams who used the most English players in 2014-15. Who came top of the table? QPR, with 15 English players after Harry Redknapp spent a summer snapping up his old English players, and finished 20th. In joint second came Leicester (14th), Manchester United (4th) and Burnley (19th).
Perhaps English players are not a magical bulwark against relegation after all. And perhaps letting the manager buy all his old favourites from former sides is not the best way to plan the long-term future of the club.
So if it's not foreign players, why have Villa lost?
Well, with reference to my post-match reports, let's see.
- Against Manchester United (analysis here), Tim Sherwood played an ineffective striker pair and then took off the only man producing any transition from defence to attack.
- Against Leicester (analysis here), Villa threw away a 2 goal lead because Sherwood changed the shape of the team to be more attacking instead of seeing out the game via a defensive change.
- Against Crystal Palace (analysis here), Sherwood failed to react to the half-time changes of his opposite number at half-time and then opened up the game by taking off Carlos Sánchez, after which Palace scored two goals.
- Against West Brom (analysis here), Sherwood played Gabby as a lone striker against a well-drilled West Brom team which left no space behind and then put on Gestede to play as a lone striker with no supply from wide.
- Against Stoke (analysis here), Sherwood chose an ineffective 3-5-2, having been fooled by the Liverpool match into thinking crosses into Gestede was an effective attacking method and then the side was left vulnerable by the switch to a back 4.
These are tactical and personnel decisions. There is certainly a defence that these decisions have been made more complicated by the number of personnel coming in to the side, but then of the new foreign arrivals, only Amavi, Gana and Gestede are amongst the 11 players with the most minutes. In fact, after those three comes Veretout, with the 15th most minutes played. It seems that Rudy Gestede and Joleon Lescott are generally recognized as Sherwood´s personal transfer choices, neither of whom has been an unqualified success.
The real worry is that Sherwood himself is looking to use this as an excuse, already preparing his defence for a possible separation. He must be ready to take responsibility for his own success or failure.
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