So Tim Sherwood has gone and the post-mortems have begun. There'll be more than a few fingers pointed in the upcoming days but ultimately it was Sherwood's decisions on the pitch that lost him his job. Here's part 1 of a recap of the decisions that cost Tactics Tim.
30th May, Arsenal 4 - 0 Villa: Choosing to play a high pressing game against Arsenal in the FA Cup Final
After a cup run built on an unorthodox 4-3-2-1, using Jack Grealish and Charles N'Zogbia as floating attackers behind Christian Benteke with Tom Cleverley and Fabian Delph as harrying midfielders, its limitations were brutally exposed against Arsenal.
As Paul Lambert's side had found earlier in the season in the 5-0 loss at The Emirates in the League, when Arsenal play Theo Walcott as their striker it is incredibly dangerous to play a high defensive line against them. However Tim Sherwood decided to risk it and his side was ripped apart.
The Villa midfield never got near Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin at the base of the Arsenal midfield, who quickly found the spaces out wide where Villa's full-backs were exposed by the wide midfielders going up the pitch. The Villa attack was even worse, a series of floated crosses to Benteke producing all of two attempted shots.
It was an embarrassingly one-sided FA Cup Final which showed up Sherwood's lack of tactical flexibility and took the gloss off the preceding run.
(See our initial tactical analysis of that match here)
Summer transfer window: Sherwood chases old Spurs favourites while recruitment team plays Moneyball
Sherwood's first ever transfer window as a manager was always likely to be rocky and was made even more so with the drawn out departures of Benteke and Delph, as well as the loss of personal favourite Cleverley.
However it was made worse by the apparent disconnect between him and the management team, particularly Sporting Director Henrik Almstadt and Head of Recruitment Paddy Reilly, who were looking to set-up a longer term recruitment structure incorporating statistics in a search for undervalued youngsters in other leagues.
Sherwood seemed to sign up to the philosophy, talking about the value to be found in Ligue 1 and how he had signed off on every arrival but also wanted to bring along some of his favourites from Spurs, notably Andros Townsend and Emmanuel Adebayor. The recruitment team took Adama Traoré over Townsend and Adebayor pulled out after last minute doubts.
Sherwood never quite accepted the arrivals that weren't his personal choices. His picks Rudy Gestede and Joleon Lescott, as well as English players Gabby Abgonlahor and Scott Sinclair were consistently put in the team over players such as Jordan Ayew, Jordan Veretout and Adama Traoré.
(See an analysis of whether Villa made a mistake in signing too many foreign players here)
August 22nd, Crystal Palace 2 - 1 Villa: Taking off Sánchez shows Sherwood's naívety
After a scraped win against Bournemouth and an expected if dreary loss against Manchester United in the first two games, Sherwood's substitution against Crystal Palace gave an early indication of his game-management issues.
At half-time Villa were unlucky not to be ahead after Abgonlahor had wasted a great chance produced by the active Grealish and Carlos Sánchez had excelled as a defensive presence in a 4-3-3. Alan Pardew was forced into making a change, bringing on attacking wide players to stretch the game and Palace immediately looked more dangerous.
It was a moment for Sherwood to solidify his side. Instead he took off Sánchez, Villa´s standout performer of the match, for Adama Traoré and switched to a 4-4-2, opening up the centre of the field. Palace stormed through the gap to score. Traoré forced a freak own-goal soon after but then first Leandro Bacuna, then Brad Guzan and Jordan Amavi all panicked under pressure and gave away a stupid goal.
Sherwood betrayed a lack of ability to recognise the dynamics of a match and an instinct to go for a win without first counteracting the threat of the other side.
(See our full tactical analysis of that match here)
September 13th, Leicester 3 - 2 Villa: Sherwood blows a 2 goal lead with a terrible substitution
The problems of the Crystal Palace match were repeated in 3D, surround sound, giant screen against Leicester. For the first time Sherwood was willing to play Carles Gil and Jack Grealish together from the beginning and the two playmakers handed Villa control of the match via two great counter-attacking goals against a Leicester team in impressive form.
With less than half an hour to go the game again called for a sub to help see out the game, as Leicester threw their full-backs forward and shifted Riyadh Mahrez inside to try and terrorize the Villa defence. Instead, Sherwood took off Gil who had been helping control possession and replaced him with Jordan Ayew, apparently signalling for him to go up top with Sinclair and Abgonlahor while Grealish moved back.
To put it lightly, it was a complete disaster. Suddenly Sanchez and Westwood and the full-backs were utterly exposed to Leicester's wide players and Mahrez, given no cover by the front three and Grealish, who were unable to hold the ball up. Instead of shoring things up, Sherwood continued to tinker with his front line, bringing on Gestede while Villa conceded three.
Worse than the three lost points was the sense of frailty this match put in the team. Again Sherwood had completely failed to recognise the dynamics of the match, the potential defensive weaknesses and come up with a solution, choosing instead to chase another goal.
(See our full tactical analysis of that match here)
Even after Villa's first stretch of games of the season, Sherwood had effectively thrown away 4 points and he'd already blown his shot at Villa glory in the FA Cup Final, with a lack of tactical flexibility and a failure to recognise and manage the dynamics of a match. He'd also got into an uneasy situation with the club's management, pursuing a separate recruitment path.
In the next part we'll see the failures to get back on track and some more bizarre selection decisions!
What do you think? Were these the moments that cost Sherwood his job or was he doomed from the start? And is it fair to blame him or do the players and management need to take responsibility?