Tim Sherwood faced a myriad of very difficult questions heading into Villa's opener against Bournemouth on Saturday. He had to make decisions on goalkeeper, right back, centre mid, striker(s), formation, and style. His choices were, without a doubt, surprising in many regards. The decision to make Leandro Bacuna the starting right back after having him play right midfield all preseason was unexpected, but proved a couple of things. First of all, it is pretty obvious that Bacuna naturally wants to play a more advanced role (but will dutifully play right back if the alternative is not playing at all) and Sherwood's willingness to give him multiple preseason chances at right-mid reassure his reputation as a player's manager, and because of how Sherwood offered Bacuna the opportunity to prove himself in a forward role , Bacuna can have no grievances with Sherwood for deploying him at right back again - keeping a valuable member of the squad's morale in a good place. Starting the recently-returned Brad Guzan payed back immeasurable dividends, with his saves in the first 45 minutes keeping Villa even in a half which they were largely dominated. While his distribution was terrible as always, Sherwood correctly assessed the risk-reward of Guzan's shot-stopping ability against his poor distribution.
Midfield was much harder to measure - Jordan Veretout showed potential but was clearly a little uncomfortable, and Idrissa Gueye had moments to be improved upon (although we would all be praising him had he put away Gabby Agbonglahor's cross shortly after the interval). Ashley Westwood was consistent as ever, and according to Tim Sherwood's post-match interviews, the squad's only job in the first half was to stifle Bournemouth and take the energy out of the crowd. They did just that, and it was actually a pretty ingenious tactic from Sherwood - offering nothing going forward and playing very unattractive football is infuriating to any fan, but if the gameplan was to negate Bournemouth's biggest asset (the energy, excitement, and adrenaline of playing the club's first Premier League match), it goes from being a glaring negative to an acceptable positive. Additionally, it gave new signings the chance to gel together in a live match situation where they weren't commanded to orchestrate a scoring outburst.
Tim Sherwood's best managerial decisions of the game, however, were that of his substitutions. Rudy Gestede, previously thought to be unready to make the bench, was Sherwood's first sub, replacing the entirely ineffective Jordan Ayew, and changed the game entirely. His hold up play coupled with aerial ability is very Benteke-esque, and he showed real passion after scoring the winner. The way he rose to meet Ashley Westwood's corner was nothing short of majestic, and coupled with the introduction of Carlos Sanchez for Jordan Veretout, Villa became physically imposing in a matter of minutes. Kieran Richardson's introduction was also a shrewd move - Scott Sinclair struggled all day helping the exhausted Amavi with defensive cover, and Richardson's defensive abilities are respectable as we saw last term - so bringing him in to help negate Bournemouth's most creative player, Matt Ritchie, was a wise decision.
Sherwood's performance this week was very impressive, and let's hope that he can consistency replicate it throughout the season, and steer (no pun intended) Villa well clear of relegation, and the memories of Paul Lambert. What do you think? Let us know!