It’s best if I just get this off my chest and admit it before going any further:
I was totally wrong about Saturday’s match. Villa won, sure, but I expected it to be a different kind of game, an end-to-end one, where attacking football ruled the day.
And while we got glimpses of the latter, it wasn’t the overarching story. Aston Villa did something different, and it was the perfect tactical setup for the opening day of the campaign.
They simply tried to get into the halftime interval scoreless.
Boring? Yeah, definitely. Reminiscent of Paul Lambert’s time managing the Claret and Blues? Perhaps.
But effective? Absolutely.
I had a few people tell me at halftime it "should have been 3-0" which is, perhaps, one of the more bizarre statements I’ve ever heard. (And that’s not getting into the probability side of things.) Villa came out organized, and tried to control a Cherries side known for their open, attacking football last year.
And you know what? It worked!
In fact, those three chances only occurred because of mis-executions of Tim Sherwood’s first-half tactics at Dean Court (sorry, the Vitality Stadium) rather than the tactics themselves in Saturday's 1-0 win for Villa.
Critics will point to the chances themselves as evidence of flawed tactics, but in truth, Villa were excellent when sticking to their manager’s plan for the first 35 minutes of the half, when the home side had no way through to Brad Guzan’s net. A first chance came shortly when the defense started to break down and Micah Richards failed to clear his lines, but that’s the only one that could even remotely be pinned on the tactics.
Callum Wilson’s chance (which wasn’t really that great of a chance in the first place) a few minutes later came as a result of a ball played over the top of the Villa defence — something Sherwood surely didn’t want — while the third chance came from an oddly-fluky set piece.
At the end of the day, Tim wanted to get to the half 0-0, and his side was able to do that. Job complete.
So then that’s back to the boring, negative football storyline I’m sure we all heard floating around after 45 minutes Saturday. Sure, we all love Tim’s penchant for attacking football, but it’s important to understand why the first half was so crucially important for this Villa side’s progress.
Villa entered Dean Court with a lineup full of fresh faces — just Ashley Westwood started the FA Cup Final — while the Cherries trotted out a familiar XI, used to playing with each other, with just one debutant. Had the Claret and Blues tried to come out firing for the start, you may have seen a similar situation as the one experienced the previous weekend at Nottingham Forest, with an unfamiliar Villa side making the mistakes a group of guys thrown together typically would.
And that doesn’t even touch on the momentum that the home side had when it walked out on the pitch Saturday. This is Bournemouth’s first trip to the top flight, and after being promoted as Championship winners, the Vitality Stadium was rocking at kick-off. The home-field advantage at that moment may, perhaps, have been the largest one Villa will face this term, and mitigating it until it cooled off — which it did — was something vitally important for the visitors to do.
The Cherries came out with energy, looking to impress, and instead of getting in a track meet, Sherwood simply waited patiently for the right moment to pounce.
That came in the second half when, from the get-go, Villa stepped up and controlled the proceedings like the superior side they were. With the emotional high for Bournemouth a little worn off — and the home side surely frustrated at their inability to score in a first half they "dominated" in most’s minds — the Claret and Blues found themselves on the right side of most of the chances, with Idrissa Gueye firing on target early in the half.
It was a lot easier to control the second half for Villa than the first ever would have been, and it goes to show Tim Sherwood may, in fact, actually know what he’s doing tactically.
Popular belief seems to slate Sherwood as a bit of a "bloke" running a football club, and I’ve always hated that narrative because it’s just not true. We have this romanticized image of the dude shouting, "Go score some goals, you slags!," or whatever, and performances like Saturday show the 46-year old’s maturity level as a manager.
He could’ve came out and just done that; been a little naïve, tried to get into an end-to-end match, and there’s no telling how it would end up.
But instead, he was patient, and waited for the right time to show his side’s superiority. The result? Three massive points. And that’s what being a good manager is all about.
After all, we do call him "Tactics Tim."