With the start of the Premier League season less than a week away, most teams seem to have a pretty reasonable grasp on how they will line up - position battles finished, transfer business sorted, formations and style of play planned. But for Villa, it seems as if the offseason is just beginning. This past week saw the arrivals of many of the players expected to play a pivotal role in Villa's season - Rudy Gestede, Jordan Veretout, (maybe soon even Emmanuel Adebayor), not too long after the arrivals of fellow core players Jordan Amavi, Idrissa Gueye, and Jordan Ayew. But, whereas most teams have already made decisions based on past output for the club or performances in training, many of Villa's new core have no past output, and little to no performances in training.
And so, Tim Sherwood faces a multitude of extremely tough questions to answer, with under a week to deliberate.
There is the question of goalkeeper - does Brad Guzan get the opening nod regardless of the fact that he has made zero preseason appearances and has barely trained with the team? Or does Sherwood hand it to Mark Bunn, who has shown competence in goal, and has had significant time to gel with the back line, and the squad altogether? Brad Guzan has only played with two of the back four likely to open the season, and if Alan Hutton loses his right back spot, Ciaran Clark will be his sole confidant. Is it wise to throw him straight back into the fire, with his already poor distribution, and force him to distribute to players that he barely knows? It's possible that Guzan's poor performance is better than Bunn's average performance, but all of these questions have to factor into Sherwood's difficult decision at goalkeeper.
Three of the back four look to be set in stone (Amavi, Richards, Clark) but there is now some intrigue at right back - while Alan Hutton would have been the obvious answer, Jose Crespo started the final preseason match against Nottingham Forrest, with the rest of the back four being intact, and Hutton fit. Crespo looked painfully out of place even against a Championship side, but it was interesting to see Sherwood go with Crespo over Hutton in what was otherwise a first-choice back four.
Sherwood now has to address the midfield; he has been provided some very interesting options in Gueye and Veretout, but Westwood has shone in the preseason and Carlos Sanchez has shown brilliance before. He can likely only pick two of the four and during the preseason, Gueye and Westwood have appeared to be his first choice. Gueye looks to be sufficiently settled with the squad, but the same cannot be said for Veretout, who could use a week or two training with the team before starting a match. And, if Sherwood keeps the 4-4-2 shape he has been running out in the preseason, does he bring back Carles Gil or Jack Grealish, and how? Does he play them in the centre of midfield to be more of a creator but in turn drop Gueye or Westwood? Or play them on the wing, where they are also comfortable? Scott Sinclair looks to be excellent on the left, but Leandro Bacuna has not looked supreme during the preseason, and Carles Gil may be a better option on a right side that has looked very weak going forward.
Finally, strikers. Kozak, Agbonglahor, Ayew, Gestede, Robinson, (Adebayor) - 6 names, 2 spots. Kozak has looked both brilliant and poor in the preseason, Gabby is Gabby, Ayew is completely new to the English game, Gestede hasn't played in a friendly but knows English football, Robinson has never started in the Premier League, and the widely-presumed-to-be-signing Adebayor hasn't even signed, let alone met his teammates. Those are the downsides of each player, but they all also offer many upsides; Kozak's finishing ability, Agbonglahor's pace and power, Ayew's skill and off-the-ball movement, Gestede's aerial ability, Robinson's youth and energy, and Adebayor's experience and track record. Sherwood can only pick two, and the combination he picks (how their styles work together) will say a lot about how he wants Villa to play this season.
Tim Sherwood is facing one exceedingly difficult pass/fail exam in less than a week, and it appears that because of how late he left most of his signings till, he has a lot of cramming to do. Despite this, I'm confident he will figure it out - he knows football, he can read men, and he is willing to roll the dice, something his predecessor was not. His optimism and willingness to gamble is so different from what we have seen from the Villa of late that regardless of how it fares, I won't be upset - it is refreshing to see a Villa with overwhelming optimism and hope, and is a gamble worth taking.
What do you think Sherwood will do, and how will he fare? Let us know!