Tim Sherwood's big surprise in the Villans line-up was the lack of a target man, with Libor Kozak not even in the squad and Rudy Gestede on the bench. That left Jordan Ayew and Scott Sinclair supporting Gabriel Abgonlahor from wide in a 4-3-3 on the attack, but dropping back into a 4-5-1 when out of possession.
Jordan Veretout also got an early start, and Leandro Bacuna was picked over Alan Hutton at right-back. Bacuna and Jordan Amaví were high attacking full-backs.
Eddie Howe went for a 4-4-1-1, aiming to maximise his wingers in Marc Pugh and especially Matt Ritchie who was a terror in the Championship, with 15 goals and 17 assists. They were looking for Callum Wilson, supported by Joshua King, the only one of his summer signings who started the match.
First-half thoughts: Sherwood's stifling scrapes by
The deep 4-5-1 broke down: Tim Sherwood confirmed in his post-match interview that Villa were aiming to kill the atmosphere and stifle Bournemouth, so without the ball they dropped into a deep 4-5-1 to cut off the passing lanes, rather than pressing. For about 30 minutes the formation protected the box well with Bournemouth's wingers, and King and Wilson, running down the channels and away from the goal.
However then it began to break down as the balls came in too easily behind the full-backs with no pressure higher up the field. A big chance came in from an attack down the left which Richards cleared poorly to Gosling who missed from only a few metres out, and then Wilson got behind Clark to get a one-on-one. Finally, Villa owed Guzan for keeping it 0-0 just before half-time when they failed to deal with a free-kick and he made a reaction save from Pugh.
A tough first-half for Gabby Abgonlahor, who made one successful pass in 45 minutes, after being isolated by Villa' s poor passing play. Image from FourFourTwo.com's StatsZone.
Bournemouth passed much better than Villa: Villa's formation should have led to them dominating the middle of the field with three players but they were too clumsy in passing the ball forward, leaving Abgonlahor isolated. Amaví, Bacuna and Gueye were notably poor when pressed, which Bournemouth did with energy down the wings. Brad Guzan certainly didn't help with typically poor distribution. Veretout and Westwood were better but only down the left, practically never connecting with Ayew.
Instead it was Bournemouth, especially from left to right via the Francis-Surman-Ritchie connection who were zipping the ball about, both short and long with abandon. With no pressing high up the field, the ball was arriving to Ritchie easily and Amaví did well to limit him as much as he did.
Second-half thoughts: More energy and physicality get the win
Richards and Gueye lead the pressing: It may always have been the plan to be more aggressive after the break but Micah Richards led by example by hunting Wilson down high up the pitch early on, and he continued that throughout the match. Amaví also became more confident in moving forward and shutting down Ritchie early.
However the real change happened in the centre where Idrissa Gueye seemingly woke up after a first-half that had largely passed him by. After just one tackle in the first-half, he made four tackles and two interceptions in the second-half, shutting down the Bournemouth passing game.
A much more energetic second-half from Gueye who protected the left side excellently. Image from FourFourTwo.com's StatsZone.
Gestede helps seal the win - in attack and defence: After 58 minutes Sherwood made the obvious choice to pull off Ayew, put Rudy Gestede up front and drop Abgonlahor back to the right. Obviously it paid off for the headed goal from the corner but Gestede's presence solidified the whole set-up, as he was better able to hold-up possession, act as a target for Guzan's distribution and even help out in the box.
Along with the introduction of Carlos Sánchez for Veretout in the last 20 minutes, suddenly Villa were physically dominating the pitch and Bournemouth's substitutions did little to change the complexion of the game, with the one exception of Max Gradel who got the beating of Bacuna at least once but then the Cherries surprisingly stopped attacking down the left and kept switching the ball to Ritchie who was less and less effective.
Rudy Gestede for Jordan Ayew (58 mins) - Obviously a hugely successful change. Ayew looked lost out on the right side, while Gestede provided a focus point in the centre which helped control the game in the second-half.
Carlos Sánchez for Jordan Veretout (71 mins) - A Sherwood classic to bring on Sánchez to help see out a game, and the Colombian did his job well, winning headers and being a big presence. Veretout tried hard and made some nice passes in the first-half but will need time to develop.
Kieran Richardson for Scott Sinclair (77 mins) - Though seeing Richardson come on may feel a bit disappointing, this was a logical move to cover the left side which Bournemouth were always looking to attack. Sinclair did his best in the first-half but suffered from being asked to drop so deep and then make long runs.
Overall a very good set of substitutions from Sherwood which showed the depth in the squad.
What we learned:
- Villa still need to learn to play well for 90 minutes. Being asleep for the first-half and then coming back strong in the second-half was a feature of last season, and even if the passive 4-5-1 was a deliberate tactic, it was falling apart towards the end of the first-half.
- There is already a decent spine to the side. Clark, Richards, Amaví, Gueye and Westwood already look to be bedded in well, with the right-wing and the strikeforce still to be tinkered with.
- This side has a great physical presence. After the nightmare of the Paul Lambert years where "playing youth" meant being dominated, Sherwood was clearly keen to get a physicality in the side which helped shut down Bournemouth, filling the space.
Let me know what you guys think in the comments. Was the first-half canny management from Sherwood or a shoddy performance? Is Richards really a centre-back? And which of the new boys caught your eye?