Let’s recognise something first of all. Aston Villa played their part in a great match on Sunday. An end-to-end display of attacking football from two sides who were relegation candidates all last season but showed talent, creativity and aggression in this match.
Let’s also recognise that the Villa collapse was an absolute shambles, a failure of strategy and nerve akin to that time when Kevin Keegan went on a crazy rant against Alex Ferguson before blowing a 12 point lead with Newcastle in the 1995-96 season
OK, perhaps it wasn’t that crazy. I just wanted to laugh at someone else for a change.
Tim Sherwood started with a 4-2-3-1 in which Gabby Abgonlahor was yet again called up to serve as a lone striker, prompting traumatic flashbacks to the last time he did that (for those who don’t want to read the piece, my description of Gabby as a "shambling wreck of his younger self" should give the flavour). However there was a glimmer of hope as he chose to start Jack Grealish and Carles Gil together behind him, thus packing more creativity and guile into a small space than a cat-burglar convention.
Admittedly it didn’t initially seem to work out. James Vardy and Shinji Okazaki were buzzing around like royal blue-arsed flies and severely testing England’s (Former) Future defenders, Micah Richards and Joleon Lescott. Villa were panicking, flailing inside their own half for 20 minutes, the shocked victims of a Vardy assault.
Then, they got a grip, above all via Carles Gil. I love the way Gil plays football, his calm and serenity on the ball, how he crosses the field to find space, above all his patience, a quality so lacking in English football. He started out as a playmaker, sliding delicious through-balls in for Gabby but gradually dropped back to spread the play. I could write poems about Gil, but for now a haiku will just have to do.
A Haiku on Carles Gil’s First Goal for Aston Villa
Drifts like a cloud then scores
I will of course also put in a mention for Jack Grealish, who looked for 10 minutes as if he was losing, even getting into an argument with Carlos Sanchez, who seems like a lovely bloke on Twitter at least, after losing the ball and a couple of weak shots. Just at the point where you thought the sulky teenager attitude might merit him being taken off, he smacked home his first senior goal for Aston Villa and his celebration was something to treasure, jumping into Sherwood´s arms, Tim looking like a proud dad.
At half-time though, an opposing manager yet again made a tactical substitution which would toll the bell for Villa, as Claudio Ranieri pulled off Okazaki and put on Nathan Dyer. Most importantly this allowed apparent future Barcelona star Riyadh Mahrez to move into the centre.
The ensuing carnage was painful to watch, although Carles Gil's incredible curving strike briefly kept up the illusion that Villa were not about to chuck it all away. After that it was all downhill, compounded when Sherwood's baffling decision to pull off Gil for Jordan Ayew threw the team into disarray. To say Mahrez had the Villa midfield and defence running scared was an understatement - they were jumpier than a teenager hiding his internet tabs when the parents get home early.
The resemblance is uncanny. Also top marks to Leandro Bacuna for ending up slide tackling the air behind Mahrez.
Carlos Sanchez suffered from a return of the chronic medical condition that means at 60 minutes he stops being an effective hustling defensive midfielder and resembles an outsized lawn ornament. Leandro Bacuna decided to entirely drop the career-long lie of being a defender. Jordan Ayew earned the distinction of being one of the least successful substitutions in Premier League history (it should be noted that this was hardly his fault even if his performance was less than stellar).
You all know the rest of the story though Brad Guzan failing to claim the ball before Nathan Dyer and instead battering him into temporary oblivion - and Dyer coming back onto the field a few minutes later in another example of the Premier League's impeccable concussion care - was a noticeably farcical way to top off the collapse. You've gotta laugh, if only to stave off the tears.
- Clearly Sherwood took my comments about the casualness of his attire against Crystal Palace to heart, sporting a trendy jacket and tieless shirt look. It didn’t help the result but at least he didn’t look distraught and badly dressed.
- Rudy Gestede's man-bun was the single most distressing thing about this whole match. We had such a good Afro-game going on. Why'd you do it Rudy?