Across the portfolio, SB Nation sites are pondering the “what ifs?” from their club’s history. Mine stays fairly recent — let’s hop in a time machine back to 2015, and perhaps my favorite couple of months as a Villa fan.
Paul Lambert’s performance in that 2014–15 season was bad. Villa sat in the bottom three in February when Lambert was sacked, in the midst of a 10-match winless streak, and had scored just 12 goals in 25 league matches. That team was… awful.
Then, a funny thing happened. The eccentric Tim Sherwood was hired, flipped Villa into an attack-minded team, and from the start of March through the middle of May, Aston Villa were good. They went 7–1–3 across all competitions — including wins at White Hart Lane and over Liverpool at Wembley — and out-shot their opponents in 8 of those 11 matches. They scored relatively at will (21 times in 11 matches), and they really only had one poor performance — a 3–1 defeat at Old Trafford where they were out-shot 20–5. The other two losses coming in solid performances; remember the 3–2 loss at Manchester City, where Villa fought back so well from 2–0 down only to concede a late winner? That was a strong performance. The other loss in the bunch was a 1–0 at home to Swansea, where the visitors grabbed a stoppage-time winner.
Throw out that United match, and Villa out-shot 129–96 over the other 10 matches of this run. Not bad at all, particularly for what hat been the most inept attacking team in Premier League history before Sherwood’s appointment.
It worked because it was the rare perfect marriage between a manager and his personnel. For example, you may still have those memories of Christian Benteke, Fabian Delph and Jack Grealish putting on a masterclass performance to beat Liverpool. Maybe you even remember Tom Cleverley putting in strong performances. The stats say… your memories are right!
- Benteke went from a guy who’d scored 3 goals all season to one who scored 11 in 11, including a pair of braces and a hat trick.
- Delph went from recording just 2 assists all season to notching 2 goals and 3 assists in Villa’s strong run.
- Cleverley hadn’t contributed directly to a goal all season — then popped up with 3 goals in as many games in the middle of the run.
Unfortunately, you may know one other thing about those three guys: None of them played another minute for Villa after the FA Cup Final defeat to Arsenal. Cleverley, who’d joined on loan, opted for a permanent switch to Everton instead, while the transfers of Benteke to Liverpool and Delph to City are well-chronicled. With Ron Vlaar leaving on a free, the core of that Villa team gradually left the club over the next summer.
While one viewpoint would posit the “What if?” as, “What if Villa had an actual unified plan in spending the £40 million they got from the Benteke and Delph sales?”, I instead prefer to posit what would’ve happened if Tim Sherwood had a full 38-match Premier League season with his first Villa team.
Maybe it would’ve fizzled out and gone wrong all the same at some point during the year. After all, the start of the Sherwood dream turning into the Sherwood nightmare was at Southampton with those guys on the pitch, not at Leicester City the next September. But that performance at the St Mary’s was one of a team that looked like it had already accomplished its mission — and if it didn’t bleed into the humiliating FA Cup Final defeat a couple weeks later, I would’ve agreed.
But hey, maybe it wouldn’t have. Perhaps there’s an alternate universe out there where, in summer 2014, Aston Villa make a change. They get rid of Paul Lambert a few months earlier, and bring the recently dismissed Sherwood to B6. He immediately institutes the positive brand of football he liked to play, and once Benteke returns from his injury, Villa fire on all cylinders throughout the season. Maybe a top-half finish, instead of a relegation battle, would’ve been in view, and something to progress on.
Perhaps, too, it would’ve impacted how Villa moved forward after the Benteke and Delph sales. Maybe Sherwood would’ve had more say in the signings the club made, providing at the least a unified path forward for the club. I wonder if Jack Grealish would’ve been able to better step into an expanded role.
Alas, Sherwood never got his full season at Villa, as we all know so well. What had gone so swimmingly in the spring suddenly went so poorly in the summer and fall, and before the year was up, Villa were left rudderless and on their way to a certain relegation.
A man can dream, though.