Final Score: AV-3 QPR-3
Goals galore in this one! From a neutral perspective it was a fantastically entertaining game. Sherwood's talk before the game must have "let's bring the game to them right away and hit them hard. Let’s get our target man Benteke involved straight away". And that’s what they exactly did. AV let up a goal in the 6th minute when Bacuna didn’t deal with a header and knocked it right back into the mix of players in the box. Horrible mistake. He should’ve headed it wide and high. However, for rest of the half I felt AV showed a great attacking mentality. Benteke (who was by far man of the match) responded in the 9th minute to tie the game. Again from a coaching standpoint you can see the defensive mistake by Isla. He must keep Benteke wide and keep him on his left foot. As soon as Benteke was able to check inside and get room with his right foot to shoot it was over. Rule for defenders: when inside your own final third, keep the attacker wide! Who I was also very impressed with was Jack Grealish. He operated in the space right beneath Benteke and was full of energy and confidence on the ball. He took all set pieces and was not afraid of driving at the back line. Crucial skill for an attacking CM. AV second goal was the definition of how to counter attack. One touch ball out, one touch ball by Agbonlahor to find Benteke in space (who stayed on side), and the Benteke went straight to goal. One touch, one touch, then explode to goal! It was a great picture there. Early on both teams showed a willingness to commit numbers forward, so goals were always going to be in this game. Credit to Villa for seizing this great opportunity to expose QPR when they had many numbers up.
At half time, if I were Sherwood I would’ve said: "Keep going with this same spirit! But remember, it’s only half way. What is working is trying to find Benteke into space behind or into him up to link up with others. Either way they can’t handle him. Continue to find him when you can". If I where Ramsey for QPR, I would’ve said: "We are dangerous on crosses and balls into the air for Zamora and Austin. Philips needs to keep providing service (excellent job) but we need more from Krancjar. Play quicker and serve balls in quicker. No more silly fouls, slows the game down for them. Lastly, we must defend Benteke and Grealish better. Don’t give either of them space no matter where they are on the field".
How QPR got back into this game was impressive to me because AV more or less dominated the first half. What helped them a lot was Ramsey's tactical adjustment in the 50th minute. They subbed on Henry for Krancjar and Traore for Isla. This allowed QPR to go to 3-5-2 with Philips and Traore as attacking wing backs. These two men got forward excellently (especially Philips who supported the forwards well). It also allowed QPR to go 3 vs. 3 centrally in the field and allow them to have a bit more control of the game. Excellent attacking move by Ramsey! I was also much more impressed with Onuoha's defending in the second half. He made some excellent challenges and did not give Benteke as much freedom to make dangerous runs. He made an especially good play on Benteke in the 59th minute, where he kept Benteke wide and did not allow him to check back inside to shoot like his earlier goal. If you go back and compare these two clips, you'll notice how much better the defending is by Onouha than compared to Isla. Isla in fact gets turned all the way around, which is a cardinal sin in defending.
What confused me by Sherwood was his decision to sub Grealish. I thought he got the tactics right from the start, but why would you want to sub your second most confident and dangerous player? The attacking quality went down with J. Cole and without Benteke's brilliant free kick. Villa might have blown getting even a point. In conclusion, I would say that a point a piece is fair because QPR grew into the second half and made sure to capitalize on their opportunities. They certainly were not outplayed like they were in the first half. If I am Villa, what I take away is the same attacking mentality into the next game. Where to improve is stopping service from wide areas and being better able to able big CF's like Zamora and Austin.