So we stand on the threshold of a new Premier League season having lost our talisman and captain but £100m richer. We’ve also lost JT and the gravitas that he brings to the club but we always knew he would move on at some point. Austin MacPhee has joined as set-piece coach and may be JT’s ‘replacement’.
As usual I’m full of optimism that this will be the season where we break into the top six and Europe but also with nagging doubts given the performance statistics over the last four seasons when Grealish was absent from the team.
NSWE have once again put their hands deep into their pockets and backed Smith to the tune of around £100m (it’s been reported that we paid a £5m loan fee for Tuanzebe) with possibly more signings to come. Buendia and Ings were a master class in transfer dealings and both will improve Villa’s attacking options. Add to that the signing of Bailey, although a bit of an unknown in Premier League terms, and the shrewd addition of Young and there’s no doubt the squad has been strengthened despite the outgoing(s)!
Although I didn’t see the friendly against Salernitana reports suggest that we played a less intricate more direct style of football adopting a 4-2-2-2 style of play with Nakamba and McGinn the two defensive midfielders and Ings and Watkins up top.
Contrary to most expectations it seems Ings ‘drifted’ and Watkins continued to play a more central attacking role on the defender’s shoulders.
The other interesting observation from Sunday’s game is the impact that MacPhee is already making in terms of more variety at set pieces and throw-ins.
Injuries though are already a major concern.
Watkins (thigh), Buendia (hip), Sanson (knee), Guilbert (unknown) are all likely to miss the Watford game. Bailey is completing his quarantine and Luiz is likely to be absent for two to three weeks following his goal medal at the Olympics. Trezeguet is a long term absentee and Davis is out injured – again.
It’s likely we will be fielding a ‘weakened’ side with possibly both Ramsey and Philogene-Bodace starting. It seems to me that we can ill afford to offload El Ghazi or Hourihane at present with the number of senior players unavailable.
Watford, as you might expect, have bought in a lot of new players including Danny Rose and Joshua King who bring experience to the side. They have a class winger in Sarr and our old nemesis Troy Deeney up front who delights in scoring against us – far too often.
Under Xisco Munoz they are likely to employ a very open attacking style of play and will surprise a few sides, particularly at home, but it remains to be seen whether a philosophy of scoring one more goal than the opposition will work. Our own experiences in the EPL suggests not.
Villa have only played Watford 18 times and results between the teams are pretty even. We’ve only managed to win once away from home (L5 D3) conceding an average of 2.11 goals per game. We last played them in our awful relegation season of 2015/2016 losing both games.
if we have aspirations of a top six finish then these are the games we need to win; but playing a promoted side on their own ground on the opening day of the season is notoriously difficult to call. With the return of crowds and the likelihood we’ll be missing some key players then this is a tough opening fixture.
A draw for me.