Watford 3 Aston Villa 2
Last season, Aston Villa flew out of the blocks winning their first four Premier League games inspired by Ollie Watkins, Ross Barkley and Jack Grealish, playing with pomp and intent. This season, with two of those players now departed and Ollie Watkins out due to a pre-season knock, a disjointed Villa made what hopefully is nothing more than a false start.
As soon as Watford took the lead after 10 minutes, it looked like there would be more to come. At 3-0 down, Villa looked like a team who went into the game clueless about their opponent’s strengths (watch out for Sarr, he’s fast) and needing several more weeks pre-season to look like a team.
Villa’s late two-goal rally in the closing stages, felt like the Southampton 4-3 loss at Villa Park last season, when Villa’s three-goal reply was too little, too late.
With Watkins, Douglas Luiz and Morgan Sanson still to return, and the likes of Leon Bailey, Emi Buendia and Bertrand Traore currently lacking match sharpness, surely things can only get better for Villa?
Well, they certainly can’t get much worse than that first half performance at Vicarage Road.
Emiliano Martinez – 6
After the highs of winning the Copa America, certainly this game would have been a jolt to the system, and sharpened Martinez’s mind for the season ahead. Should he have done better for the first goal, that seemed to go under him? Certainly there was little he could do about the last two goals, the deflection off Mings and the cracker from Hernandez.
Matty Cash – 5
Struggled against Sema and showed little in terms of being more influential going forward, a facet of his game we hope to see bigger improvement in, this season. According to Watford fans, he’s just “a sh*t Jack Grealish”.
Ezri Konsa – 5
Lost his man on the first goal, although recovered well to make the initial block. Didn’t seem comfortable, which is normally his default setting.
Tyrone Mings © – 5
Not a great start as captain. While he was the tidiest player with the ball statistically (92.9% pass completion), the defence looked disorganised and unable to cope with Watford on the counter. No doubt he’ll get his backline together for some soul searching before Newcastle.
Matt Targett – 4
Targett was arguably Villa’s most improved player last season, as the defensive side of his game reached another level. After the first-half horror show against Watford though, it seemed like last season never happened. Surely Targett and Villa would have been prepared for the pace of Sarr? It seemed like they knew nothing about him. Did the left-back crumble under the added pressure of having a crowd to contend with?
Marvelous Nakamba – 5
You get the feeling it’s make or break time for Nakamba to make one of the central midfield slots his own. He’s proved effective against better opposition in terms of breaking play up, but against teams where Villa are expected to dictate the midfield, that is where the question mark is. Is his all-round game good enough and can he influence the midfield to play in a 4-4-2, for example?
Against Watford, despite his energy, he didn’t help Villa keep the ball or offer much resistance to Watford’s counter.
John McGinn – 6
The Scot scored a great goal when Villa were 3-0 down and managed to some how run down the rapid Sarr, chasing him back to Villa’s penalty box. But considering how McGinn is regarded as the engine room of Villa’s midfield, why have Villa midfields been repeatedly bossed and overrun?
Is McGinn playing a more individual game and not helping the midfield to keep a more disciplined shape?
What is McGinn’s best midfield position? While he’s acknowledged as being better going forward, is there really a place on Villa’s team sheet to play him in such a role?
Ashley Young – 6
A target for the Watford boo-boys, Young perhaps had a better second half playing at left-back, then he did trying to contribute anything going forward further up the field in the first half. He was reasonably tidy with the ball, but didn’t really make anything happen.
Emi Buendía – 5
Buendia was well managed by Watford, who gave him little time or space to get anything going. He certainly needed his midfield partners closer to him to scheme with around the opponent’s box. He switched to a wider role in the second half, but hopefully we’ll see the best of him when he has the movement of Watkins in front of him.
Danny Ings – 6
Got off the mark with an injury-time consolidation penalty, but was well marshalled by the Watford backline, who were rarely troubled by him. Villa didn’t really create any kind of sustained pressure to give Ings a real sniff at goal, and he finished the game with just one shot (on target).
Anwar El Ghazi – 4
This was a gross example of El Ghazi not taking his opportunity. He couldn’t make the ball stick, had poor decision making, didn’t track back properly and had zero influence on the game. There was no surprise to see him getting hooked on the hour mark. He had a decent season last term in terms of headline stats, but we were hoping that he’d kick on this season in terms of offering up more consistent performances.
Get Prepared for Villa Park…
Off the Bench
Jacob Ramsey (45) 6
Added spark for a brief period to try and get Villa going in the second half, with a long range half-volley his best attempt. He was hardly going to be a substitute to turn the game on its head though.
Leon Bailey (60) 6.5
Bailey perhaps wasn’t expecting to be used in the opener, considering he only just came out of quarantine, but the Jamaican looked promising from his half-hour stint. A decent assist was an example of his crossing ability. Will probably now start against Newcastle, after a further week of getting to know his teammates.
Bertrand Traore (72) 6
Won Villa’s injury-time penalty, highlighting the fact he can give opponents something to think about when he comes off the bench. Will that be his main role this season?
Dean Smith – 5
It was a tricky start for Dean Smith being away to the team with the best home record across the four top English leagues last season, with key players either unavailable or not match fit. That said, the first half was one of the poorest under Smith, we’ve seen during his time at Villa.
A lot has been made about the increased depth in the Villa squad, but what was lacking more than anything was organisation and a lack of a plan to deal with Watford’s more obvious threats.
Smith at least reacted swifter than in previous seasons in terms of his substitutes, the likes of Bailey and Traore were perhaps not fit enough to be thrown on earlier, or there may have been a more dramatic switch at half-time.
Was Wesley not an option? If not, then it doesn’t say much about his chances this season (are Villa about to cut their loses on him?)
The fundamental issue though is can Smith get the midfield mix right? Is Sanson our great hope? Where does McGinn fit into our best first XI? Are Villa actually thinking about getting anybody in?
Hopefully Watkins’ return will make a huge difference, in terms of how Villa look going forward. Until McGinn scored in the 70th minute, they hadn’t registered a shot on goal and that has got to change.