Aston Villa return to Premier League action on Saturday as they start with a trip to Vicarage Road to face the Hornets.
Dean Smith’s side has experienced an interesting pre-season with wins against Walsall, Bristol City and most recently against the newly promoted Serie A outfit Salernitana. A loss to Stoke City was the only negative result however, games against Nottingham Forest and Sevilla were both cancelled due to COVID outbreaks. An all too obvious reminder of the absence from grounds that fans have faced for so long.
Saturday afternoon will see Watford return to the Premier League at the first time of asking since their relegation in the 2019/20 season. Xisco Munoz guided his men to second place and a subsequent automatic promotion place as they finished six points behind Norwich City and four points clear of Brentford in the first playoff spot.
Watford started their pre-season build up with a win over Colchester and suffered losses to Brentford and Crystal Palace either side of two draws with West Bromwich Albion and Stevenage.
For Aston Villa, it presents itself as a fixture in which they will be targeting an early away win but with numerous players missing and it being the first game of the season, it is also an unpredictable one.
Finishing 11th last season was a major improvement on the final day drama of a relegation escape in 2019/20 but a mid-season dip in form which saw only two wins in ten games culminated in a season of what could have been.
The standout story of the summer has been the departure of Jack Grealish who was both the captain and the face of the club but the owners acted swiftly to bring in players ahead of his move to Manchester City in recruiting Emi Buendia, Leon Bailey and Danny Ings amongst others.
Despite the initial blow, it provides more balance across the attack with pace, creativity and a proven record of goals being added in to the side.
Ashley Young has received a welcome return to the club and has been one of the stand out players during pre-season.
Villa fans have also been pleased to see the return of Axel Tuanzebe on loan from Manchester United who will provide depth in multiple positions.
Aston Villa Team News
Aston Villa will have to contend with numerous absences ahead of the opening game. Emi Buendia (hip) faces a fitness test, Leon Bailey is still undergoing his isolation period, Morgan Sanson (knee) has not yet returned to training and Douglas Luiz has just left Japan following winning Olympic gold with Brazil.
Trezeguet (ACL) remains a long term injury and Keinan Davis is also sidelined.
Striker Ollie Watkins (bruised knee) should make the game according to Dean Smith after coming off in the recent 3-1 win against Salernitana.
Former Southampton striker Danny Ings should make his debut and will look to continue to build upon an impressive record that has seen him score 31 goals (not including penalties) since the start of 2019/20 (Only Harry Kane (35) and Mohamed Salah (32) have scored more).
Possible starting line up:
Martinez, Targett, Mings, Konsa, Cash, Nakamba, McGinn, El Ghazi, Buendia, Watkins, Ings
Watford Team News
Watford will kick off their return to the top-flight with very few injury concerns. Domingos Quina (thigh) is likely to miss out and Will Hughes has been training with the Under-23 side as his contract talks continue to cause problems.
The Hornets have a lot of competition across midfield and Xisco Munoz will have some tough decisions to make in regards to who starts from the likes of Imran Louza, Peter Etebo, Juraj Kucka and Tom Cleverley.
Cucho Hernandez will likely start ahead of Troy Deeney up front.
Possible starting line up:
Bachmann, Rose, Cathcart, Troost-Ekong, Femenia, Louza, Cleverley, Etebo, Sarr, Hernandez, Dennis
His primary strengths are his finishing and his dribbling where he likes to cut inside the defender and often wins fouls from opponents.
The Senegalese international played 39 games last season and had 32 shots on target from 65 attempts at goal, scoring 13 times.
Sarr averaged 27 passes per match with a completion rate of 79% and also provided 4 assists.
The previous season, Sarr scored 5 goals and assisted 4 times in 28 appearances in the Premier League.
He continues to be linked with the likes of Manchester United and now Tottenham Hotspur.
Head to Head record:
Watford 8 wins, 5 draws, Aston Villa 8 wins
Last five meetings:
21 Jan 2020 – Aston Villa 2-1 Watford (Premier League)
28 Dec 2019 – Watford 3-0 Aston Villa (Premier League)
30 Apr 2016 – Watford 3-2 Aston Villa (Premier League)
28 Nov 2015 – Aston Villa 2-3 Watford (Premier League)
20 Jan 2007 – Aston Villa 2-0 Watford (Premier League)
AVILLAFAN MATCH PREDICTION
With a host of absences and it being difficult to second guess Dean Smith’s first starting line up of the season, it could be a difficult game to expect a win. A lot will be down to who is available.
Watford had a fantastic home record last season and they have added to their attacking ranks to supplement the likes of the impressive Ismaila Sarr.
After asking the panel we are edging towards a 2-1 for Aston Villa.
Tip of the day
With both sides looking to play on the front foot and a plethora of attacking midfielders within both sides, the tip of the day is over 2.5 goals in the game.
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