Aston Villa kicked off their Premier League campaign in a 3-2 defeat to newly-promoted Watford at Vicarage Road.

Manager Dean Smith blasted his side following an unrecognisable first-half display: “In the first half they were miles off it from where we need to be at this club, I told them that in no uncertain terms at half-time.”.

Villa were shocked in the first half when Watford raced to a 2-0 lead courtesy of goals from Emmanuel Dennis and Ismaila Sarr leaving themselves with plenty to do in the second half.

The home side soon put Villa’s game out of sight when Cucho Hernandez curled home a beauty of a shot on 67 minutes.

John McGinn pulled one back with a superb sweeping volley, assisted by Leon Bailey a few minutes later. A Danny Ings then slotted home an injury-time penalty to give the home side a nervy final few minutes but the scoreline probably flattered a poor Villa performance.

“I won’t accept performances like that in the first half. We came here to win a football game and do enough to win a football game and we helped Watford on their way.”

The bad

  • Aston Villa’s pre-season was far from ideal. Watford looked fitter and well-drilled while Villa looked clueless and more like the side that had just been promoted. Cancelled friendlies, out of the club’s control, and the Jack Grealish saga didn’t help anyone and it showed.
  • Tactically the manager got it wrong in my opinion. Villa do not have the players to play a two-man midfield. During our final pre-season friendly against Salernitana, they hit us on the counter-attack and we couldn’t have easily been 0-2 down at one point during that game. Watford exposed this on Saturday with a lot more pace and far more clinical.
  • There was a big emphasis on improving over the summer and I feel that Villa have achieved this however there are two things that worry me. The first is obvious, we desperately need a strong defensive midfielder. The problem is, it’s easier said than done. Most clubs want a N’Golo Kante style player but they are few and far between and certainly not cheap.
  • Another issue regarding the recruitment is it feels as if Smith is trying to fit in all the players, even if it means playing them out of position. There is nothing wrong with making players fight for their position. All the top clubs do it. They have talent on the bench. For example, if we are to play both Ollie Watkins and Ings upfront, it means we will be exposed in the midfield. What’s wrong with getting them to fight it out for the one position? No doubt all the players will want to play but at the same time, in the modern game, they will know by now they have to earn it.

Smith was unhappy with Villa's defeat to Watford

The Good

  • Despite a very below-par performance, Villa still had a very small chance of taking something from the game. Yes, it was a little late to turn up and they left themselves far too much to do but it could and probably should have been far worse.
  • Smith realised that it wasn’t working in the first half. Matty Targett was substituted and Jacob Ramsey was introduced to bolster that midfield. It is no coincidence that we improved in the season half.
  • There are 38 games in a Premier League season. All those that matter will know that performance or result was unacceptable.
  • Leon Bailey’s cameo debut performance was impressive. I am a big fan of the Jamaican winger but I didn’t quite expect the impact he made. He immediately wanted the ball and looked to run at the Watford defence and also assisted John McGinn’s goal.
  • The biggest positive was the return of football fans. And of course away fans. Those that travelled, left disappointed but didn’t allow the result to dampen their day. Now we all look forward to a much-improved performance in front of a packed Villa Park when Newcastle come to Birmingham next weekend.

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