The 2021/22 Premier League season is upon us, and Aston Villa are set to open at newly-promoted Watford on Saturday at 3:00 PM BST.
New-look Villa enter the campaign without Jack Grealish for the first time since before relegation to the Championship in 2016, and although a host of new signings will soften the blow, there are many questions yet to unanswered.
Watford, the side Villa relegated with a 1-1 draw at West Ham on the final day of the 2019/20 season, returns to the Premier League after one season in the Championship. They finished second behind Norwich City with 27 wins and 91 points, earning automatic promotion.
In 2019/20 the sides split their two Premier League matches. On December 28, 2019, Watford secured a 3-0 win at Vicarage Road with goals coming from Troy Deeney (2) and Ismaila Sarr.
The heroics of Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa fired Villa to a 2-1 victory via a 95th-minute winner on January 21, 2020, at Villa Park. The goal and result proved to be historic as Villa survived at Watford’s peril.
Deeney tallied Watford’s only goal in that defeat. The 33-year-old forward has scored six goals in four career matches vs. Aston Villa.
Of note: Watford won an incredible19 of 23 games at Vicarage Road last season. The ground proved to be a fortress for the side and helped fire them to promotion.
Villa manager Dean Smith was initially hopeful Ollie Watkins would be fit after bruising his knee in the preseason finale vs. Salernitana on Sunday, but the gaffer has thrown the forward’s status in doubt at his prematch presser on Friday.
"“Ollie had a bang on his knee. He’s got some bone bruising. We’ll see if he’s pain free today. If he is, he will train and be available for tomorrow.”Dean Smith on Ollie Watkins"
Smith added that new signings Emi Buendia and Leon Bailey were both available for selection. Buendia had been carrying a knock, and Bailey only arrived at Bodymoor Heath on Thursday, and the duo was initially in doubt for Watford.
Missing from the squad are Douglas Luiz–expected back in training on Monday after winning the gold medal with Brazil at the Olympics–and Trézéguet, the latter of which will be out long term.
Morgan Sanson is expected to miss out and has only recently rejoined training. Bertrand Traore came on as a sub against Salernitana after missing the start of preseason and should be available for selection.
According to Watford’s official website, manager Xisco Muñoz has “a near fully-fit squad to choose from.” Among the players unavailable are Joshua King, Nathaniel Chalobah, and 19-year-old forward João Pedro.
Sarr, who led the team with 13 goals in the Championship last season, will start on the right side for Watford. He’s a player that’s been linked with Villa since Watford were relegated last summer.
Also expected to start in the base of midfield is former Villan, Tom Cleverley. The 32-year-old scored four times in 34 matches last season.
Aston Villa projected Starting XI: Martinez; Cash, Konsa, Mings, Targett; Nakamba, McGinn; Traore, Buendia, El Ghazi; Ings
Watford projected Starting XI (via The Guardian): Bachman; Femenia, Troost-Ekong, Cathcart, Rose; Cleverly; Etebo, Louza; Sarr, Hernandez, Dennis
Date/time: Saturday, August 14 at 3:00 PM BST/10:00 AM EST
Ground: Vicarage Road
Referee: Mike Dean
TV/Streaming UK: None
TV/Streaming US: Peacock