Aston Villa start the post-Jack Grealish era against newly promoted Watford on Saturday, but Dean Smith is confident his squad has improved.
Grealish joined Premier League champions Manchester City in a British record £100million deal earlier this month.
Villa have reinvested, signing Emiliano Buendia, Ashley Young, Leon Bailey, Danny Ings and Axel Tuanzebe, who arrived on loan from Manchester United this week.
“Now we’ve got more variation, more adaptability, and more depth and that’s really important,” Smith explained. “I wanted to build a better team if Jack left and I feel we can do that.” here was an over-reliance at times, an unconscious over-reliance on Jack. I think we’ve moved away from that now.
“Only time will tell if that’s a good thing but we believe in the team we’ve got and the squad we’ve got.”
Watford boss Xisco Munoz, meanwhile, is thrilled to be leading the Hornets in the top flight.
“I can’t wait for this moment,” said Munoz. “We will play with aggression, with passion. We know how important points are in the Premier League, from the first point to the last point. I’m sure when everyone comes to the stadium, they are proud of our team. This is the most important thing for me. This is our objective.
“It’s important we have balance. When you play in a very good league, you need this balance. The most important thing this season is to continue with the clean sheets, it’s important we start and improve with this system, and after we will see.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Watford – Troy Deeney
Deeney has scored in all four of his Premier League meetings with Aston Villa, netting six goals in total. Three of those six goals have proved to be the winning goal of the game for the Hornets.
Aston Villa – Emiliano Buendia
Buendia created the most chances (123) and made the most assists (16) of any player in the Championship last season. In his only previous Premier League campaign of 2019-20, the Argentine ranked fourth for chances created (83) despite finishing bottom with Norwich.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Xisco will be the ninth different manager to take charge of a Premier League game for Watford – none of the previous eight have won their first such game at the helm for the Hornets (D4 L4, excluding second spells).
– This will be the first ever meeting between Watford and Aston Villa on the opening day of a league season. The Hornets have won six of their previous 10 home league games against Villa (D3 L1).
– Watford have lost their opening league match in just one of the last 14 seasons (W7 D6) since losing six consecutive such games between 2001-02 and 2006-07. Their one defeat in the last 14 seasons came at home to Brighton and Hove Albion in 2019-20 (3-0).
– Watford have won their last nine home league games, their best ever home winning streak in their Football League history. They’ve won each of their last seven league matches at Vicarage Road without conceding – the last team to have a longer run of consecutive home league wins while keeping a clean sheet each time in England’s top four tiers was Chelsea in 2010 (9).
– Aston Villa finished last season with consecutive Premier League wins against Tottenham and Chelsea. The Villans last won more consecutively in their opening four games of 2020-21.