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First Team

Hot Off The Press: Aston Villa

The Athletic's Gregg Evans previews The Villains

27 August 2021

After a comfortable mid-table Premier League finish last season, Aston Villa have started this term with a narrow 3-2 defeat to Watford and 2-0 win over Newcastle. What have you made of what you’ve seen so far?

I thought they were very poor against Watford. It was probably always going to be a difficult game for them, facing a side returning to the Premier League with a jubilant crowd behind them, but they underperformed – it is as simple as that. They put it right against Newcastle, though, and the difference this season is maybe now they have got quality players who can actually put teams away. There wasn’t much between the two teams at all and I think we will probably see Villa prevailing in tighter games like that. 

Jack Grealish was sold to Manchester City in the summer for £100 million, making him the most expensive English player in history. What was the reaction to his departure like?

The fans were really disappointed. They thought that, because he signed a five-year deal last summer, he was here to stay, particularly given his comments about how he loved the club and wanted to be part of its future. I think the majority just wanted one more season from him to see if he could help them move to the next level and then, if it didn’t happen, they would let him leave – not fully with their blessing – but with a little bit more respect. They were disappointed but the business that has been done with some of the money generated by the sale of Jack makes it feel as though they have more options now, rather than everything going through him.

The club have been very active in the transfer market, though, with the best part of £90m having been spent on Emi Buendia, Leon Bailey and Danny Ings alone. How impressed have you been with their dealings and do you expect any further incomings?

I have been very impressed because there aren’t many teams, other than the Premier League’s elite, that can lose a player like Grealish and then quickly bring in the quality additions they have to compensate for his departure. I think it is going to take a little bit of time for them to all get used to playing with one another, but they bring different styles, allowing Villa to set up in different formations, which is something Dean Smith wanted.

Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on this Saturday?

It goes without saying that they will be eager to see Ollie Watkins if he’s back! I’d say Danny Ings, too. He was exceptional across the last three seasons for Southampton and he has two goals in two league games already, which shows just how dangerous he is going to be.

How is Dean Smith likely to set up his side at Villa Park?

I think it will probably be a 4-3-3 and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same team as the one Smith named for the Newcastle game, which was: Martinez, Cash, Konsa, Mings, Young, McGinn, Douglas Luiz, Ramsey, Buendia, Ings, El Ghazi. The only difference may be that Watkins could potentially come in for Buendia.

Brentford were something of a bogey team for Villa last time they were in the Championship, winning three of the six meetings between the two teams. What’s your score prediction for this one?

I think I’m going to have to sit on the fence because Brentford do always do well against Villa! I have been quite impressed with them so far and I think they could be in for quite a good season, so I’m going to say 1-1.

The last tickets for Saturday's match are currently on sale to Season Ticket Holders and My Bees Members. They are only available for the Box Office at our stadium.

Full ticket information can be seen here.


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