Aston Villa start 2021-22 with loss to Watford; Bailey and co. show there can still be life after Grealish sale
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith will have hardly wished for Villians so start in losing fashion to kick off their 2021-22 Premier League campaign against promoted outfit Watford.
𝗣𝘂𝗿𝗲 𝗲𝗺𝗼𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 🔥
How good does that feel⁉️ pic.twitter.com/jH1ghuTdik
— Watford Football Club (@WatfordFC) August 14, 2021
The Hornets ran out 3-2 winners at Vicarage Road in their return to the top flight of English football, with Xisco Muñoz guiding them to three points in his debut match at the helm after winning the Erovnuli League last season with Dinamo Tbilisi.
Smith would have wanted Villa to start the season brightly against a “lesser” opponent despite being away from Villa Park, especially in the wake of the club parting ways with academy product and local hero Jack Grealish after the England international completed a protracted summer move to Manchester City in a deal worth a reported £100million.
Do Aston Villa miss this man? 😬 pic.twitter.com/eLWoe9HzpT
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) August 14, 2021
But today’s disappointing result left some questioning whether or not Villa already miss the mercurial England man, and though they bagged two goals and nearly completed an impressive comeback after being down 3-0, their xG on the day was only a shade above 1.0, yet still better than Watford’s come the end of 90-minutes.
All eyes have been on Villa and how the club intended to replace one man, and to his credit, club CEO Christian Purslow took to social media in the immediate aftermath of the sale and, with a remarkable amount of clarity and intent, explained the clubs philosophy behind the expected sale and how they would look to press on.
Aston Villa CEO Christian Purslow updated supporters this evening on the circumstances surrounding the departure of Jack Grealish.
Here is his broadcast on VillaTV. pic.twitter.com/7wqh5Vs64R
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) August 5, 2021
Purslow made it clear; the club could not replace Grealish with just one player, and instead, aimed to bring in multiple attacking options that could hit established goals and assists targets that Grealish had previously in 2020-21. In doing so, the club acquired Jamaican sparkplug Leon Bailey from Bayer Leverkusen, Norwich’s Emi Buendía, and Southampton’s Danny Ings in business that would total a combined £89million, with cash left over as pure profit.
Added to the effective Bertrand Traoré and Ollie Watkins (currently unfit), Villa’s attacking depth already looked to be much improved. But that improvement was not on display from the off on Saturday afternoon, as they went 3-0 down by the 67th-minute, with Buendía barely affecting proceedings on his full debut. Furthermore, neither Bailey nor Traoré was included in Smith’s starting XI, but once they came on, greatly affected the flow of the match.
Bailey opened his assist account 10-minutes after his 60th-minute introduction when John McGinn finally got Villa on the scoresheet. Traoré too made a considerable impact off the bench and went on to win the penalty – converted by Danny Ings – that pulled Villa back within a single goal in the final moments of stoppage time.
Both substitutes offered an increased goal threat than was on display before their introductions as well and contributed three of Villa’s 11-shots on the day after Anwar El Ghazi and the aforementioned Buendía registering just a single shot between them.
It is absolutely vital that Dean Smith finds a tactical balance that truly did not exist when Grealish was at the club. So often, Villa relied on the Birmingham native to put the club on his back last season to conjure up the majority of their goal threats; which so often benefitted both Watkins and Traoré. But if Villa is to try to upset the apple cart and push their project to the next level, more expansive play needs to be utilized at Villa Park, where a balanced and direct attacking trio of Bailey, Buendía, and Traoré behind one of Watkins or Ings provides pace, width, technical craft, and chance creation.
There is a real chance that Aston Villa can become a much better version of itself in the wake of losing their most cherished possession, and in that light, perhaps Jack Grealish would have made his biggest contribution to the club he holds so close to his heart.