Dave Woodhall watches Villa lose their opening game at Watford.
Train delays, road delays. It was just like we’d never been away as the 2021-22 season got going and visiting supporters were finally allowed into the match again.
The first big news before the start at Vicarage Road was that Tyrone Mings is Villa’s new captain. That was about as unsurprising as the line-up or, to be more precise, as the news that Ollie Watkins was out because it wouldn’t be a Villa pre-season without at least one injury. Ashley Young started for his old team against his older team, there were debuts for Emi Buendia and Danny Ings, with strength in depth and not a small amount of unpredictability on the bench, including three Academy graduates.
Looking at the available options there wasn’t much excuse for Dean Smith not to be able to make changes as the game progressed.
And changes had to be made, although they were not only too late, they were also pointless. Villa could have brought on three replacements without taking anyone off and still lost. Two down at the break and a third arriving not long afterwards as a matter of routine, this was an opening day wake-up of the highest order.
Goals from John McGinn and Danny Ings gave the scoreline a semblance of respect that it didn’t deserve. The end result was a comprehensive beating that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season unless both team and coaching staff sharpen up their acts. Smiffy said the team treated it like a friendly and while that’s true, it’s also his responsibility.
There are some mitigating factors, not least that pre-season training was disrupted on an almost daily basis with games being called off, Smith’s illness, coaches leaving and injuries, not to mention a certain circus that still hasn’t entirely left town. We also have Douglas Luiz to return, and boy is he needed.
Having said that, though, other clubs have had similar problems and coped much better. Of the new arrivals, Leon Bailey looked impressive, Ings and Buendia didn’t and Ashley Young proved that he’s a back-up left-back far more than he’s a starting winger.
The established players fared little better. Matt Targett was taken off at half-time, Matty Cash wasn’t far behind and the centre of midfield showed its usual lack of coherence. Marvelous Nakamba might have impressed in pre-season but yet again he didn’t do much when the real action started while the one thing that McGinn showed was something we already know – he becomes more effective the further up the pitch he plays.
There’s no excuse for further investment in the next couple of weeks. The money is there, FFP isn’t an issue and there is at least one problem that needs fixing. Idrissa Gueye seems to be surplus to the bottomless requirements of PSG and in the short-term at least he might be the answer. He knows the club and as a survivor of the debacle that was 2015-16 he would have recognised Saturday’s performance.
A packed Villa Park will give the team a chance to get it right next Saturday. Onwards and, please God, upwards.