Aston Villa begin their post-Jack Grealish era with a shock loss against Watford at Vicarage Road, much to the displeasure of Dean Smith.

Aston Villa endured a forgettable start to the 2021/22 Premier League season by losing 3-2 to Watford at Vicarage Road. Dean Smith’s side had several players unavailable, but their performance on the afternoon left much to be desired.

Villa weren’t just defeated but thoroughly outplayed on the afternoon. Ollie Watkins was not fit enough to feature, but Emi Buendia made his debut for the Midlands side alongside fellow summer signing Danny Ings.

It was not just the new players who struggled at Vicarage Road. Last seasons’ Player’s Player of the Year winner Matt Targett had a total mare and was harassed by a lively Ismaila Sarr all game long. The Senegalese winger consistently got the better of the Villa man, playing a major role in Watford’s win on the opening day.

The Villans had the lion’s share of the ball but failed to do much with it. In the end, all they managed to create were two paltry shots on goal, one of which came from the penalty spot.

Watford, on the other hand, took their chances and raced to a 3-0 lead. John McGinn reduced the deficit before Ings gave the scoreline a more respectable look in stoppage time. It does, however, do little to mask how out of tune Villa looked and much needs to be done if they are to improve upon last seasons’ 11th placed finish.

Emiliano Martinez: 5/10

The Argentine star will be angry with himself for not keeping out Watford’s opener. While he was largely alert and saved a few long-range strikes, he was rendered helpless for Watford’s second thanks to an unfortunate deflection. Could do little about the third goal and otherwise kept the scoreline respectable.

Matty Cash: 4/10

He received plenty of flak from the home crowd and did little to silence them through his performances. Ken Sema and Juraj Kucka had his number all afternoon and did little of note to write home about.

Ezri Konsa: 5/10

In his defence, the youngster was afforded little protection against an inspired Watford attack. He largely cut a frustrated figure and was consistently challenged by the lively Emmanuel Dennis.

Tyrone Mings: 5/10

Handed the captain’s armband, he will need to do much more to justify the faith placed in him. Matt Targett’s struggles consistently pulled Mings towards the left, leaving avenues open for Watford to steam into. He was subject to an unfortunate deflection that saw Ismaila Sarr’s strike loop in off him past Martinez.

Matt Targett: 3/10

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A nightmare afternoon for the defender who had to be replaced at the break. Such was Ismaila Sarr’s dominance over him that one could not help but look on it pity. A far cry from the player who was phenomenal for Villa last season.

John McGinn: 6.5/10

Villa’s best player on the afternoon. He was, however, unable to compete against Watford’s trio of Tom Cleverley, Peter Etebo and Juraj Kucka and was overwhelmed physically and tactically. He showed off his defensive and offensive abilities and scored an excellent goal for his side.

With Grealish gone, the onus to make things tick in the midfield will now be on the Scotsman. Held his own while those around him fell apart and could have a huge role to play this season.

McGinn was Villa's best midfielder on the night. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

McGinn was Villa’s best midfielder on the day. (Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Marvelous Nakamba: 5/10

If there was anything marvelous about him on the day, it had to be his name. However, it was not due to any lack of effort, as he kept at it even while being constantly hounded by the Watford midfield. The Zimbabwean is good on the ball but was hardly given any time, forcing him into tight corners and awkward spaces. A forgettable outing that might have taught him a few lessons on what he lacks.

Anwar El Ghazi: 3/10

Played with the composure of a man who appears to know his time at the club is up. Failed to track back on numerous occasions and did little of note going forward. His most notable moment in the game came at the hour mark when he was substituted.

Emiliano Buendia: 4/10

Absolutely bossed off the ball by Watford’s midfield. The Argentine was not allowed to have a moment’s peace and was closed down as soon as possible. While he will have moments to savour in the games to come, the trip to Vicarage Road was a humbling debut for a very exciting player.

Ashley Young: 4/10

Making his second debut for Villa against the side where he began his footballing journey, Young could not cope with Watford’s energy and intent. He showed off his vast experience by containing Sarr to an extent in the second half. Age is catching up with him physically but he remains an excellent reader of the game — otherwise a very average second debut for the veteran star.

Danny Ings: 5/10

The intent was there, but the application was poor. The Watford defence dealt well with the Englishman and left him frustrated all afternoon. His stoppage-time penalty masks what was a largely invisible performance where he was left chasing shadows.

Substitutes

Jacob Ramsey: 5/10

Brought on for Targett at half-time, his introduction was a welcome relief for Villa fans. While he did not particularly stand out, he was one of Villa’s better performers and saw a volley go just wide.

Leon Bailey: 5/10

This season, much will be expected of the Jamaican international, who provided new intent to a largely inert Villa attack. Showed purpose and vision and will be a key player for the squad in the future.

Bertrand Traore: 5/10

Another player who came off the bench to improve Villa’s performances on the pitch. He replaced Buendia and outdid the Argentine on the field. It was he who won Villa the stoppage-time penalty that Ings converted.

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