A challenging assignment awaits Watford during their first game back in the Premier League, with Dean Smith’s new-look Aston Villa side paying a visit to Vicarage Road on Saturday afternoon.
The Hornets’ haul of 91 points saw them achieve automatic promotion back to the big time, whereas Villa ultimately fell short in their pursuit of European football.
Xisco Munoz could hardly have envisaged the dream start to life he has enjoyed in the Vicarage Road dugout, with his opening game – a Boxing Day success over eventual winners Norwich City – setting his side up for a magical six months in the Championship.
There were a few blips along the way – namely defeats to Luton Town and Brentford, as well as dropping two points at Middlesbrough – but Xisco steered Watford back into the top flight at the first time of asking following their devastating relegation in the 2019-20 season.
An array of talented players in Imran Louza, Joshua King, Emmanuel Dennis and Juraj Kucka have arrived at Vicarage Road as Watford bid to become an established Premier League outfit, but recent pre-season results have not led to a greater sense of optimism.
The Hornets saw off Millwall, Doncaster Rovers and Colchester United twice in pre-season but fell to defeat against three Premier League outfits in Crystal Palace, Arsenal and Brentford, as well as being held to a goalless draw by West Bromwich Albion.
However, as the Premier League prepares to open its doors to capacity crowds once more, Watford will aim to build on a stellar run of form which saw them win each of their last nine home games in last season’s Championship, scoring 22 goals and conceding a mere two in that hot streak.
As ambitious as Aston Villa’s owners are, the signings of Emiliano Buendia, Danny Ings and Leon Bailey hinted that the club were preparing for the inevitable departure of Jack Grealish, who now holds the accolade of being the most expensive British player in history.
Watford and Villa have never met on the opening day of the season before, and the last two meetings at Vicarage Road have seen the Hornets run out 3-2 and 3-0 winners, although Villa won 2-1 in the most recent encounter back in January 2020.
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