The Hornets started the season in flying form by defeating Aston Villa 3-2. Goals from Emmanuel Dennis, Ismaila Sarr, and Cucho Hernandez were enough to fire the Hornets to the three points before goals from John McGinn and Danny Ings allowed for a nervy end to the match. Xisco Munoz will be ecstatic with how his team performed, as Watford more than proved that they will not be a pushover this season.
Daniel Bachmann: the Austrian goalkeeper was not at fault for either of the goals conceded. Last season, his decision-making when it came to coming off of his line and claiming crosses was sometimes questionable. However, on this occasion, he commanded the box and looked as sound as ever.
Adam Masina: solid for the first 68 minutes, performing notably well in the air having won five aerial duels. However, the penalty the left-back conceded in the dying embers of the match was lazy and unacceptable. In most other matches, lapses in concentration like that could lead to relegation-determining points lost. He could have also done better (admittedly, this is a harsh critique) to close down McGinn on Aston Villa’s opening goal.
Christian Kabasele: after only featuring three times for Xisco last season (mainly thanks to injury), Kabasele performed considerably well in the center of the defense. Like Masina, he was aerially strong.
William Troost-Ekong: like Kabasele, the Super Eagles’ center-back performed well to keep Ings and Emiliano Buendia at bay. However, as will be discussed, the two center-back’s jobs were made much easier by the men in front of them.
Craig Cathcart: his inclusion as a right-back was one of the big shocks when the lineups were announced, causing many Hornets’ supporters to question Xisco’s decision to start him. In fairness to Cathcart, he allowed for the backline to keep a natural defensive shape by never committing too high up the pitch. Considering he played out of position, he did what Xisco needed him to do. However, once Leon Bailey came onto the pitch, Cathcart did seem to be more out of place.
*Peter Etebo: one of Watford’s four key players from the match, Etebo made life for the center-backs easy through his aggressive defending and ball-recovering acumen. Even if Will Hughes departs, Etebo seems more than capable of replacing him in Xisco’s system.
**Juraj Kucka**: the Watford Opinions Man of the Match winner had a near-perfect performance. Like Etebo, Kucka defended in tremendous fashion, disallowing Dean Smith’s side from gaining control of the center of the park. From the 34-year-old’s countless nutmegs to his combative style of play, he is a dream to have in the squad and a nightmare to play against. Most notably, and perhaps the most understated as well, were his contributions to two of Watford’s goals. His clearance on the edge of the box found Sarr to spur the counterattack for the Hornets’ second goal. His run forward after Watford regained possession was key in the counterattack ending in Cucho’s wondergoal. He was the perfect conduit from defensive phases of play to attacking phases and offers proof that age is just a number.
Tom Cleverley: the ever-reliable midfielder, despite frequently being excluded from supporters’ preferred starting elevens, showed he still has the ability to perform well in the Premier League. His work rate was as good as ever, playing through a hard challenge to hook the ball into Cucho’s path for Watford’s third goal of the match. He played a pivotal role in ensuring Watford dominated the heart of the pitch.
Ken Sema: the 27-year-old was isolated for most of the match, not offering nearly as much as his two attacking partners. However, he did track back well when he needed to. Unfortunately, the left-winger did not find the room to fizz in the teasing crosses from the byline that he became known for in the Championship.
*Emmanuel Dennis: one of Watford’s many new signings, the decision to start him at center-forward came as a surprise considering Cucho appeared the obvious first choice (with Dennis seeming as if he would find minutes on the left-wing as he did in preseason against Crystal Palace). The 23-year-old more than justified his inclusion, linking up with Sarr brilliantly multiple times on scintillating, rapid counterattacks. Dennis earned himself a more-than-deserved debut goal and assist, as well as giving the Aston Villa defense no time to build out from the back.
*Ismaila Sarr: the fourth of Watford’s stars of the match, the Club’s record-signing yet again proved why he is so highly rated. The right-winger set up Dennis perfectly for the opening goal (although he does not get credit with the assist as the center-forward’s initial shot was blocked) before doubling Watford’s lead thanks to a deflected shot. He outclassed Matt Targett to such an extreme extent in the first half to the point where Dean Smith subbed off the left-back at the halftime interval. If Sarr plays like this more often than not, the sky is the limit for his goal and assist tallies come the season’s conclusion.
Cucho Hernandez: at long last, he got to make his Vicarage Road debut. Within one minute, he submitted the Club’s first entry for the goal of the season award – a curling wonder-strike that proved to be the match-winner. Starting Cucho against Brighton next week appears like a must. Considering his goal came from when he picked up the ball on the left flank and cut in, perhaps the Hornets will line up with a front three of Cucho-Dennis-Sarr with Cucho as an inverted left-winger.
Dan Gosling: the unfortunate truth is once Gosling came on, Watford lost control of the midfield and conceded twice. He did not sufficiently fill the void left by Kucka, making the decision to substitute him on instead of Imran Louza even more mysterious. He performed admirably well on a couple of occasions last season to help the Hornets return to the Promised Land. He simply did not replicate such performances in his return to the top flight.
Troy Deeney: came onto the pitch late on and only touched the ball three times; difficult to give a rating on his brief cameo.