Watford-Aston Villa Preview
As one of England's oldest football clubs, there is much pride and much history at Aston Villa.
Recent seasons have seen that pride wounded, and the chance to make the wrong kind of history will follow them all season long as the Villans head into Saturday's match against Watford at Villa Park.
Villa (1-2-10) was founded in 1874 and began play five years later. There have been successful periods, most notably a First Division title in 1981, a European Cup title the following season, a runner-up finish in the first Premier League season in 1992-93 and a pair of League Cup titles during the PL era.
Aston Villa are one of seven teams never to have been relegated since the inception of the Premier League in 1992, but the last few years have proven to be a struggle to keep that distinction. The Villans have finished no higher than 15th the past four seasons, flirting with disaster the entire time, and narrowly avoided the drop in 2013-14 with a 17th-place finish.
This season, the escape act will require far bolder maneuvering. Aston Villa are rooted to the foot of the table with just five points through 13 matches - the second-worst start of any team in the Premier League era. Their 10 goals are fewest in the league, their minus-14 goal differential predictably the worst.
New manager Remi Garde has yet to experience the joy of a goal. His team held Manchester City to a scoreless draw before the international break, but the Villans were overrun 4-0 at Goodison Park by Everton last Saturday.
"It's my responsibility to find some solutions quickly because we need them," Garde said Thursday. "I know that everyone expects us to win the game - and I'm the first one and the players also. But I'm not expecting to have an easy game because if you look at the Watford results until now, they have done very well.
"It shows you how good they are."
Garde is pinning some of his hopes on central midfielder Carlos Sanchez, whom the manager wants to be a box-to-box destroyer. Garde limited his minutes against Everton because the Colombian played in a pair of World Cup qualifiers but likely will re-insert Sanchez into his starting XI.
"Carlos is a different profile to the other guys in midfield. He's a bit stronger and heavy-weighted compared to the others," Garde told AVTV HD. "When he came on at Everton, he did great."
Garde banished midfielder Jack Grealish to the U-21 team after photos surfaced of the 20-year-old at a Manchester nightclub hours after the loss to Everton.
Watford (4-4-5), who were founded in 1881 and made their FA Cup debut five years later, are familiar with the promotion-relegation dance, having reached the top flight twice before quick returns to Division 1 and the Championship respectively after last-place finishes in 2000 and 2007.
The Hornets, though, are out to make the third time the charm as they enter the match 13th in the table and seven points clear of the drop. Watford have endured similar struggles on offence - they have only 12 goals - but are a cohesive outfit on defence, having shipped only two first-half goals and 14 overall.
Manager Quique Sanchez Flores faced the current top two teams in the standings around the international break and failed to get any points after 2-1 defeats to both front-running Leicester City and Manchester United. Despite a soft patch of schedule - the Hornets' next three opponents are all 16th or lower - Flores doesn't think anything will come easy.
"Nothing changes for me in respect of my mentality because I know how the Premier League is," Flores told Hornets Player HD. "The Premier League is very tough. Aston Villa are in the bottom of the league but they have good players, so we have to take care to play in the best way we can."
Odion Ighalo has seven of Watford's 12 goals, and four of those have come on the road. The Nigeria international's brace against West Ham United are his only goals in his last five matches.
Villa have gone 3-1-0 in top-flight matches against Watford, having outscored the Hornets 7-0.