Sheffield United-Aston Villa Preview

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Aston Villa new boy Ollie Watkins scored 26 times for Brentford in the Championship last season, yet Dean Smith says the striker was disappointed with that tally.

Villa spent a reported £28million – potentially rising to £33m – to sign the 24-year-old earlier this month, with the forward scoring on his debut in the EFL Cup against Burton Albion.

Watkins is likely to start against Sheffield United on Monday, and Smith has revealed the pacy frontman was frustrated not to have scored 10 more goals than he did in the second tier last season.

“He scored 26 goals last season, but he was disappointed and thought he should have scored 36,” Smith told a news conference. “He’s a willing learner and he’ll keep getting better.”

Villa brought in goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez from Arsenal this week, while captain Jack Grealish signed a new contract despite reported interest from Manchester United.

“He’s ready to play, you don’t get many opportunities to get a goalkeeper of his calibre at this stage of his career,” Smith said of Martinez, before adding, on Grealish: “There was a lot of speculation and the fact he’s committed is a big statement. He’s talismanic and had a really good season last year, so it’s great news for everyone here.”

While Villa did not play last week, the Blades went down 2-0 at home to Wolves, and exited the EFL Cup with a penalty shoot-out defeat to Burnley on Thursday, though Chris Wilder saw plenty of positives.

“I want tough decisions, and the players have given me food for thought in terms of the team, they’ve given me confidence and comfort that we’ve signed some good players,” Wilder said after the match at Turf Moor.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Aston Villa – Jack Grealish

Having penned a new deal and having recently made his England debut, Villa’s captain will be keen to start the season with a bang. With Grealish now having Watkins to aim for up front, Villa’s attack really could be set to click this term.

Sheffield United – Billy Sharp

United struggled to craft clear-cut chances against Wolves last time out, though Sharp looked dangerous. The experienced striker has scored four goals in his last three league appearances against Villa, including a hat-trick in a 3-3 draw in February 2019.

KEY OPTA FACTS

• Villa are unbeaten in their last 13 home league meetings with the Blades.

• United have not started a top-flight campaign with two consecutive defeats since 1973-74.

• Wilder’s side are winless in six away league games since beating Crystal Palace 1-0 in February.

• Including playoffs, no player scored more league goals in the top four tiers of English football last season than Villa’s new signing Watkins.

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