Aston Villa are on course for their best league finish since the 2009/10 Premier League season. The likes of Jack Grealish, Emi Martinez and Ollie Watkins have been praised repeatedly by fans and pundits alike, though some players seem to have slipped the gaze of those watching on.
In his ever-diversifying position as a modern-day full-back, Matt Targett is flourishing in his second year at Aston Villa. The left-back is yet to miss a league game for the Villans this season and is proving invaluable in the club’s quest for European football.
Be it Dean Smith’s guidance, enough time to have settled into the new club, or simply growing in maturity, the former Southampton man is sure to receive a call from the England manager sooner rather than later.
Improving on last season
Targett was part of the league’s second-worst defence last season – conceding 67 goals and surviving relegation by just a point on the final day. Obviously, he wasn’t wholly responsible for such dismal figures – though defensive lapses were a fixture of his game, thus contributing towards Villa’s apparent championship return.
Nonetheless, the team survived and Targett hasn’t looked back since. Week after week the improvement in his performances are becoming clearer – something the manager is well aware of considering he has granted Targett the most minutes of any player in the defensive unit.
“We’re not happy to just settle with what we’ve got. We want to kick on, the club has ambitions of getting back into Europe, and us players want to be a part of that”.
Why does Targett fit Smith’s system so well?
In essence, the way Targett conducts himself on the pitch personifies what the head coach wants from his team. Strong ability in the final third, as well as a sturdy defensive base to rely on.
Targett’s willingness to drive forward (often in support of Grealish) has led to him registering five-goal involvements in his Villa career (two goals, three assists). These have proven invaluable to the club – the last gasp winner against Brighton for example.
The key aspect of Targett’s game is his constant progression towards the opposition goal (both with and without the ball). This may seem a fairly nonchalant measure of a player’s quality or importance to a team, however the desire to advance Villa’s play cannot be underestimated. Take a look at the first goal in this season’s 3-0 victory at Arsenal. The left-back can be found cutting the ball across Arsenal’s six-yard box for Trézéguet to capitalize on at the far post. This goal shows the value of Targett’s attacking tendencies, and how they fuse with Dean Smith’s footballing vision.
Passing an average of 373 yards towards the opposition’s goal every game, Matt Targett embodies the type of dynamism Smith requires. Elsewhere in Europe, few full-backs reach the same levels as the Villa man in this regard – averaging 286 progressive yards per game. Creating more attacks and meeting ‘Smith’s attractive’ brand of football go side by side in creating enjoyable viewing for Villa fans old and new.
For all his tendencies to join attacks, the defensive attributes Targett brings are equally as important. As previously mentioned, last season he was part of one of the leakiest defences in the league, whereas this season, Villa rank second for clean sheets.
A stark improvement has unfolded whilst we’ve been away from Villa Park and Matt Targett is an unheralded gem making that happen.