Matt Targett has to be considered as Aston Villa’s player of the season only months after being subjected to criticism for his performances before the end of Project Restart.
While Villa secured their Premier League status on the final day of the 2019-2020 campaign at the London Stadium, it was only until the final four games of the season that Dean Smith’s side looked in contention to beat the drop.
Fast-forward eight months and talk of prioritising a new left-back in the transfer market has been swept under the carpet with Targett coming into his own this term.
Having played his part in Villa’s solid defensive displays this season, Targett and Co have been chasing down the club’s clean sheet record in the top flight which stands at 15 from the 2009-2010 campaign.
Targett has so far this season made more tackles on players dribbling than any other full-back or centre-back in the Premier League and falls short to only Pierre-Emile Højbjerg in the overall standings, with Villa’s left-back making 46 tackles against players dribbling in total.
The former Southampton man has also made more tackles in the attacking third than any other defender in the Premier League this season, having made four more than Luke Shaw’s nine tackles in the opposition’s defensive third.
In an attaching capacity, Targett has also demonstrated another improving side to his game this season. Despite only registering one assist in all competitions this season, Targett has recorded a higher dribble success rate than any other full-back in the Premier League with only Declan Rice bettering his 84.3% rate amongst every other player in the top flight.
After staring in Villa’s 12th win of the season against Leeds United in March, Gareth Southgate was present at Elland Road and when asked whether the Three Lions boss had been impressed with Villa’s centre-halves Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa, Villa boss Smith replied: “I think he will have been impressed with Matt Targett, who is having a fantastic season, as well.
“He is one of the players we brought in after we were promoted to the Premier League and he will be the first to say he had to work hard on his fitness, to get to the levels we wanted.
“He is getting better all the time. I think he has been one of our standout players this season and put in another good performance at Leeds.
“His consistency has been great but there has been a gradual improvement too. We knew he had quality with the ball at his feet. We wanted him to work harder off the ball and he is doing that.”
Targett joined Villa for a fee worth £14million as the club went about plotting their way through a tricky transfer market after winning promotion back to the Premier League in 2019 through the Championship play-offs.
A year after losing the richest game in football to Fulham, Targett has impressed during a year-long loan spell with Slavisa Jokanovic’s Whites and after going years learning off former Villa loanee Ryan Bertrand, the 25-year-old is all the better for taking tips off one of the game’s top professionals.
Matt Targett told VillaTV that ex-Southampton teammate Bertrand gave him good advice ahead of his move to Villa Park.
Targett was the second choice at Southampton behind Bertrand and moved to Villa with regular football a certainty ahead of the 2019-2020 campaign.
“He said it was a massive football club, with a great stadium, great facilities and great fans,” Targett said.
“I know he wasn’t here that long but he made a point of telling me how much he enjoyed playing here. He couldn’t have spoken any more of this place when he chatted to me.”
Competition could bring Matt Targett’s game on even further
While much of the Villa squad has benefited from increased competition for a place this season, Targett has seemingly grown in confidence knowing his place isn’t necessarily up for threat, but such is the mentality to prove himself in the Premier League with Villa, he’s getting better with every passing week.
The full-back had started 30 Premier League games in a row this season and with two years left on his deal, a new and improved contract could be on the table soon.
One of the club’s most senior players, Neil Taylor is also out of contract this summer and unlikely to be offered a new deal.
Former Villa full-back, Alan Hutton has since suggested that Villa should sign some added competition for Targett in the upcoming summer window.
“It did take him a little bit of time to get going,” Hutton told Football Insider.
“Obviously, Neil Taylor was there in front of him, I think Targett had a few issues at the start of his Villa career. However, he’s gone from strength to strength, he’s a solid player. You know what you’re going to get.
“He is going to be a 7/10 every single week which is good for the manager. Smith trusts him, he understands what he’s going to get from him.
“He deserves a new contract, I think he’s done really well. He’s Mr Reliable so you want people at your club. I think this summer they’ll bring somebody in to give him that competition with Neil Taylor probably leaving.”
When fans return to Villa Park next season, they’ll be lauding a left-back who 12 months ago, by his own admission, wasn’t playing anywhere near the levels he’s now performing at week in, week out – his improvements are testament to the character of a player desperate to play his part in Villa’s resurgence.