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Dean Smith is subtly transforming Matt Targett’s game

Matt Targett’s start to the 2021/22 Premier League campaign has been a slow one considering the standards he has set throughout the last 12 months or so.

Winner of Aston Villa’s Players’ Player of the Season award, as voted by his team-mates last season, Targett will continue to go from strength to strength under Dean Smith.

Following a season which no doubt propelled Targett into the thoughts of England boss Gareth Southgate before he selected his Euro 2020 squad, the left-back was injured for a large part of the summer and so his preparations for the new Premier League campaign were severely disrupted.

After being given the runaround by Watford’s Ismaili Sarr on the opening day of the season, Targett was hooked at half-time and dropped from Smith’s starting 11 for Newcastle United’s visit to Villa Park the following week.

Targett has since stared Villa’s last two games against Brentford and Chelsea, and while he won’t feature as an ever-present like last season, he’ll be competing with Ashley Young for a starting berth every weekend.

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Targett started all 38 of Villa’s Premier League fixtures last term, and after being questioned for his performances during his first season at Villa Park in 2019/20, he’s more than proved his worth ever since.

Having joined the club in a deal worth up to £15million from Southampton in July 2019, Targett, by his own admission, might have struggled to make an instant impact, but is now making up for lost time.

Rewarded for his performances last season with a new bumper contract in April, Targett has extended his stay at Villa until 2025, and with the club looking to fasten seat belts for a European tour or two in that time, he is thought highly of by Smith and his coaching staff at Bodymoor Heath.

Over the course of last season, Targett, alongside Emiliano Martinez, were the only two players in Villa’s rearguard to have played every game of the campaign in which Smith’s side managed to equal the club’s Premier League record amount of 15 clean sheets for a single season that Brad Friedel set in 2010.

Individually, Targett enjoyed an exceptional season and the stats back it up. Villa’s left-back tackled a total of 97 players in the Premier League last season, which was 15 more than any other left-back in the division. While Ezgjan Alioski tackled an impressive number of opponents too, only four players in the whole Premier League managed to tackle more players than Targett.

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Interestingly, 16 of those tackles made by Villa’s left-back were made in the final third of the pitch. Only pipped by Mason Mount, who made one more tackle than Targett in the final third last season, the defender’s energy levels and application to get forward and effectively apply pressure is evident by analysing this statistic.

Sandwiched between 18 other Premier League players, including mostly midfielders and attackers, such as Villa’s John McGinn and Ollie Watkins, Wolves’ Nelson Semedo was the full-back who made the second most final third tackles than Targett.

Yet, the Portuguese was still some way behind the Villa man, who hadn’t played in an advanced wing-back role, unlike what was expected of Semedo under Nuno Espirito Santo last season.

Targett also tackled more players dribbling than any other full-back in the division last season. After making 52 tackles against players with the ball at their feet, only Pierre-Emile Højbjerg made more across the league.

Having also made 81 blocks last season, no left-back made more, and second-place Charlie Taylor was still 14 shy of Targett.

Ismaila Sarr of Watford is challenged by Matt Targett of Aston Villa
Ismaila Sarr of Watford is challenged by Matt Targett of Aston Villa

Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Ben Godfrey and Villa’s Mings made up the rest of the top four for blocks made in the Premier League last season, and while the likes of Yves Bissouma, Wilfred Ndidi and other all-action midfielders like N’golo Kante and Declan Rice topped the table for combined interceptions and tackles, Targett made 26 more than any other left-back in the Premier League last season.

He also slotted nicely into the top eight of all Premier League players after making 144 interceptions and tackles combined.

Last season, Targett made 292 successful passes while under pressure from an opponent, which is an improvement of 73 from his first campaign in the top-flight with Villa.

His ability to not only construct attacks but become a progressive contributor is also a massive plus for Smith’s squad.

Targett also recorded a higher percentage of successful dribbles than any other left-back in the top-flight last season, and his score of 76.2% was nearly 6% higher than the second-best score which Antonee Robinson put up.

By comparing both seasons he’s played at Villa, Targett has made a huge improvement in regards to how efficient his ball-carrying abilities were, having recorded a 43.5% success rate in the 2019/20 campaign, to last season when he nearly doubled the success rate of his dribbles.

Is Matt Targett one of Villa’s most important players? Let us know what you think in the comments section below…




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