Targett & Cash: Defensive Lieutenants

Matt and Matt. The two Matty’s. Tango… sorry, Targett and Cash. Any of those references would be adequate however, it may be a little easier, and more fitting to just say the ‘those two studs at full-back’.

Despite an infuriating sequence of events leading to a 2-0 defeat at the hands of – let’s be honest – an incredible Man City side, Matty Cash and Targett gave the two notable performances for Villa. To me, this comes as no surprise that Cash has had a big impact on Villa’s defensive improvement, yet the upturn in Targett’s defensive output has been one of the revelations of the season considering he would have been one of the first on the chopping block had I been manager.

“I always fear one ball more than any other”

Matty Targett’s offensive impact has never been in doubt in my mind; his left-side partnership with Jack Grealish continues to grow with the left-back being more than content in scurrying forward to provide our talisman with sufficient support.

Had you asked at the start of the season, Targett’s place would have, in all likelihood, have been the place under most threat excluding the miserable looking corps of wingers we appeared to have. His defending was suspect although it could have been argued that came as a consequence of the whole defensive unit looking nothing short of suspect.

Despite a newfound defensive solidity which has seen Villa only concede 18 in 16 league games this season, I always fear one ball more than any other being played by the opposition, and I feel Targett was susceptible to the ball in behind – between himself and the left centre-back (usually Mings) – more than most last season, something Villa as a unit has become better at dealing with but still vulnerable to.

Anxiety still mounts witnessing an opposition player carrying the ball, drifting horizontally across the pitch, waiting for the piercing run of a teammate to slide a through ball between centre and full-back, gutting them like the catch of the day down the market.

Matty Cash doesn’t escape this threat and still makes errors from time to time and however much my opinion on Targett has changed with him playing a vital role in way Villa are playing and the points being earned, the apprehension around Targett’s positioning is due to witnessing it all too often last season. Okay, that’s the negatives out of the way, let’s get onto the partnership these two have forged…

Looking at the stats

When looking at the stats, Targett is performing similarly defensively as he did in 2019-20 with key areas deviating slightly from last season. The left-back’s interception rate has taken a slight dip from averaging 1.93 per game including substitution appearances last season to 1.75 per game this season so far.

In 29 total appearances including sub appearances, Targett completed 1.79 tackles per game in 2019-20 compared to another slight dip to 1.75 in 20120-21 after only 16 games.

One explanation for this might be an increased focus from the opposition on attacking our right-hand side with both Matty Cash this season and Frederic Guilbert last season recording more tackles than

Targett in each season. The only area in which Targett outperforms his full-back counterpart is in 2019-
20 interceptions with 1.93 per game to Guilbert’s 1.75 per game.

Cash produced almost identical average tackle stats when compared with Guilbert, recording 2.6pg but has recorded a vastly higher tackle rate of 2.53pg. This indicates that not only do teams prefer attacking Villa’s right flank but that teams have potentially increased the amount that they attack us in that specific area of the field.

When it comes to successful interceptions, the pairing of Targett and Cash both rank inside the top 20 players in the Premier League overall with Targett 15th and Cash 3rd . That’s not just full-backs, or even defenders, that includes every single player in the league. Aston Villa are actually the only team in the league to have both full/wing-backs inside the top 20.

Worth the Cash?

Twelve million of Elizabeth’s Great British pounds seemed a steep price to pay for a backup full-back from Southampton, so you can imagine the hesitation when Dean Smith paid sixteen million for a Championship full-back. I didn’t think that Matt Cash was rubbish, it just seemed a risk. My word, has that risk paid off.

Looking into stats and graphics supplied by PGR Analytics (@pgr_analytics on Twitter), Cash is as balanced as they come.

Cash comes out on top in both ‘Defensive duels per 90’ and ‘Successful defensive action per 90’ against all other Premier League right-backs. To add to this, he also ranks highest in ‘Possession adjusted interceptions per 90’ (PAdj Int) with 10.85; this adjustment takes into account a team’s possession to allow for a truer representation of defensive output.

Via PGR Analytics

As mentioned, Cash is a balanced player. As well as on the defensive side of the ball, Cash is successful in what he attempts with a successful dribble percentage of nearly 70% (PGR Analytics) and is accurate in 26% of his crosses which is better than the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James according to the Premier League website.

If one downside to Cash’s game could be identified, the frequency in which he attempts to cross the ball would be the fact I point to first. Cash has only made 47 crosses in his 15 games at an average of just over 3 per game. Compare that with his two English counterparts and the right-backs to cross the most, Alexander-Arnold has completed 136 and James, 91.

This reluctance to cross is strange considering Cash is relatively on the money compared to the top right-backs in the league, and has a lovely delivery on the eye.

Kurt and Sylvester

Unlike Russell and Stallone’s characters in the 1989 framed-police-officers-escapes-from-jail flick Tango & Cash, Targett and Cash didn’t have an initial animosity towards each other.

(Unknown)

But much like the film duo – who eventually become best buddies after working together to escape – the Villa full-backs have combined to give Villa a much-improved partnership in both attack and defence, as well as certainly helping Villa escape jail a few times this season.

There is undoubtedly room for improvement from both Targett and Cash, however they are becoming the real unsung heroes of this team, especially Targett who hasn’t quite been as good as Cash in my opinion and therefore not received the attention he deserves.

As well as the two young defenders performing at a high standard, the impact that the coaching staff shouldn’t go unnoticed.

The transformation in defensive competence has been a stark one with Dean Smith seemingly simplifying things which has included watching tapes of other teams and their defensive structure. This ‘back-to-basics’ approach has led to Villa conceding 18 goals in 16 games at an average of 1.13 per game.

Should that record last until the end of the season, Villa will concede 43 goals in 38 matches; a dramatic reduction from the 67 goals that breached Villa nets in 2019-20 at an average of 1.76 goals per game. Adding to that, 43 goals would have equated to the 7th best defensive record in the Premier League last season. Not a bad improvement compared to the second-worst record we had in reality.

As a Villa supporter, there are a lot of things to be positive about around not only the defence,
but the team in general. England call ups soon for the two Matts?

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