Photo by Vince Mignott/MB Media/Getty Images

It’s all too easy to suggest the heart-wrenching departure of Jack Grealish represented the beginning of the end for Dean Smith at Aston Villa. 

And while the summer sale of the club’s talismanic skipper was certainly a factor as Smith’s grip loosened on his dream job, it wasn’t the only one.

The absence of Grealish can’t explain why Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa – two of the Premier League’s most reliable centre-halves last season – suddenly looked error-prone and jittery

It doesn’t explain why John McGinn looked a shadow of his barnstorming best. Danny Ings, Emi Buendia and Leon Bailey, meanwhile, three players who cost the club almost £90 million last summer, have been unable to make a sustained impact in the post-Grealish era due to a series of niggling injuries. 

Just when Smith needed them most, form and fitness deserted Aston Villa’s biggest stars.

STEVEN GERRARD TO ASTON VILLA IS WRONG.

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One player whose sudden decline can be put down to Grealish’s record-breaking £100 million exit, however, is Matt Targett. 

Targett tipped for England call-up

The £15 million signing from Fulham was so impressive last term some were tipping him for an England call-up.

Such talk has dried up, though, with Targett struggling at both ends of the pitch during Villa’s run of five straight Premier League defeats. 

And while the 26-year-old has spoken of the need to take some responsibility for his own form, it’s worth remembering Targett struck up such an excellent relationship with Grealish last season – an understanding bordering on the telepathic.

Grealish’s tendency to drift infield would frequently open space for Targett to overlap down the left and fire those trademark drilled crosses into the penalty area. 

Bailey, meanwhile, is more of an individualist, meaning Targett hasn’t been handed the same sort of supply.

Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images

Is Targett in trouble as Aston Villa eye Barisic?

And with 90Min claiming new manager Steven Gerrard is already planning a January raid of his former employers – Rangers’ Croatia international Borna Barisic is one reported target – Targett seems to be at risk of becoming one of the first casualties of a bold new era.

“Outstanding,” Gerrard said of Barisic in 2019, hailing his “world class” contribution to a superb Europa League victory over FC Porto (Scottish Sun).

“He’s the Croatian left-back and is used to high-pressure games. He is very highly respected by the staff and in the dressing room.”

Worryingly for Targett, Barisic looks better suited to an Aston Villa side without Jack Grealish. The former, unlike the latter, is at his best when crossing the ball from deep rather than dashing to the byline on the overlap.

Targett has proven his Aston Villa doubters wrong before, however. Don’t bet against him doing so again.

Photo by James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images

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