Aston Villa largely underwhelmed last season, but there were a few bright sparks which gave hope for the future. The club’s latest youth prodigy, Jacob Ramsey, built on an encouraging debut season to score a range of wonderful goals and become a crucial part of Villa’s midfield. Apart from Ramsey, perhaps Villa’s most consistent player was Matty Cash, whose performances were recognised by the club’s fanbase when he won Supporters’ Player of The Season.
The right-back was signed in the 2020 summer transfer window from then Championship side, Nottingham Forest, for a fee reported to have been around £15 million. He was a more youthful upgrade on the experienced (and much liked) Ahmed Elmohamady. Cash was also more trusted by former Villa manager Dean Smith over Freddie Guilbert, who has since impressed at Strasbourg in his native France.
With his athleticism and battling qualities, Cash quickly improved a position where Villa had previously looked vulnerable and helped the defence become much harder to beat overall.
Cash, like Ollie Watkins and Ezri Konsa, proved a shrewd, relatively low-cost signing from the Championship and showed Smith’s eye for players who could move up into the Premier League. Cash made a good start to life at Villa, but there were some areas where he would likely have wanted to improve.
In his debut season, the 24 year-old’s attacking output saw him gain only two assists and no goals. That was not necessarily a bad thing for a defender, but full-backs have increasingly functioned as key attacking players in recent years. That has notably been seen at Liverpool, where manager Juergen Klopp has relied upon the attacking prowess of full-backs Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Liverpool’s main title rivals, Manchester City, have also spent astronomical sums on full-backs like Kyle Walker, Joao Cancelo and others, proving the importance of the position for modern attacking sides.
Cash, therefore, needed to improve his attacking output and always had the potential to offer more going forward. At Forest, where he primarily featured in midfield, he scored a reasonable number of goals, including a superb finish in front of the Holte End in a famous 5-5 draw.
Cash did indeed improve his forward output in his second season by scoring four goals and gaining three assists, which is an impressive tally. But there might be even more to come from the full-back due to how Villa manager Steven Gerrard sets up his team.
As seen during Gerrard’s time at Rangers, full-backs play a crucial attacking role in his sides. One example of that occurred on the final day at the Etihad Stadium when Cash scored a header following a cross from fellow full-back Lucas Digne. Cash will therefore likely be expected to improve his attacking numbers once again in the coming months. If he continues to venture into the opposition area on a more regular basis he should end up with an even higher rate of goals and assists.
There were still some games, however, where Cash appeared to struggle to beat an opposition defender in a one-on-one situation (Burnley at home was an example of that). If he can be more consistent at beating his man and picking out a team mate when he sends a ball into the area, Villa might have one of the most complete full-backs in the league.
Cash’s defensive statistics also show how he has improved all-round this year. Birmingham Live provided some useful numbers recently, which showed Cash to be one of the top performing defenders in the Premier League:
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– 80 Tackles ?
– 225 Defensive pressures ?
– 71 Blocks ?
– 76 Interceptions ?
— Aston Villa News (@AVFC_News) April 4, 2022
By April, Cash was third in the entire league for tackles, defensive pressures and interceptions. He was also second with blocks. Those numbers show he was difficult for opponents to beat and a highly effective defensive player. His solidity was a bright spot in a Villa back four that otherwise underperformed last season.
Another landmark moment for Cash occurred when he was called up for international duty by Poland. He featured as a starter for his country in their crucial World Cup qualifying game against Sweden in March, which Poland won 2-0.
Interestingly, Cash also played on the right of a midfield four during a friendly against Scotland. That was likely in recognition of his attacking abilities and also highlights his versatility. It will be intriguing to see how Poland manager Czesław Michniewicz uses Cash in future and whether it can have an impact on how he plays for Villa.
The experience of international football has almost certainly helped Cash grow in confidence for his club. He also now has something to look forward to later in 2022, a potential once-in-a-lifetime World Cup experience, which could further improve his club form as he tries to confirm his place in Poland’s starting line-up.
(For more on how Cash joined the Poland international set-up you can listen to our interview with author and Polish football expert Ryan Hubbard.)
LINKS TO SPAIN
Cash’s growth this season could explain why Spanish giants Atletico Madrid were linked with him. Diego Simeone’s side have previously signed a Premier League full-back in Kieran Trippier, who proved an important player in their recent title-winning season. It was not hard to imagine why Simeone might have believed an attack-minded, battling full-back with international experience like Cash could have added fresh dynamism to his side.
In that context, the fact Cash signed a new contract with Villa is a very positive sign for the club. He has sent the message that he believes in the direction Villa are going under Gerrard, despite serious interest from one of the best sides in Europe.
KESLER HAYDEN’S RETURN
Despite being one of Villa’s standout players in recent times, Cash could well find he has a new rival for his right-back position in the coming season. It is not currently known if Gerrard will keep Kaine Kesler Hayden around this year or loan him out again to gain more experience, but the teenager is a player of real promise.
Kesler Hayden, an England U20 international, excelled at both Swindon and MK Dons on-loan last year. (The 19 year-old only spent half the season at Swindon and still managed to win their Young Player of The Season award.)
The fact Kesler Hayden moved up a division during the season and became a regular starter for an MK Dons side that finished third in League One suggests Villa have produced another highly impressive young player.
If Kesler Hayden remains at Villa this season, he would likely feature in the first XI periodically. If he is to be Cash’s back-up he could well learn a lot from his team mate, which might pay dividends for Villa in the coming years. Also, should Kesler Hayden appear in the team and perform to a high level it could threaten Cash’s place in the starting XI, which might also provide an impetus for the Polish international to fight for his position and continue to improve.
SUPPORTERS’ PLAYER OF THE SEASON
Cash was a deserving winner of the Supporters’ Player of The Season award. He performed strongly throughout the year despite Villa’s overall indifferent displays.
It still feels, however, there is more to come from Cash. At 24, he is a few years away from his prime. If Villa are to fulfil the board’s aim of reaching Europe in the next few years, Cash could well be a vital part of that coming true.