It is the seventh minute of the game against Liverpool at Anfield and Matty Cash is setting the tone for his team. He tackles Fabinho just outside his own box and then races after the loose ball to block Andy Robertson’s attempt to play it forward too.
“That is brilliant, it really is,” says former Aston Villa midfield Lee Hendrie on co-commentary for Sky Sports. “That is what Steven Gerrard has brought into this Aston Villa side. He wants more intensity. He has certainly upped those levels.”
Nobody typifies that intensity more than Cash. In Villa’s recent win over Leicester, he made nine tackles, a total not bettered by anyone in the Premier League this season. His combined tally of tackles and interceptions was the most by a player this season or last.
There have been some difficult assignments for the 24-year-old full-back recently, tasked with marking Raheem Sterling against Manchester City and Sadio Mane against Liverpool. But his proactive approach, defending with aggression, catches the eye.
Against Norwich on Tuesday night, there will be a reunion with Dean Smith, the manager who helped bring him to Villa from Nottingham Forest in the summer of 2020.
He will know exactly what to expect.
“The one thing that I can honestly say I liked from the first moment that I met him was his enthusiasm. Not just for the game but for life,” Smith tells Sky Sports.
“He is committed and you just knew that he was coachable. It is a big word, that, and it is an important quality for me to see in players because you want players to improve.
“He is one who wants to improve so he is really coachable, he will come and grab me to look at his clips after the game. I think when you have got a player like that, with his enthusiasm and character as well, he is a player who can go places.”
FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Liverpool’s win against Aston Villa
Cash began his career as a winger and continues to make every effort to get forward. He ranks fifth in the Premier League for penalty box entries by a defender, behind the two Liverpool full-backs, Manchester City’s Joao Cancelo and West Ham’s Aaron Cresswell.
End product in the attacking phase of the game is something that Cash must work on. While the four players above him on the list are renowned for creating chances for their team, he is yet to register an assist this season.
But his appetite for defending is not in doubt.
It is a skill he has honed through video analysis, although it is a state of mind too, as explained by his partner on the right side of Aston Villa’s back four.
Much has been made of the centre-back partnership between Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa but the latter is aware that there is another key relationship for him in that defence. “Across the back four, you always need good chemistry,” Konsa tells Sky Sports.
“My chemistry with Matty Cash on and off the pitch is really good. We have built a good friendship. Before kick-off, I always tell Matty or he will tell me, ‘Nobody gets past the right side. It is me and you down this right side. We deal with whatever comes against us.’
“I just know that if the ball goes over my head, Matty will be there.
“I have to give it to him these past two seasons. He has done really well and he has been rewarded with a Poland call-up.”
That decision to apply for a Polish passport earlier this year – he is eligible because of his mother – was a mature one, aware of the competition at right-back for England. If Poland can negotiate the play-offs, there is the prospect of playing in next year’s World Cup.
The chance to play international football alongside Robert Lewandowski is the next step in the development of a player who only made his Premier League debut 15 months ago.
“I think that will help him as well, playing with and against top players at international level, playing a different type of football as well,” says Smith. “That will help his learning experience.”
In the meantime, the statistics suggest that Matty Cash has already developed into one of the better full-backs in the Premier League.