As Steven Gerrard starts work as Aston Villa Head Coach, his squad will be desperate to impress in the coming weeks.
The 41-year-old will arguably hope to use the January transfer window as an opportunity to stamp his mark on the squad that he has inherited from Smith, and so the next six weeks could be pivotal for many in the current group in terms of keeping their place in the side.
Gerrard will no doubt cast a close eye over the players and make his judgements over time, but there are five players in particular who arguably have a point to prove to show that they are going to be leading figures in the new Villa boss’s plans moving forward.
After being voted Players’ Player of the Season by his teammates last year, Targett has struggled to rediscover that top form so far this season, with a pre-season injury clearly hindering him.
That was a valid reason early on in the campaign, but having had a run of games now to get his fitness back to where it needs to be, he’s still not hitting the heights of last year.
With the importance that Gerrard places on his full-backs, in both phases of the game, there needs to be a clear upturn in Targett’s form to ensure he keeps hold of that spot.
Under pressure and dropped by Smith in what was his penultimate game in charge, the Villa captain will be desperate to establish himself as a regular starter under Gerrard as quickly as possible.
As when any new manager comes in, he’ll look at all the options available to him with a fresh set of eyes and pick his favoured players, and Mings will face competition with Ezri Konsa, Axel Tuanzebe and Kortney Hause all vying for a spot too.
In turn, it’s hoped that he gets back to his best as soon as possible, as when on top of his game, he is certainly a defensive rock for us.
Plagued by injuries since he joined us and with competition for places fierce, Sanson hasn’t really had a chance to get a good run of games under his belt to showcase his quality.
We saw glimpses of it against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup before he had to be replaced with another injury setback, but he’ll be hoping to be fully fit when the international break concludes.
Sanson is arguably what Villa need in midfield as we’ve been poor in that department this season, but time will tell if Gerrard sees him as a solution or if he’ll address it with his own ideas in January.
The stage is perhaps set for McGinn to now grab this team by the scruff of the neck and make it his, regardless of whether or not he’s made Gerrard’s new captain.
He has the engine, grit and technical quality to be a real driving force in midfield for Villa, and with Gerrard’s influence on him and helping him to improve his game, it’s hoped McGinn goes to the next level.
This one isn’t so much in terms of keeping his place in the side as he should be fixture of the starting XI when fit, but it’s more about proving just how influential he can be for us.
With one goal and one assist in 10 appearances so far this season, it’s fair to say that we’ve certainly not seen the best of Buendia in a Villa shirt yet.
Whether it was his own fitness issues, his role when playing or positioning on the pitch, it hasn’t quite clicked for the Argentine ace, albeit we’ve seen what he’s capable of on the odd occasion.
With his work-rate and determination in mind, he has the characteristics to be a Gerrard favourite given his style of play and emphasis of work off the ball to regain possession. It’s hoped that Buendia has the right man at the helm to bring out the best in him as our record-signing will be itching to deliver.