The tone for Jack Grealish's afternoon was set early on during Aston Villa's trip to Southampton on Sunday.
Picking the ball up on his favoured left-hand side and trying to bound away down the wing, the 24-year-old was met by the authoritative challenge of the Saints' auxiliary right-back James Ward-Prowse.
Now, on the surface this may not seem like anything new - he is the most fouled player in the Premier League this season - but the meaty tackle was indicative of Ralph Hasenhuttl's game plan to strangle Grealish out of the game.
Hasenhuttl did not trust the inexperience Yann Valery to go up against the playmaker of the left flank so Ward-Prowse - the conductor of this 10-man demolition job - was shoehorned in at full-back.
However, it was not just the Saints youth academy graduate who got in on the act. Stuart Armstrong and Danny Ings also both got away without getting booked for sneaky challenges on Grealish in the opening exchanges.
As cynical as the plan was, it was mightily effective. Starved of their creative heartbeat Villa did have have a single attempt on goal during the first half.
Might be an unpopular opinion but I just don’t think these players are close to premier league standard bar Grealish.— Lance Clinton (@AVFCLancelot) February 22, 2020
Relegation looks likely and we need Smith to get us up next season #avfc
Incredibly, it took over an hour for the visitors to register their first shot of the game - one of just four attempts they would have all afternoon.
Anwar El Shazi can be a wonderfully inventive footballer at times, but the Dutchman has now registered just one goal involvement in his last 11 games. It's a similar story with Trezeguet who has also shown himself to be a swarve operator in the past but has only scored one in his most recent 13 appearances.
And then there's Mbwana Samatta. Admittedly the Tanzania international has been given a difficult task - by being signed mid-season by a struggling side - but is he really the focal point that Villa's stuttering attacking force needs to drag them out of the dirt?
Injuries have put Dean Smith in a very tough spot this season. They miss the guile of John McGinn massively and it would also be nice to have £22m striker Wesley available.
All that is no excuse for their toothless attacking display against Southampton on Saturday.
The performance starkly exposed Villa's obscene over reliance on the creative talents of Grealish. It is an issue that badly needs addressing if Dean Smith's side are to give themselves the best chance of staying up this season.
Source : 90min