Following a lengthy spell on the sidelines during Aston Villa’s Premier League run-in last season, John McGinn looks to have rediscovered his best form with productive performances aplenty since the new season began.
It was no surprise that Aston Villa’s woes towards the end of the last campaign coincided with the loss of star man McGinn. The absence of his tenacity, energy and most importantly, box-to-box running was a big miss – irreplaceable in the January transfer market and certainly amongst the current playing squad.
Returning to Dean Smith’s matchday squad for the start of the Premier League’s Project Restart, McGinn was immediately drafted into the starting line-up as Sheffield United came to Villa Park. Though he wasn’t the John McGinn we’d come accustomed to watching at Villa Park.
The ankle fracture he picked up against Southampton in December of last year was a major setback for what was becoming an impressive first season in the top-flight for the Scot. The Coronavirus suspension for the Premier League put paid to McGinn’s chances of a March comeback.
Dean Smith was hoping to call McGinn back into the fold before Villa’s Carabao Cup final against Manchester City, but clearly, on the evidence of his rusty Project Restart form, his premature recall wouldn’t have given Villa a greater chance of beating the then Premier League champions at Wembley.
Reports even suggested McGinn had suffered another stress fracture in March which delayed his prolonged comeback even further.
His first competitive game for six months on June 17, against the Blades, was a gentle introduction back into Premier League football with a stale 0-0 at Villa Park the first offering of points for Smith’s side, so desperate to welcome back McGinn’s missed quality.
Fast forward three months and while McGinn grew into Project Restart with games coming thick and fast, his first start of the new campaign, also against Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United, was an indication of how important his ten-match run during Project Restart was to his match fitness and preparation for the new campaign.
It would have been a sickener for Villa to have lost McGinn having spent the best part of seven months building him up to hit the ground running in time for the 2020-21 campaign. If It wasn’t for some final day drama at the London Stadium, with, of course, Jack Grealish at the centre of the chaos, McGinn might’ve bowed out to Villa Park in an uncharacteristically muted fashion.
“Even the first day he came back into training he just gave everyone a lift”, Grealish said when McGinn returned to training before Project Restart.
“He’s such a popular figure in the dressing room, he always puts a smile on everyone’s face at the club. I know everyone says he runs around and has legs, but he isn’t just about that.
“He has class about him as well. He’s one of those players you don’t appreciate until you play alongside him, and he’s like that in the changing room as well.”
John McGinn starting the new season afresh
Villa knew if they can get their star midfielder back up and running to his former self, they’d have a player worthy of making a key impact to the team for the upcoming season – almost like a ‘new signing’, as it were.
In fact, Smith, with the backing of Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens did strengthen with new signings, and particularly in Ross Barkley, Villa have a midfield balance consisting of some serious quality.
McGinn and Douglas Luiz respectively are both improving game-by-game, especially for Luiz, Project Restart was the stage he needed to demonstrate what he’s all about, while for McGinn, his rehabilitation seems to have all but ended thanks to his fast-tracked match fitness.
Alongside Barkley, the trio have been key to Villa’s best start to a Premier League campaign ever. Solid victories against Sheffield United and Fulham set the foundations for a positive start, but with Liverpool on the horizon, the three were set to be tested in ways many fail to cope with.
7-2. It speaks for itself, with an attacking fluidity to match Europe’s very best, Luiz, Barkley and McGinn were the platform Villa needed to match the intensity of a Liverpool side lauded as the ‘rock and roll’ of football.
Followed by another dogged and disciplined display at the King Power Stadium after the international break, McGinn was once more pivotal to Villa’s success. His crucial ball-carrying ability and assist to Barkley was the match-winning move in the dying embers against a side that had the bettering of Villa on both occasions in the league last term.
Only a week before had McGinn – now seemingly over his injury set-back – played back-to-back-to-back games for Scotland. He won the Man of the Match award for an impressive performance against the Czech Republic while wearing the national armband for the first time in his career.
Only Harry Kane has registered more assists than McGinn in the top-flight this term after he has assisted four goals in three games, twice against Fulham and once in games against Liverpool and more recently Leicester.
Adding a goal to his promising start to the new campaign against Liverpool in what was a cruel fourth on the cusp of half-time for Villa, McGinn is proving he can once again become a key part of Smith’s dynamic Villa side once again.
Villa are now blessed with multiple match-winners, an excess of quality and indeed competition for places has only risen too since the summer arrivals of Barkley, Matty Cash, Bertrand Traore and Ollie Watkins – though McGinn still has the ability to stand out game by game.
Unique by his style of play and a ‘statistical unicorn’ as termed by those with an eye for numbers, McGinn is slowly but surely getting back to the player that’ll be both infectious and crucial to Aston Villa’s successes this season.