Following his awful injury last season, McGinn almost has a point to prove in the upcoming Premier League season for Aston Villa.
Words: Andy Bates | @k2_villa
Since Dean Smith secured his second and third summer signings, in the shape of Ollie Watkins last week and Emiliano Martinez just yesterday, Aston Villa are apparently close to sealing a further deal for Bertrand Traoré, whilst rumours of Milot Rashica will just not go away. These deals will cause rippled in the squad, as a number of players find themselves pushed to the fringes.
One player who this will certainly not apply to is John McGinn, who will be very much involved when Villa start their league campaign against Sheffield United. In truth McGinn has the potential to seem like a new signing, as it is around a year since we can genuinely say we have seen him at his best.
After ripping up the Championship as part of Villa’s promotion season, McGinn enjoyed a blistering start to his Premier League career, notching 3 goals in the early games, away at Tottenham, Arsenal and a strike at home against Burnley. His old fashioned, box to box, all action style attracted attention from the national media, as McGinn was being discussed as a possible January target for clubs such as Manchester United and Leicester City.
Of course, as Villa fans, we knew what he would bring to the top flight and we knew that fans and reporters from other clubs would sit up and notice McGinn and delight in his unique approach to the game. Once he hit the Premier League stage we expected him to continue to improve and become a danger man that opposition teams feared.
Alas, McGinn’s form dipped as it became apparent that he was playing with a slight injury, coupled with his midfield companion Jack Grealish, also missing a number of games with injury, during November. Then disaster, as he sustained a nasty ankle break in the pre-Christmas home match against Southampton, rather recklessly lunging in for a nothing ball by the touchline.
This proved a significant turning point, as Jack was back to fitness and only a few days later, away at Burnley both Tom Heaton and Wesley sustained anterior cruciate ligament injuries, which they are still yet to recover from.
McGinn did return after the Covid-19 lockdown, as the Premier League restarted in June. However he was not the same ‘Meatball’ due to a lack of match sharpness. He has been due to return against Chelsea on 14th March, however it was later reported that he has sustained a further injury the day before that cancelled match, which kept him sidelined for a further 6 weeks as the country went into lockdown. This hampered his fitness and when the league restarted it was clear that McGinn had some catching up to do.
Nevertheless, what cannot be underestimated is the influence that McGinn has on the squad in the dressing room. His presence for those last 10 matches was vital, even though he was not at his best. It was also no surprise that Villa’s performances became stronger, the fitter McGinn became, as they crept over the line to secure Premier League survival, against the odds.
Now as we approach the first match on Monday, with new additions on their way in, we can also look forward to having a fully fit and raring to go John McGinn back in the fold. With Douglas Luiz ever improving alongside him in midfield and the potential to Grealish being moved back to his number 8 position, with new attacking options arriving, McGinn will have a more solid and exciting platform off which to operate.
Few players have instantly and consistently captured the love of the Villa faithful, in the way John McGinn has. A combination of his ‘lad next door’ demeanour, with his dad-bod and lack of Premier League footballer flashiness, certainly connects him to the fanbase on a human level. He is just very likeable and relatable away from the pitch, with many of his witty social media posts, often bantering with his team mates, being gleefully greeted by the Villa followership.
It is easy to see why Hibernian fans spoke so highly of McGinn after his transfer to Villa in 2018 and why there was no resentment, just a wave of support and well wishes. It was not just his football ability, but the full package which is almost irreplaceable within a club, but also one would imagine, holding a grudge against the man would be nigh on impossible.
There is no doubt in my mind that Chris Wilder’s Blades will be up against a very different, fitter, hungrier and simply more ‘McGinn-like’ John McGinn on Monday, than they faced on the opening day of Project Restart in June.
That being the case, a faulty Hawkeye call will be the least of their concerns come kick off.