By Scooter Thomas
The John McGinn Payload
In B6 it is well known that there is no posterior that is more formidable than that of our favorite Scotsman, John McGinn. Known for being Villa’s midfield Energizer Bunny, there’s been concern after recent home defeats, that alone, he might not provide enough dynamism in the Villa midfield, despite the personnel looking good on paper.
Against Leeds and Southampton, McGinn struggled to get a foothold in the game, registering the least amount of touches of any Villa midfielder.
In the press briefing prior to the Brighton defeat Dean Smith referred to the sports science team, the load management numbers, and how they are being monitored. Seven of Villa’s starting XI have played every minute in the Premier League, three of those seven have also been on international duty. Two other of Villa’s regular first XI starters may not have played every Villa minute, yet they have still put in significant additional minutes for their international sides.
None, however, have put in as much time as McGinn. By the time that SJM went down with his injury last season, he had averaged a impressive 83 minutes in the 24 games that he had played in all competitions (including an eight minute cameo for Scotland against Belgium). This year over the 14 games that McGinn has played (including internationals), he is averaging an astounding 91 minutes (including an extra-time period for Scotland).
After varying performances in a Villa shirt this season, the question should be asked, how much is too much?
In the games leading up to his injury last season, it was noticeable that the midfield was giving away possession, while after his return, McGinn hardly looked himself.
This season we’ve seen glimpses of McGinn at his best, but this has not been the norm.
Douglas Luiz too is starting to stake his claim on the international stage with Brazil and has seen his recent performances be under par compared to his form from the back end of last season onwards. Luiz has played four international fixtures and has also appeared in one Cup game, giving him the second most minutes per match at 77 per game.
The other internationals follow closely behind as seen in the table below.
[It should also be noted that McGinn played an additional two games in the seven days prior to the opening of the Premier league season.]
With five of Villa’s starting XI making international caps supplementary to their time in the League, what of the remaining six starters you may ask?
Well four of those six players (Konsa, Watkins, Martinez and Targett) have played every minute of league action.
The Magnificent Seven – Ever Present 2020/21 – 720 minutes
Outside of the established starting XI, in league matches, the Villa bench has played a combined 400 minutes, which is less than the least prolific starter, Barkley (455 mins), who wasn’t a Villa player for the first two fixtures and left injured in the opening minutes of Villa’s previous game.
It just proves Smith’s reliance on his first XI and the lack of depth in his squad to give him serious options and tactical variations.
With Barkley now spending weeks out due to his hamstring injury, the gaffer finally has to make some decisions. If Hourihane returns to the fold, Villa are faced with a midfield that now looks eerily similar to 2019/2020’s 17th place Premier League finishers.
Will expectations drop accordingly?
Or will the summer Ollie Watkins and Bertrand Traoré give Villa enough of an extra edge going forward.
There’s no doubt Barkley lifted Villa up a level, but Smith may compensate his loss by focusing on the defensive organisation that made Villa tough to beat at the end of last season.
The summer additions of Ollie Watkins and Bertrand Traoré should give Villa more of a sting on the counter, than during the improved back end of season.
This should aid McGinn if the midfield is more defensive minded, as he won’t need to do so much leg work, especially if Hourihane is instructed to be deeper than Barkley would have been.
New McGinn Influence
While Villa will lose the drive of Barkley, if the Brighton game is anything to go by, McGinn gets more licence to play his natural game. Compared to his 39 touches against Leeds and the 45 touches against Southampton, McGinn found himself with 69 against Brighton, with Barkley off the pitch.
Is the equation of McGinn playing international games leading to less showy performances and ‘triedness’ with Villa, necessarily true? Or has he been playing a deeper role to accommodate Barkley and Grealish, in more attack-minded roles?
With no international breaks until March, we’ll have a chance to see the true McGinn over the winter, to see if his energy levels do indeed suffer from his extra Scottish workload. Likewise, we’ll get to see him in a Villa team without Barkley over the next couple of games at least.
A lot has been made of the five substitutes rule that Dean Smith opposes, which certain Premier League managers seem desperate for. It’s obvious that having two extra subs does nothing to aid the Villa team’s cause, considering the lack of depth on the bench.
However, will this change with the January transfer window a month away?
While Villa fans wish for another striker option – Wesley’s imminent return (and Keinan Davis’s) may put pay to any fresh blood in that department – the numbers and evidence on the pitch, bear out that maybe a genuine box-to-box striker might be the more prudent option. To provide depth and a tactical switch in certain games.
One can hope that this January, Villa looks to the football pitch as opposed to the bakery (see: Drinkwater’s Loaf) for such a player, otherwise recharging McGinn’s booty and keeping it injury free may prove difficult in the congested season ahead.
Additional reporting: David Michael
This season more than any other you need strength in depth. Condensed season, Covid isolation and the need to make sure we stay clear of the drop zone.
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