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Captain of a high-flying Aston Villa side currently sat just three points behind leaders Manchester City in the Premier League, John McGinn has been in exemplary form of late for Unai Emery’s charges.

Scotland international McGinn was very much at the fore as Villa sealed a 15th consecutive home win in the Premier League in a 1-0 triumph over Arsenal at the weekend – a club record in the top flight – with the all-action midfielder notching the only goal of the game in style in the seventh minute.

Signed from Scottish Premiership side Hibernian for a bargain £2m in 2018, McGinn achieved promotion to the Premier League via the Championship play-offs in his first season under Dean Smith and has grown into a firm fans’ favourite at the club.

Suffering a notable drop off in form after being named club captain by previous Villa manager Steven Gerrard at the start of last season, McGinn has enjoyed a stunning renaissance since Unai Emery replaced the Liverpool legend at the helm in October 2022.

We examine McGinn’s recent form and influential role for club and country in full in the latest edition of In Focus…  

Aston Villa

'He's Unai Emery's man'

In a terrific week for Aston Villa which has seen Unai Emery's men topple both Manchester City and Arsenal at Villa Park, John McGinn has been at his most confident best – with his tenacity, dynamism and quality on full display.

Often characterised as a spirited workhorse, McGinn's winner against Arsenal showcased the Scotsman's technical prowess, collecting a Leon Bailey cutback on the half-turn before driving past David Raya and into the top corner.

This majestic display highlighted McGinn at the peak of his powers, with the Villa skipper completing the match as the player with the most progressive carries (four) and successful take-ons (three).

McGinn currently casts a markedly different figure from the player who looked lost under Emery’s predecessor Gerrard after assuming the captaincy at the beginning of last season, eventually losing his place in the starting XI after an indifferent run of form.

Operating in a more withdrawn midfield position within Gerrard’s preferred 4-3-3 setup, McGinn appeared ill-suited to a deeper-lying playmaker role which limited his capacity to roam around the field and create scoring opportunities – underlined by his failure to register any goal contributions in Villa’s opening 12 league matches prior to the ex-Rangers manager’s dismissal.

The arrival of Spaniard Emery at Villa Park has seen McGinn move into a more advanced midfield position akin to the role he regularly occupies with distinction for his country.

Villa have typically lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation under Emery this term, with McGinn a mainstay on the right-hand side of midfield with Moussa Diaby playing off Ollie Watkins in attack.

This system provides McGinn the license to do what he does best – drive the team on and make the difference in attacking areas with penetrative forward runs and incisive passes.

This tactical tweak from Emery has already seen McGinn more than double his attacking numbers from last season, registering nine goal contributions so far this year having accrued just four over the duration of last term.

The importance of club captain McGinn upon this thriving Villa side is something which is certainly not lost on the ex-Sevilla and PSG boss.

I really, really appreciate how he is as a person, and as a professional he is fantastic. He’s one of the players I really need to be an example for others.

- Unai Emery, Nov 2023

Aston Villa - Villa Park

No Aston Villa player has made more progressive passes in the Premier League so far this season than John McGinn (89).

Aston Villa Most Successful Take-ons in Premier League 2023/24:

1) John McGinn - 33
2) Leon Bailey - 18
3) Moussa Diaby - 14
4) Douglas Luiz - 12
5) Pau Torres - 12

Chasing silver

As club captain, John McGinn will be striving to become the first man since to lift a major trophy for Aston Villa since Andy Townsend led the club to the League Cup in 1996, with Brian Little’s side overcoming Derby County 3-0 in the final at the old Wembley.

Although the Scotland international was able to play a key role in Villa’s play-off final success at the new Wembley in his first season at the club in 2018-19, the Villans have largely flattered to deceive in cup competitions in recent years.

Aside from their 2-1 defeat to Manchester City in the 2019 EFL Cup final at Wembley, a match McGinn missed through injury, Villa have failed to progress further than the fourth round of either domestic cup competition in the past eight years.

This underperformance in cup competitions is bound to be a source of extreme frustration for Villa’s supporters, and although they were eliminated in the third round of the Carabao Cup against Everton in September, they still have a chance to make up for their inexplicable third round exit to Stevenage in the FA Cup last term in this year’s competition. 

Their commendable seventh place finish in the Premier League last season has also opened up a new potential avenue for silverware with Villa competing in the Europa Conference League this term, and the Villans are currently rated as 4/1 favourites to follow in the footsteps of West Ham last year and be crowned winners of the European competition.

In Emery, they are led by a man with an esteemed pedigree in Europe, as the manager with the record for number of Europa League triumphs having won the competition on four occasions – three with Sevilla and one with Villarreal.

Villa are currently joint-top of Group E in the Europa Conference League alongside Legia Warsaw, after bouncing back with three wins after losing their opening match against the Polish side.

As competition favourites Villa will have their sights firmly set on going all the way to the final which is set to take place in Athens next May, although there will be a number of formidable opponents standing in their way including teams dropping down from the Europa League group stages for the knockout rounds.

A member of the St Mirren side who won the club’s first major trophy in 26 years when overcoming Hearts in the Scottish League Cup final in 2013, and a star man as Hibs lay 114 years of hurt in the Scottish Cup to rest in 2016, Villa skipper McGinn will be desperate to get his hands on silverware in claret and blue.

We have got three opportunities to try and break the spell of Aston Villa teams not having any silverware. Hopefully by the end of the season we can be proud of something we have done and write our names in the history books.

- John McGinn, Oct 2023

Aston Villa are vying to become the second English team to win the Europa Conference League after West Ham claimed the trophy following a dramatic final victory against Fiorentina in Prague last year.

Aston Villa Outright Odds 2023/24:

Premier League:

To Win Outright - 7/2
To Win Outright Without Man City - 10/1
To Finish in Top 2 - 7/1
To Finish in Top 4 - 11/10
To Finish in Top 6 - 1/5

Europa Conference League:

To Win Outright - 7/2

FA Cup:

To Win Outright - 20/1

To Win Any Major Trophy - 2/1

National hero

It is not only on the terraces of Villa Park where McGinn is hero-worshipped, with the 29-year-old a talismanic figure at international level within Steve Clarke’s rejuvenated Scotland side.

The Scots have enjoyed an outstanding year, winning their first five Euro 2024 qualifiers – including a sensational 2-0 triumph over Spain at Hampden in March – to safely progress through to next summer’s finals in Germany.

This will mark the second successive Euros finals Scotland have qualified for, after manager Clarke steered them to their first major tournament in 22 years after a dramatic play-off final penalty shootout victory away to Serbia which sent his charges to Euro 2020.

Since ex-West Brom and Kilmarnock boss Clarke took the reins as Scotland manager in May 2019, no player has scored more goals for the Scots than McGinn with 17.

Utilised in an advanced midfield position in support of a lone striker – most commonly Lyndon Dykes or Che Adams – McGinn is the creative inspiration Scotland rely on heavily to make things happen.

The scorer of some outstanding goals for his country – including an outrageous overhead kick against Austria at Hampden in March 2021 and a sublime curled finish against Israel in October of the same year – the Villa midfielder can be acknowledged to have played some of his best football in the dark blue jersey of Scotland.

Set to wear the armband in Scotland’s upcoming final Euros Qualifiers against Norway in the absence of the injured Andy Robertson, McGinn will have his eyes set on reaching new heights on the international scene ahead of next summer’s hotly-anticipated Euros finals in Germany.

He’s a key member of the squad on and off the pitch, and I think he enjoys it when I push him a little bit further forward to have the chance to make those goals and assists. I’m indebted to John for a lot of the good wins we’ve had.

- Steve Clarke, Sep 2022

Hampden Park

John McGinn has received 62 caps for Scotland since making his international debut against Denmark at Hampden in 2016.

All-time Scotland Top Goalscorers:

1) Denis Law - 30
1) Kenny Dalglish - 30
3) Hughie Gallacher - 23
4) Lawrie Reilly - 22
5) Ally McCoist - 19
6) Kenny Miller - 18
6) John McGinn - 18
8) Robert Hamilton - 15
9) Andy Wilson - 13
9) Robert McColl - 13

Scotland Odds:

To win Euro 2024 Outright - 80/1

Group Qualification Yes/No:
Yes - 8/11
No - 1/1

All odds are correct at the time of publication and are subject to change.

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