Unai Emery faces crucial Aston Villa tactical decision on John McGinn after new summer additions
John McGinn committed his future to Aston Villa after signing a new four-year contract last month, and Unai Emery holds a major decision to make as to where he fits in his tactical setup next season.
The Scotland international joined Villa from Hibernian in 2018 and quickly established himself as a fan favourite under then-manager Steve Bruce before becoming an even more impactful and influential figure under Steven Gerrard and Emery.
After skippering Villa to a first European finish in over a decade under the Spaniard last season and taking substantial steps to improve his individual game, his long-term contract at Villa Park was duly and thoroughly deserved.
In the 24 Premier League games Emery has managed, the Villans have picked up an impressive 46 points out of a possible 72, meaning they’d be in and amongst the top four had the season started when he joined.
McGinn, 28, has been back at the heart of the Villa rejuvenation since Emery’s appointment in November which has been even more notable given he was left out of the team by previous caretaker manager Aaron Danks against Brentford at Villa Park [23 October] before the managerial change.
It’s been a remarkable transformation under the Spaniard in just a matter of months, with the former Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain boss providing the club with a clear tactical identity and resilience – albeit under strange tactical and positional responsibilities.
And one of those decisions has been based around the positions of several of his key stars, due to a lack of attacking options in the wide areas which was evidently been seen through McGinn – utilised in an unfamiliar wide role throughout Emery’s tenure.
Such a transformation in responsibilities provided the Scottish international a new lease of life at Villa Park and he proved every week, that he remained a crucial component in Emery’s project at Villa Park.
Amongst attacking midfielders/wingers in Europe’s top five leagues, McGinn ranked incredibly well for his defensive metrics, in the 93rd percentile for tackles won per 90, 82nd percentile for interceptions, 85th percentile for blocks and 72nd percentile for aerial duels won per 90 [FBRef].
McGinn may not possess the same creative class as Emi Buendia or a Philippe Coutinho, but for what he offers Emery in those areas, he excelled tremendously, ranking in the 91st percentile for passes into the final third, in the 93rd percentile for successful take-ons % per 90 and also ranks surprisingly well for progressive passes [FBRef].
Though, the reason Emery loves McGinn is because of his work rate, endeavour and aggression when defending from the front or from a deep defensive position.
As per SofaScore, McGinn has averaged an impressive 1.9 tackles per game and successfully wins 59% of his ground duels and 58% of his total duels.
All of these impressive numbers came while he fulfilled an unfamiliar role out-wide but next season, that role could considerably change and the Scottish international may not be handed the same guarantees in Emery’s team as he enjoyed previously.
Following the additions of Youri Tielemans and Moussa Diaby, McGinn’s spot is now filled with an abundance of quality suggesting he now faces a crucial fight on his hands to establish himself again as a regular starter.
The 28-year-old has become Emery’s very own huntsman on the pitch ready to fulfil any of Emery’s tactical desires right down to a tee, making him the perfect commodity in his expansive but rigid philosophy.
It will be incredibly hard to leave McGinn out of the team given the unique and unbridled desire and aggression he brings to the cause under Emery’s stewardship.
Tielemans and Diaby, alongside Douglas Luiz and Emi Buendia, means Aston Villa could well be transitioning towards a more expansive, controlled and attractive attacking approach for which finding a spot for McGinn, who excels when Aston Villa have their backs against the wall, may prove rather difficult.
Emery’s tactical decision to shunt him out to the right flank may have seemed strange to the Villa Park faithful, but to McGinn, it was another impressive string to his positional bow as he has certainly provided Aston Villa with the perfect tactical balance both defensively and in the attacking sense.
But, that role will now be filled by the likes of Diaby and Bailey on the opposite flank while Tielemans will be likely to fill in alongside Douglas Luiz in the centre of midfield, with Emi Buendia ahead of them.
Where does that leave the flawless and ever-present McGinn? Emery certainly now has an abundance of quality at his disposal but that comes with potential headaches and the Spaniard faces a crucial decision in the coming days as to what system and what personnel he favours when he picks his team for their season opener against Newcastle United on 12 August.
Some neutrals may argue it’s a fascinating headache to have, but from Emery’s point of view, it’s a very painful one.
In other Aston Villa news, the club are interested in securing the services of a Champions League-winning free agent this summer.