John McGinn: We Need to Keep Villa in this League, No Matter What
John McGinn scored the goal that secured Aston Villa’s promotion last season, then he opened their account in the Premier League and now, after recovering from a broken ankle, he says he is raring to save Villa from relegation when the season restarts.
He was due to return to action against Chelsea in March but that match was postponed when the league was paused. Since then McGinn, like everyone else, has been playing a waiting game.
“It’s coming up to six months since my last game so I’m choking to get out there,” says the Scot, whose enterprise from midfield was sorely missed by Villa after his injury against Southampton in December. The club’s problems deepened 10 days later when they lost another two influential players, Tom Heaton and Wesley, to damaged cruciate ligaments.
Although deeply frustrated at being forced to watch from the sidelines as his team slipped into the relegation zone, McGinn says his sympathy for the misfortunes of others made sure he never felt too sorry for himself even before the pain inflicted on so many by COVID-19.
“I got injured two days after the team Christmas visits to the Acorns Hospice and the Children’s Hospital,” he says. “It is something I won’t forget. It is something which brings you right back down to earth and you realize the things these families are going through. How tough it is for them.”
The Premier League is set to resume on June 17. Villa sit 19th in the table but have a game in hand on everyone else in the bottom half. They face a particularly tough schedule, with most of their remaining 10 matches against the top teams.
Villa’s survival could depend on their ability to make the best of the league’s disruption, using the hiatus to do work that would not have been possible in a normal season. The task of staying up has been complicated by having to mold a team rapidly after signing more than a dozen players following promotion to the top flight.
“I thought that before the lockdown we were showing small signs of progression,” says McGinn. “It’s not easy when you sign a lot of new players. They have to adapt to the country and the lifestyle first and foremost and then try to gel as a team.”
During the lockdown Dean Smith staged regular analysis sessions with the squad over Zoom, and for the last fortnight the players have enjoyed solo attention at the training ground.
“We’ve been working on weaknesses individually that you don’t always get the chance to do,” says McGinn. “In football the pressure is obviously on results and when games are coming thick and fast you focus on the team. But during this period, we’ve had to do individual work. So that’s a positive in a way but we’ve got to implement it now.
“We all know we’ve not had a great season really in the league but we still have the opportunity to finish strongly and make sure that no matter what, we keep Villa in the league.”
He knows Villa will have to get accustomed quickly to playing in eerie surrounds. “It’s going to be odd,” he says. “A lot of the lads are used to playing at a full Villa Park and other packed stadiums and thriving off the atmosphere and using that adrenaline you get as a football player.
“But nothing is going to be straightforward now, whether that’s in football or even just going to the shops. You have to queue up to get into supermarkets. None of it is ideal but we all just have to try and adapt as best as we can. We’re no different. In an ideal world we would love to have the support of our fans and the supporters would all love to be there but it’s not ideal at the minute and the powers that be will decide when it’s safe to do so. When that moment comes it will be even more special than before.”
He has been encouraged by the way the Bundesliga has returned. “I’ve been watching most of it,” he says. “It’s been good and quite refreshing to see. I think they have adapted to it quite well. It’s very odd hearing the echo, especially in the bigger stadiums, but they have dealt with it quite well.
“Even watching Dortmund vs. Bayern Munich [last month], the standard is still so good. I’m sure if we can adapt to it as quickly and as easily as possible, we can keep the same standard as when the fans were in.”
Villa can also take heart from the example of their own form last season, when they went on a 10-match winning streak to make a late surge into the play-offs, a run that set the stage for McGinn’s winning goal against Derby County in the play-off final. “We’ve got to use that experience,” he says. “We’re not naive enough to think we can go and win 10 in a row in the Premier League but if we can get that sort of confidence and belief, we can get Villa out of this situation we’re in. We’re just inside the relegation zone at the minute but we’re more than capable of getting out of it and it’s in our own hands.”
The Guardian Sport