In Focus: McGinn set to be a Villa thriller under Gerrard
John McGinn had an impressive international break with Scotland — and he returns to club side Aston Villa with a new man in charge.
The 27-year-old all-action midfielder was at the heart of the two impressive wins for the Tartan Army against Moldova and Denmark.
Things have been a bit more difficult with the Villans of late after five straight defeats saw manager Dean Smith sacked and replaced with Steven Gerrard.
As one of Villa’s most influential players, McGinn will hope to play a key role in kickstarting their new era and is now working under the tutelage of one of the Premier League’s best ever to play his position in Liverpool legend Gerrard
Ahead of the Merseysider's Premier League managerial debut against Brighton, we look at how McGinn could be one of the biggest beneficiaries from Gerrard's arrival.
A stunning 2-0 victory to deny Denmark a perfect World Cup qualifying record meant that Steve Clarke’s men have now won six from six for the first time since 1928.
And perhaps more importantly, it also secured them a home draw for their crunch qualification play-off in March.
No man has played more of a part in that run than McGinn, who grabbed an assist versus Moldova before a video of him delightfully nutmegging his opponent with a backheel also gained plenty of attention online.
He followed those efforts up with a simply breathtaking display against the Euro 2020 semi-finalists at Hampden Park.
McGinn recorded 50 touches, one key pass, drew three fouls and had three successful dribbles during the latest influential performance in an international career that has yielded 11 goals and four assists in 41 caps to date.
On his No7, Scotland manager Clarke said: "He sets a good tempo for us. He’s shown over the course of my time here, he’s grown as an international player.
"The more caps he’s got, the more responsibility he’s had within the camp and the better he has become.
"He’s a big personality on and off the pitch. He’s a key member of our squad on the pitch but he shows a lot off the pitch as well."
It has been a troublesome campaign for Villa following the loss of star man Jack Grealish — but the performances of McGinn have been a rare positive.
He was a relative unknown when he arrived from Hibernian for £3million in 2018 but quickly cemented himself as a fan favourite after helping his new club secure promotion back to the Premier League in his first campaign.
His energetic and combative displays in midfield often draw attention, rating highest at Villa this season for possessions won in the middle third (35) and second for total tackles (20).
But what also comes to the fore when playing a deeper role for his club is his technical ability and expert passing range, ranking the highest for final third passes completed (92) and second for long passes completed (34).
He also seems to have recaptured his magic touch in front of goal, netting twice in his first 10 games after finding the net only three times in 37 outings last term.
Former Villans manager Smith summed up McGinn’s all-round ability well.
He said last month: "John’s a proper box-to-box midfielder who has got all the capabilities of doing anything on the ball, in terms of switching the play, playing short stuff.
"He’s getting back to scoring goals too, which I like, because it’s a big part of his game that he brought for us.
"Technically he’s a very good player. Hitting long passes, hitting short passes, having an awareness of what’s around him.
"He uses his body well. That was what players from a different era used to do and he’s very good at that, which probably gets overlooked. But not at Aston Villa."
Learning from the best
There are always winners and losers that come from a managerial appointment but Gerrard’s arrival will surely benefit McGinn more than most.
The Liverpool legend knows just what it takes to become the master of a position, as a man who also excelled in several areas during his own playing days.
The way Gerrard set up at Rangers will excite McGinn too, often favouring energetic options in midfield in a possession-based style — something the boss has already indicated he is keen to transfer to the Premier League outfit.
Having both experienced the rough and tumble of the Scottish Premiership, they will be no strangers to each other's approaches to the game.
And former Villa and Scotland right-back Alan Hutton has suggested that Gerrard is equally as excited to work with his new midfield general.
Hutton told BBC 5 Live: "Steven Gerrard is bursting to meet John and I think it’ll be the same the other way. It’s a conversation I’ve had.
"When you look at the likes of Gerrard's Rangers, John fits that mould of player that he loves. He loves midfielders who are combative, can get about the pitch, can make things happen.
"John does all those things at such a high level. I’m pretty sure he will be really looking forward to working with him."
While McGinn will have been as disappointed as anyone to see Smith leave, his partnership with Gerrard could prove to be a match made in heaven.