Aston Villa saw their hopes of back-to-back Premier League wins go up in smoke, after they were consigned to a surprising 1-0 defeat to ten-man Sheffield United on Wednesday night.
The Blades have been rooted to the bottom of the table for much of this season, but pulled off a real shock at Bramall Lane thanks to a goal from David McGoldrick.
Villa as a whole didn’t look like themselves, but one man who really struggled to get to the pace of the game, was John McGinn.
The Scotland international looked out of sorts, losing possession 21 times on the night, which is far above his season average in the Premier League of 12.9 per match. He also wasn’t decisive enough in his passing either, boasting the second-highest amount of touches for Villa with 99, but only providing one key pass – even left-back Matt Targett matched his efforts.
And it wasn’t just him being sloppy in the middle of the park either. He missed a glorious opportunity early on into the game that would have handed Villa the initiative but he fluffed his lines completely after some good work from Ollie Watkins – all in all, none of his four attempts found the target.
Writing in his post-match player ratings for The Birmingham Mail, Ashley Preece said: “His sloppy pass in midfield almost handed Sheffield United their first chance, only for his brilliant recovery to pinch it back from inside the box to deny Baldock from slamming home. McGinn, though, missed a huge chance after 10 minutes as he rushed his effort after Watkins’ nod down and slashed it wide of the far post.
“McGinn was guilty of ball-watching for United’s opener as McGoldrick raced past three black Villa shirts before striking home. The Scot did improve slightly after the hosts went down to 10 men and almost assisted Traore with a cute header before his effort was well-blocked while, moments later, he had a shot of his own which was deflected for a corner by Ampadu. Looked sluggish here, as if the effort at Leeds had taken something out of him.”
And that last part is what’s absolutely critical for Villa, and why Smith should make that bold call of dropping him from the starting line-up. The £18m-rated man has played the full 90 minutes in every single Premier League game this season bar one, and that was only because of picking up a suspension for the clash against Newcastle.
The Scotland international showed signs of real fatigue and burn-out against the Blades, and given that Smith has January signing Morgan Sanson still knocking on the door for his first start in the top-flight, now seems like the perfect time for such a change to be made.
McGinn just looked off the pace going forward, and even tracking back, as seen by his role in allowing McGoldrick to score the winner. It would be a ruthless call to drop someone who’s been Mr Undroppable for Villa this season, but Wednesday’s game showed why that must exactly happen.