Aston Villa are expected to be without Scotland international John McGinn for the Second City derby with Birmingham City after the central midfielder withdrew from international duty with a calf injury.
Dean Smith has called on the services of McGinn more than any other central midfielder since taking over at the helm from Steve Bruce. The Scotland international has recorded a total of 15 Championship appearances so far this season, almost twice as many as his rivals for the position.
In his outings for the claret and blue side of Birmingham, the 24-year-old has led the way for tackles with 31 completed – seven more than any other Aston Villa player.
The Villa number seven has also recorded 16 interceptions and been involved in the flow of the game with a pass every other minute, per WhoScored, helping his side to 24 points – level with Birmingham but ahead on goal difference.
Smith, however, is expected to be without the Glasgow-born ace after he withdrew from international duty prior to tests against Albania and Israel.
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With the 13-cap Scot ruled out with a calf strain, Villa will have spent the international break looking at who can step up to replace an in-form midfielder that scored one and assisted another last time out against Derby County.
Conor Hourihane had partnered McGinn at Pride Park and gave no reason to be dropped after also scoring on the 84th minute in a display featuring an 85% pass success rate and taking four of his side’s five corners.
The decision facing Smith is, therefore, between Birkir Bjarnason and Glenn Whelan. Neither have featured regularly since mid-October but their experience will be a welcome comfort for the loss of a key member of the squad.
Every Villa player will be itching for a call-up for the Second City derby on Sunday, but the man that should be listed alongside Hourihane is Bjarnason.
The 30-year-old has not featured since October 26, playing 41 minutes at QPR, but has proven to be a creative but defensively sound option in his nine outings this season, netting twice to aid his side in securing a win against Wigan and a draw to Bristol City.
When playing centrally, the 74-cap Iceland international has attempted a tackle every 29.3 minutes and was successful in winning the ball 12 times while only being dispossessed by the opposition on two occasions, according to WhoScored data.
That ability to contribute in both aspects of the game, defensively and offensively, should see Bjarnason get the chance to impress in the derby ahead of Whelan.
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