The conundrum: Ross Barkley and John Mcginn.
(Photo by Peter Powell - Pool/Getty Images)

Having lost two on the bounce Dean Smith has a conundrum to tackle. It's clear to see something is missing in the centre of the park - less energy in recent times. Can fan favourites John Mcginn and Ross Barkley play to the best of their abilities together? The pair were largely disappointing during villa's 3-4 loss to Southampton on Sunday. The duo also failed to impress during the Leeds fixture too.

Value for money! 

Mcginn,26, joined Aston Villa from Hibernian in 2019 for a substantially low figure of £2.75 million. He slotted into the midfield brilliantly and quickly became a fan favourite at Villa Park. That season, the Scotsman, played in a more advanced role where he formed a formidable partnership with Captain, Jack Grealish. Furthermore, he scored the winning goal in the play-off final to send the fallen giants back to the Premier League. Incredible for his price tag! 

Fast forward to the 19/20 campaign; Jack and John continued to bounce off one and other. However, Mcginn suffered a lengthy injury in December which left him on the sidelines until Project Restart.

In comes Barkley.

After surviving relegation on the final day last year the Midlands side needed to address their recruitment issues for the upcoming campaign. Smith tied down six players to help his side push on this year. The final and arguably the biggest of the window was Ross Barkley on a season-long loan from Chelsea. Following the news of Grealish staying this was seen as a perfect addition to take the pressure off the boyhood Villa fan. Having scored, two in two, in his first two starts, he imminently raised the bar. 

The Conundrum

Prior to the arrival of Barkley, Smith opted for his preferred 4-3-3 formation. Grealish played down the wing while Mcginn sat on the left-hand side of a flat midfield. The bromance continued between the two as their team got off to a flying start, winning 3 in 3. 

The midfield performance was particularly impressive during Aston Villa's 0-3 win over Fulham. Grealish opened the scoring with a wonderful curling assist from Mcginn. Next on the scoresheet was Irishman, Conor Hourihane; Mcginn and Grealish linked up well to allow Conor to slot the ball home. However, since then Hourihane has had limited game-time. Nevertheless, this was a perfect example of how Smith can get the best out of Mcginn & Co.

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With the arrival of Barkley, a change of formation was implemented - a 4-2-3-1. This was first adopted by the coaching staff during Villa's gruelling win over the Champions Liverpool.   There wasn't one player to fault as Grealish, Barkley and Mcginn all got on the scoresheet that game. One pleasing aspect of Barkley's role was how he was given the license to free-roam around the centre-forward roles. 

The disappearance of Mcginn and Barkley first became apparent at The King Power, where Barkley's stoppage-time winner gave his team all 3 points. However, the 26-year-old,  up until his goal, was largely disappointing. Same goes for Mcginn, in fact, since then, Villa's midfield lacks flair in the final third - a complete contrast to the Liverpool game.

This poses the question of whether the pair can play together effectively. The change in personnel (4-2-3-1) means that Douglas Luiz and Mcginn are now the sitting midfielders while Barkley is allowed to be central; this means his close friend, Grealish can link up down the left with either, Barkley or record-signing, Ollie Watkins. The system now deprives Mcginn the opportunity to be in a more advanced role where he has been so successful in recent times. Dean Smith has to find a way for the talented duo to work together.

A word from the boss.

When speaking to the club's official tv channel, Villa TV, Smith commented on their tactics during the sides 3-4 defeat to Southampton: " we did change it (in the second half) and told Ross (Barkley) to go as a number 10 while the other two sit".