With Scotland due to face Slovakia without key men Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong, we make the case for Hibs midfielder John McGinn to get a place in the starting XI...
He thrives on the big stage
McGinn relishes big games, whether it be a cup final at Hampden, a game under the lights at Easter Road or a trip to face a Celtic side unbeaten in 57 matches. That he won the Man of the Match award when he turned out for Scotland against Denmark shows he can carry his club performances onto the international stage - and with Scotland needing a victory against Slovakia to keep their World Cup hopes alives, games don’t come much bigger than this.
He’s in top form
Never mind the fact he scored a double against Celtic - making him just the third player to net a brace at Parkhead under Brendan Rodgers, after Edinson Cavani and Lionel Messi - McGinn’s all round performance against the champions was impressive. Since arriving at Hibs McGinn has worked hard to improve his game, and has come on leaps and bounds first under Alan Stubbs and now under Neil Lennon. His performances have caught the eye of English Championship clubs, most notably Nottingham Forest who tried unsuccessfully to lure the midfielder to the City Ground. In pre-season, he didn’t look out of place facing Sunderland, and kept Gabon international Didier Ndong quiet in the midfield while against Celtic, he was more than a match for fellow Scotland member Callum McGregor and £4.5 million signing Olivier Ntcham.
McGinn’s versatility at Hibs has seen him perform in a number of roles, including box-to-box midfielder and a deep-lying playmaker. Gordon Strachan appears to favour McGinn in the latter role, but the Hibs midfielder has performed in a number of formations including Strachan’s preferred 4-2-3-1, as well as 3-5-2 and a 4-4-2 diamond. Whether in the holding role or as part of an attacking midfield trio, McGinn is an option. He’s not the quickest but his determination to get forward coupled with his boundless energy can often carry him past opponents and makes him a handful for teams no matter what role he plays. His strength as well is a key part of his game - he doesn’t get brushed off the ball very often and can hold his own against quality opponents - which will be needed against Slovakia.
His creativity is key
Regular visitors to Easter Road over the past two and a bit seasons will have seen what McGinn is capable of. Defence-splitting through balls, crossfield passes and a quality final ball are commonplace. Scotland need players capable of conjuring something out of nothing - McGinn showed against Celtic, and has proven in previous games, that he has that skill. He has an understandable belief and confidence in his own ability which is a big part of his game - he tries things that other players may deem too risky. As evidenced by his man-of-the-match performance against Denmark in March of last year on his debut for Scotland, McGinn doesn’t often waste a ball and is a positive player. Scotland need that if they are to give themselves the best chance of victory against Ján Kozák’s side. He’s also an additional goal threat, more so than the likes of Scott Brown, who he could very well replace in the starting line-up.
The experience will boost his development
The match is a must-win for Scotland, there is no doubt about that. But McGinn’s continued involvement in matches of this calibre are vital for his development as a player both domestically and on the international scene. Strachan seems to have earmarked McGinn as a future regular for the national side, and experience in games of this importance while still at the age of 22 will do McGinn no harm as he strives to improve his game. Should he start against Slovakia he will come up against players from La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga - the perfect test for a player looking to go as far as he can in the game.