DOMINIC KING: John McGinn admits ‘every day is a school day’ under Unai Emery – with Aston Villa set to go to the top of the class if they secure European football next season
- Villa wouldn’t have dreamed of challenging for Europe after sacking Gerrard
- But Emery’s appointment has had a transformative impact on the squad’s goals
- LIVERPOOL 1-1 ASTON VILLA: Jurgen Klopp’s side held in last-gasp home draw
The prospect of final day drama had just been introduced to the conversation when John McGinn’s eyebrows suddenly raised and he started to smile.
Aston Villa’s well-earned point at Anfield had ensured that if they beat Brighton on Sunday, Unai Emery will have completed the unthinkable and secured his team a place in Europe.
Still, funny things can happen on the final day, when nerves and emotions take hold, but McGinn’s reaction when asked what he expected from Emery over the course of this week at their Bodymoor Heath base was revealing.
‘He will have an obsession this week on how to beat Brighton — there will be hours and hours of watching how we can find their weaknesses,’ McGinn said, his tone and expression very telling. ‘I’m sure we will have plenty of meetings!
‘There will be plenty of detail. But if you ask any player who has worked with him this year, they would say he has been an absolute pleasure. He’s made me better, he’s made other players better. The details you’re going into, you’re going into the games with a clear plan.
Unai Emery has turbo-charged Aston Villa’s prospects this season since arriving in October
The Villans are still in the fight for European football next season should they beat Brighton
John McGinn (centre) is full of admiration for his Spanish coach and claims to be learning alot
‘He can adapt as well. It’s not just a system that is predictable. He can change and we had a couple of changes which spooked Liverpool in the first half. If we want to play in Europe, we need to come to places like this and get results.’
And Villa were certainly full value for their point. Liverpool’s final home game was thick with emotion for the departing Roberto Firmino, whose last-minute equaliser after coming off the bench seemed pre-ordained, but Emery’s superbly-coached team never batted an eye.
Some of their tactics infuriated the locals — the time- wasting, in particular, was dreadful — but the best performers were all wearing Villa shirts, such as Douglas Luiz, McGinn and goalscorer Jacob Ramsey, and this was more evidence of the potential they have under Emery.
‘Every day is a school day with him,’ said McGinn. ‘I was not used to his style of football, the Spanish way. I’ve always had British ex-pros as managers who were all brilliant for me, brilliant for my career but he’s showing me a different side of football.
‘I’m certainly enjoying it. I feel as if I’ve got so much left to learn, and even at 28 there’s so much more learning to do. We could probably sell the ground twice over next week. It’s a passionate club, a sleeping giant, and hopefully next week we can start to waken up a wee bit.’
For Liverpool, it will be the Europa League next year and the realisation that the top four was now off the agenda clearly stung Klopp and his squad. Still, they believed they should have won this game and quite how VAR disallowed a ‘goal’ from Cody Gakpo in the second half was mystifying.
‘I didn’t understand what was going on,’ said Virgil van Dijk, who was deemed to be offside. ‘I asked Michael Oliver (the fourth official) what was going on and it was a question of whether the Villa player (Ezri Konsa) deliberately headed it back. I’ve no idea.
‘It would be good if next season we can hear what they discuss and be transparent. That’s what happened in Holland. Why not over here?’
It was a somewhat disappointing end of the season for Virgil Van Dijk after narrowly missing out on a top-four spot
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