Is Scott Mctominay Manchester United's hidden gem?
Background image: Daniel CC BY-SA 2.0
Since Manchester United's ill-fated first-leg loss to Barcelona, everything seems to have gone downhill. Perhaps their 4-0 bashing at the Nou Camp could have been predicted. When one takes a closer look at their hard-fought victory at Old Trafford against West Ham in April, the numbers are telling.
At home, the historically dominant Red Devils succumbed to four more shots on goal than the opposition, enjoyed less possession and faced eight more corners than they won. The flattering scoreline against the Hammers was followed by successive 4-0 defeats at the hands of Barcelona and Everton.
When asked whether his players cared enough in a post-match interview, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replied with an uneasy "I don't know". Somewhere in Europe, Jose Mourinho smiled.
Solskjaer can take positives from recent results though. With most of the squad underperforming, a few are stepping in and stepping up. In their first leg against Barcelona, United mostly managed to stop the Catalans from playing their usual smooth free-flowing football. According to the absent Mourinho, this was down to Scott McTominay.
Barcelona was not Barcelona. I think United had one player that was responsible for that because I think Scott McTominay in midfield, he was like what I used to call, but when I use this expression it’s obviously in the total positive sense of the word, a mad dog. Afraid of nobody. Imposing his respect. Pressing really hard with a huge range of movement, a huge area of pressing. Pressing higher and creating problems in Barcelona building up, then really aggressive on the duels.
The academy produt won all his aerial duels, all his tackles and made five ball recoveries. His passing accuracy clocked in at 80%. Mctominay usually attracts a plethora of criticism from United faithful. He brings the fewest technical gifts to the table among the squad's midfielders. He has no tattoos and an invisible social media presence. You can't argue with the numbers that derive from his hard work, however. With Nemanja Matic increasingly burdened by age and Ander Herrera apparently on the move, the 23-year-old may solve United's defensive midfield issues.
When United failed to defeat bottom-table Huddersfield, the draw left them without Champions League football in 2019/20. That begs the question, what available talent will be willing to take on that role? That McTominay was the one bright spark against the Terriers answers the query with another question. Is anyone needed? Deployed in a more advanced position, the 22-year-old revealed a different side to his game. Early on, he bombed forward, supporting Paul Pogba and Juan Mata. To further validate his newfound versatility, he was rewarded with a goal when the ball fell to him on the edge of the box.
With Herrera boning up on his French, Juan Mata's contract set to run out and Pogba reportedly being courted by Spanish giants Real Madrid, United might need all the midfield reinforcements they can get next season. On the other hand, if you remember Pogba is under contract for the foreseeable future, McTominay's emergence may allow the club to budget more transfer funds to other pressing needs. He isn't breaking legs or getting into dust-ups with the boss, but the Scottish international is making promises last kept by one Roy Keane.