Monday, 26 February 2018

Great Scott! McTominay impresses in coming of age performance

McTominay got the better of Eden Hazard throughout
For a manager who apparently doesn't like youth, it looks as though Jose and United have unearthed a gem. Scott McTominay was handed his first-team bow at the back end of last season as Mourinho took the opportunity to try his young talent with the senior stars rested for the Europa League final. But the 21-year-old, who has been at Old Trafford since he was five, has enjoyed a breakthrough season in his first full campaign.
 Ander Herrera, given the job of shackling Chelsea's star man Eden Hazard throughout last season's tie, was absent this time around. McTominay, deployed alongside Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic in a midfield three, appeared to be given a similar job this time around.
The talented if tempermental Belgian was forced to the fringes at Old Trafford again, so much so that Antonio Conte took him off on 73 minutes with the tie poised on a knife edge in an attempt to wrest back control of the contest. Nine months ago McTominay was a nondescript midfielder for United's underwhelming Under-23 side, but such has been his meteoric rise that he's now starting in Champions League knockout games and heavyweight top six tussles - the former at the expense of Paul Pogba.

Romelu Lukaku's best game in a United shirt rightly earned him the man of the match award, but McTominay wasn't far behind. Alongside Pogba and the immense Nemanja Matic, this was a coming of age performance that belied McTominay's tender years and showed why he's regarded so highly by his boss. Many fans seems indifferent over McTominay, but many clubs have a player who their manager sees something which is not always apparent to others - Darren Fletcher is a prime example of a player who was criminally under-rated.

He wasn't phased by the high-profile fixture, or the fact that he was in direct competition with N'golo Kante - widely regarded as one of the best midfielders in Europe. True, McTominay was at fault for the opener when he lost Willian as Chelsea broke forward, but he showed character and quality to recover from that mistake. As a young player, when you make an error like that in such an important tie it can sit with you for a while, but it speaks volumes of McTominay that he did not allow that to happen.
Instead, he came out for the second half and - along with Matic - gained control of midfield. He also began the move that led to Jesse Lingard's headed winner.

Of course you have to be careful with a young player, as many have broken through at United before fading into obscurity. We've seen it so many times before, Tom Cleverley and Federico Macheda to name but two examples. But whereas those two gradually regressed, McTominay has made 18 appearances this season and seems to be getting better and better. For all the talk of Toni Kroos as a replacement for the soon-to-be-retired Michael Carrick, McTominay looks his natural successor. He's calm and composed in possession, has an adept range of passing, his distribution is good and he's forward thinking - he's got all the attributes that made Carra such a key cog when at the peak of his powers. If he turns out to be as good as Carrick has been for us, then McTominay will have done very well.

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