Thursday, 11 April 2019

Scott McTominay comes of age for Manchester United

Much like Marouane Fellaini was synonymous with David Moyes reign of Old Trafford terror, Scott McTominay had become guilty by association. Jose Mourinho adored him so much that he told the the others to follow McTominay's lead, and the Portuguese even made up an end of season award for him.
When Mourinho left United in December, many assumed that McTominay would follow, somewhere to the lower echelons of the Championship or League One. There had been fleeting glimpses of the player's ability but nothing to suggest the hype placed around him was justified. It held sway that he simply did not seem cut out for the job of being a key man in the Man Utd midfield.

 There were even unfair and unkind suggestions that his sudden rise to prominence at Old Trafford had been purely down to the bitter rift that had developed between egotistical manager Mourinho and his precocious record signing Paul Pogba. Mourinho liked him because he was tall, rangy, could tackle and wasn't Pogba. Given his poor record in the promotion of youth talents, that ticked another box for Mourinho too.

As new boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer brought fresh ideas and a new identikit to United, McTominay seemingly had no future. Solskjaer settled for a midfield status quo of Messrs Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera with McTominay forced to the fringes. But as an injury crisis took hold, McTominay has only grown and come of age as a United player before our very eyes.

The 22-year-old only got the nod to play in the second leg of the Champions League last 16 tie in Paris because his caretaker manager Solskjaer was without no fewer than 10 players, including his entire midfield, due to illness, injury and suspension. However, the Lancashire-born and raised Scot more than justified his selection; he was one of the Norwegian’s standout performers on that extraordinary, never to be forgotten, night in the Parc des Princes. Against a midfield containing Marquinhos and Marco Verratti, McTominay was the best player on the pitch in the holding role, protecting the back four, breaking up play and starting attacks with temerity, courage and tenacious willpower. As the level in quality of opposition ratcheted up another notch on Wednesday, so did McTominay's performance.

Serial winners Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets, two metronomic masters of their trade who have been there done it and won everything there is to win, were hassled and harried into submission by McSauce. As United dominated midfield and took control of the game, McTominay was the best player on the pitch. Many men greater in stature than him have baulked under the controlling influence of Barca's two pass masters, but the Scot was instead inspired. There were many positives for Solskjaer and United to take from the tie, and McTominay was undoubtedly the biggest one.  It was reminiscent of the night a 19-year-old Jack Wilshere went toe-to-toe for Arsenal with the Barcelona of Xavi, Iniesta and Guardiola et al in 2011. Surrounded by a galaxy of stars and the man from another planet entirely, McTominay was top class.

United may feel less aggrieved about losing Ander Herrera to Paris St-Germain this summer after watching an immense showing from McSauce, a performance that belied his tender years. Perhaps the Basque's natural engine room successor has been found from within. He was United's best performer and this was confirmation, if it were needed given how highly he is rated inside Old Trafford, that he can be trusted in high-pressure situations and in the most illustrious of company.

McTominay’s performance on that historic night in the city of love last month had clearly done wonders for his confidence, as did a similarly assured display in the goalless draw at home to Liverpool, when Solskjaer likened him to Fletcher. This is an inexperienced United team, certainly in European terms, and it really shows at times, but they have to gain that experience somewhere and McTominay, for one, will be a richer player for this.

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