Football Features

Socrates McTominay destroyed football’s great philosopher in Man Utd 6-2 Leeds

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:59, 20 December 2020

In a pulsating evening of football, Manchester United thrashed Leeds United 6-2 at Old Trafford.

This was the first league meeting between these old rivals for 16 years and it was an open and exciting end-to-end contest won emphatically by The Red Devils, lifting them up to third in the Premier League. What did we learn?

1. Socrates McTominay’s true potential

For the first five minutes of Manchester United vs. Leeds United, Scott McTominay turned into the footballing reincarnation of the great Brazilian midfielder Socrates. A towering figure both in terms of presence and skill, Socrates was tall but he could run and dribble and shoot.

McTominay did all of that and more from the start against Leeds. He was a furious force, not in the usual way where he tackles anything that moves, but instead he showed his skills bursting from midfield. Arriving late to thunder in a long-range cannon and open the scoring, then doubling the lead later with a great run, a simply sublime touch and then a confident left-foot finish. Marcelo Bielsa’s philosophy undone by the simplest but most brilliantly executed football.

Neither goal would have looked out of place on the highlight reel of Brazil’s performances of the 1982 World Cup, and they make plain as day the true potential of Scott McTominay; not as a legendary midfield bruiser but a box-to-box midfielder with the ability to hurt teams with his shooting (he even picked up a tasty assist in the second-half although that was, shall we say, fortunate).

The Scot is never going to be a great passer, but with his size and pace and power as well as his finishing technique there’s no reason he cannot become a genuine and consistent goal threat from midfield. Today showed us the high-end of that potential, as Socrates McTominay destroyed football’s great philosopher.

2. Bielsa must stand firm

For what seems like the umpteenth game this season, Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds have taken an absolute beating. 6-2 is their biggest defeat of the season and they were objectively terrible, so there will no doubt be calls for Bielsa to be more “realistic” and alter his shape and/or system in order to mitigate damage and help the side progress.

But the thing is, despite losing the match, Bielsa has not been “outmanaged” in the sense that opponents have figured out a tactical counter to his system. Rather they have exploited the human weakness at the heart of Leeds’ system. Bielsa needs the players executing his tactics to be brilliant, and with a couple of exceptions Leeds just aren’t very talented when compared to a lot of Premier League sides.

So the likes of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard have “outmanaged” Bielsa by virtue of having much, much better players than he does. This disparity in quality has exposed the fine margins Bielsa has his team operate in, which could be seen as a weakness except that in matches where the quality is more even, Bielsa’s players do better.

Not having a system to beat superior sides could be seen as a weakness if winning (and only winning) is what one prizes in football. But Bielsa knows that football is bigger than results and that creating a culture of good football, of being entertaining to fans, is just as important.

Leeds were exciting going forward today, and despite never playing well as a unit they cut United open on more than one occasion with some lovely passing football and were it not for a some good saves and daft finishing the scoreline could genuinely have been closer. And that’s because of the way Marcelo Bielsa has set them up. To be pulsating and entertaining in the structure he provides.

When asked post-match, Bielsa said he wouldn’t abandon his system. And that’s rightly so. Even Roy Keane said post-match that both of the other promoted sides would swap positions with Leeds “in a heartbeat” and a lot of that is down to the manager and his philosophy.

Leeds can beat smaller sides, like they did to Aston Villa midweek. And with Bielsa at the helm, plus time and investment, Leeds will start to get results in these kind of games, too.

3. The Good Martial

There are two Anthony Martials, and you can usually tell which one is playing in the first five minutes. There are times when Martial will amble around the pitch looking disinterested or unable to even do simple things like pass it sideways. But then there are times when Martial will be an unstoppable footballing genius whose movement and link-play takes United to the next level.

Today we saw “The Good Martial” and Leeds were torn apart by his movement. Martial’s assist for the second goal was a simply sublime pass through the defence for the runner Scott McTominay. Martial then bagged his second-assist with a lovely near-post flick-on for Victor Lindelof to make it 4-0 and inbetween those he basically teed the ball up for Bruno Fernandes to smash home the third.

Sure, he missed a couple of great chances and his finishing is, as ever, inconsistent. But he brings so much more to the match, when The Good Martial shows up anyway, that you can see why Ole Gunnar Solskjaer persists with him despite the dodgy shots. 4 chances created was a game-high, as was 7/9 dribbles completed. He is a complete centre-forward, he just needs to work on that consistency.

4. Meslier plays his heart out

For a game that finished 6-2, you wouldn’t have thought either goalkeeper would emerge with much credit. But David de Gea made a couple of tasty saves and Illan Meslier, the young Frenchman who shipped six goals, was absolutely magnificent.

Meslier was constantly exposed by his team-mates who offered him little-to-no protection, and yet he constantly acquitted himself well, diving all over his goal to repel the United shots which came at a high frequency.

All told Manchester United had 14 shots on target. 14! Six of them went in which means that Meslier made a massive 8 saves. Can you imagine making 8 saves and still conceding six? He literally kept the score down to single digits, especially late when his team-mates had clearly run out of energy and United looked like scoring every time they attacked.

Keep an eye on him, this kid could be going places.


West Brom vs. Aston Villa kicks-off at 19:15

Confirmed West Brom XI: Johnstone; Furlong, Ajayi, O’Shea, Gibbs; Phillips, Sawyer, Livermore; Gallagher, Diangana, Grant.

Confirmed Aston Villa XI: Martinez; Cash, Hause, Mings, Targett; Douglas Luiz, McGinn; Traore, Grealish, El Ghazi; Watkins.

Find out how to tune in with Sky Ultimate TV + Sky Sports


5. Ole’s at the wheel? 

Manchester United are third in the Premier League? If they win their game in-hand, they’ll be second? Just two points off the top of the table? Having won just two of their home games so far this season??

All of these things are true, yet it’s hard to fathom given the vibe around Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United. Yet the Norwegian coach has played things perfectly of late, particularly today when he put his most athletic, hard-working side out on the pitch and had them run at Leeds repeatedly. This simple approach completely overwhelmed Leeds and led to United’s big win.

Solskjaer is not a great coach, but he can do simple things well. And he’s not too bad at diagnosing when certain squad players will be needed; look at how he used Dan James today, and the way he knew not to play Paul Pogba against a pressing team. He simply unfurled his side and had them unleash hell, and it worked.

If Solskjaer can keep correctly diagnosing what kind of approach is needed in games (he was far too cautious in games against lacklustre Chelsea, Arsenal and even Man City sides) and keep lifting his players to deliver for him then don’t rule out United actually staying near the top of the table for the whole season.