Football Features

Scott McTominay: What Mourinho’s Player of the Year actually brings to Man Utd’s Pogba-less midfield

By Harry Edwards

Published: 18:49, 1 November 2019

Scott McTominay has just been named as Manchester United’s Player of the Month for October.

It is the second month running in which McTominay has been given the award, in what is proving to be an impressive season for the Scottish midfielder.

Coming through the academy, McTominay was given his first-team debut for United in a 2-0 defeat to Arsenal in May 2017, coming off the bench with just over five minutes to go. His first start came two weeks later, as manager Jose Mourinho rested players ahead of the Europa League final, with McTominay playing the full 90 minutes in a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace.

McTominay was joined by Demetri Mitchell, Axel Tuanzebe, Josh Harrop, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Joel Pereira in the starting XI that day, but the midfielder has enjoyed a very different career path to his fellow young stars.

The 2017/18 campaign saw McTominay become more of a member of United’s first team, making 23 appearances across all competitions including 13 in the Premier League.

His performances were enough for McTominay to be named Player of the Year by Mourinho – the only United player to have been given that award by a manager.

“He is the one who has done everything. He started the season in the academy and ended it playing big games in the Premier League. I thought this kid cannot go home without an award.”

Jose Mourinho on Scott McTominay in 2017

Despite this, McTominay struggled for game time last season under both Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, making 22 appearances across all competitions, only becoming a consistent part of the first team towards the end of the campaign.

That certainly hasn’t been the case this season, with McTominay missing just two games for United across all competitions, featuring 13 times. His performances have received plaudits from Solskjaer, who dubbed the midfielder a “Man Utd boy” and even hinted at a leadership role for McTominay in the future.

“He’s been excellent,” he told reporters.

“Him and Fred, they’re working a good relationship, they have played well together.

“They did that last season: Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal, there were quite a few games where they played together when we had some injuries. Now they’re working as a pair.

“But Scotty has been excellent. He’s a leader, he’s a Man United boy, he’s come through the ranks – you can see he’s been a striker with the goal he scored against Norwich [City], on the half-turn – but he’s developing into a very good midfielder.”

The main man at the heart of United’s midfield, McTominay has actually found himself having to play against doubters questioning his place in the team.

For some, McTominay is only a United starter due to the lack of quality in the Red Devils’ midfield, signs of their decline since Sir Alex Ferguson left in 2013.

Others overlook his qualities and believe the hype surrounding the man dubbed ‘McSauce’ comes purely because he is an academy product shown to be vocal on the pitch, pointing and shouting at his senior team-mates.

But what does McTominay bring to United’s midfield, especially in the absence of Paul Pogba?

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On the ball strengths

In the Premier League this season, only David de Gea and Harry Maguire (both 900) have played more minutes than McTominay’s 887 for United. The Scot has been the one constant in Solskjaer’s midfield, playing mostly as one of two holding midfielders with the rare foray into a three-man system. And it’s not hard to see why.

Among United’s midfield options, McTominay has had more touches than any other player, being on the ball 704 times. Across the rest of the team, only Maguire (735) has had more touches.

Of McTominay’s 704 touches, 17 have been inside the opposition area, an impressive amount considering the 22-year-old is very much a defensive midfielder, while the Scot is found busier on the right-hand side of the pitch.

McTominay has also completed more passes than any other United midfielder with 412 of his 512 attempts finding a team-mate, with an accuracy of 80.47%. And they are progressive, with 30.3% of McTominay’s attempted passes moving forward compared to just 8.6% going backwards. In fact, no other United player has made more passes into the final third than McTominay’s 75 – level with Ashley Young.

And only Maguire (554) and Victor Lindelof (455) have completed more passes than McTominay at United, though that is to be expected with Solskjaer encouraging his team to play out from the back and the pair being renowned for their skills on the ball.

McTominay is also proving himself to be tough to get off the ball, completing 15 take-ons in the Premier League so far this season, with only Marcus Rashford (16) managing more for United. And when opponents have been able to take the ball away from McTominay, they often have to resort to illegal means, with the Scot winning more fouls (26) than any other United player.

But where McTominay really thrives is in doing the hard work that no other United midfielder can replicate – including those currently out of action through injury.

Out-duelling Wan-Bissaka

In the Premier League, McTominay has won more duels (78) than any other United player. His closest rival is the impressive defender Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who sits 14 behind on 64, but if we focus on just the midfielders then Daniel James comes in next at 43.

The Scottish midfielder has also made more recoveries than any other United player with 76, reacting faster than most to help keep the Red Devils on the front foot.

 

Among United’s midfielders, McTominay comes out on top for tackles made (18) and interceptions (14), with the Scot giving his all to try and hamper his opponents and keep the defence secure. McTominay is only bettered in these metrics among the rest of his team-mates by the aforementioned duel king Wan-Bissaka, who has made a simply ridiculous 43 tackles to add to 15 interceptions.

McTominay’s influence in the centre of the pitch has helped United control some of their games this season, though the midfielder has been let down by his team-mates on more than one occasion. A midfield of three McTominay’s wouldn’t be the most creative one but it would certainly help United stay on top of games and boost them up the table.

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