Football Features

“The paradox of Scott McTominay” – Subpar Manchester United struggle to beat Aston Villa in FA Cup

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:27, 10 January 2022

Manchester United beat Aston Villa 1-0 in the FA Cup thanks to an early goal from Scott McTominay.

The Scottish international was voted man of the match by the broadcasters, presumably for his strike because it can’t have been for his performance that saw him chewed up and spit out by a tigerish Aston Villa midfield.

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On a night when Steven Gerrard returned to Old Trafford, for the first-time as a coach, two Scottish internationals who could be said to have styled their games on Gerrard went head-to-head and although McTominay was the literal matchwinner, in terms of the passage of general play it was John McGinn and Aston Villa who dominated.

In fairness to McTominay he was playing alongside Fred, a player of similarly limited capacity, while McGinn played as part of a trio with the brilliant Douglas Luiz and the effervescent Jacob Ramsey and absolutely overwhelmed The Red Devils’ midfielders.

McTominay did score, however. His second consecutive goal in the third round after last year’s winner against Watford. It was a nice run into the box, a good leap and beautifully guided header down into the net. Fair play to McTominay for making the run and having the guts to make the finish, it was sharper play than any of his team-mates displayed tonight.

This is the paradox of Scott McTominay. He’s not rubbish so cannot be discarded as a midfield option. His physical frame, never-ending energy and undeniable big game bottle make him a very effective blunt instrument. Just ask Leeds.

But that’s all he is. A blunt instrument. A rock on the end of a stick. Or just a stick, really. He can do the action moments well; shooting, long runs, some big tackles; but in terms of actually playing well and manipulating the ball to help maintain possession? Of playing quick, forward passes with accuracy and consistency? He’s incapable of matching the standard required at the top level of the game now.

Consider that in their last game, Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho rocked up to Old Trafford and dominated McTominay and Man Utd. Then tonight it was the turn of McGinn, Ramsey and Douglas Luiz. Everyone who plays Manchester United gets a free pass to dominate midfield because McTominay is such a weak link in possession that United just cannot hold the ball.

But what’s the alternative? The ageing Nemanja Matic? The talented but ineffective Donny van der Beek? Recall James Garner from loan? None of these options are satisfactory. Bruno Fernandes is probably the best choice, but United would want him further up the field.

So unless Manchester United dip into the transfer market (and they really should) then they are put into the awkward position of having to play Scott McTominay, of having to use a stick when a scalpel is sorely needed. Because at least you can hit people with a stick, and sometimes when you do they don’t get back up.

Scott McTominay hit Aston Villa tonight, and they stayed down for the count. Next up is a rematch in Villa’s back yard. Will McTominay hit them again? Or will Villa bob and weave and leave Manchester United’s big man swinging at thin air, thus exposing all his technical inadequacies, and finally land a counterpunch?

Time will tell, but unlike his team-mates McTominay is at least good at one thing, so you can bet he’ll be involved.