Premier League 19/20: 3 Reasons why Scott McTominay should start ahead of Nemanja Matic for Manchester United
It wasn't long ago when Scott McTominay was touted as a relatively lackluster academy player who somehow made it into Manchester United's first-team squad, primarily due to his physique and Jose Mourinho's obsession with adding brawn to his team. He was also termed a 'Mourinho player' due to the lack of expression in his game.
Unsurprisingly, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's decision to hand the Scotland international a contract extension was subjected to intense scrutiny.
Amid intense criticism and trolls - with people calling him 'McSauce' on social media, McTominay has forced his detractors to take their expert analysis back with the help of sheer hard work and determination to succeed at Old Trafford.
The 22-year-old played a supporting role until United's Champions League Round of 16 clash against Paris Saint-Germain away, where almost half of the first-team members were sidelined due to various injury issues. Scott, alongside Fred and Andreas Pereira, kept PSG's midfield in check as United scripted a famous comeback.
Towards the end of his tenure at Old Trafford, Mourinho bemoaned the lack of 'mad dogs' in his midfield who 'bite the ball' until regaining possession back. Particularly eye-catching was McTominay's industrious performance against Barcelona, where the Scottish youngster managed to diffuse Sergio Busquets' impact with his relentless pressure.
After a few incredibly impressive cameos last season, McTominay has taken significant steps towards his progress and is slowly turning into a purposeful midfielder. The academy graduate enjoyed a solid finish last season which pushed him ahead of many midfield players available currently.
Coming through the youth ranks, the Scotsman has the desire and attitude to work hard and leave everything on the turf. He's seemingly becoming a vital cog in Ole's wheel and with a paucity of midfielders in the United squad after Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera's departures, he is set to take on a more prominent role next season.
Since the World Cup last summer, Nemanja Matic has had a few injury issues and has not looked like the player we witnessed in the 2017/18 season. McTominay has put in the hard yards behind the scenes and has looked in fine fettle in the ongoing preseason campaign. Naturally, he deserves the nod ahead of the Serbian.
#1 Improved quality on the ball
During Jose Mourinho's initial days at the club, Scott McTominay used his physique in a deeper position and was assigned a combative number six role. However, the midfielder improved his composure and ball control, losing possession just 0.4 times per game, compared to Matic's 1.4. The Serbian's lack of sharpness resulted in a slow build-up of attacks.
McTominay has a simple yet effective style of play, where he refrains from clever tricks and flicks. The young midfielder executes short and rudimentary passes to players who express themselves more, justifying his low pass average of around 29 per game.
In addition to his enhanced composure on the ball, Scott has developed a scoring instinct too, and his strikes against Wolves and Huddersfield was an epitome of his improved knack of finding opportunities to hit the target with lethal accuracy.
#2 Impressive ability to initiate the press
Scott McTominay has added a new dimension to his game, courtesy of some incredible energy and vibrancy. During his early days, the 22-year-old was a typical number six, screening the backline and breaking down attacks.
However, the Scotsman's willingness to improve coupled with Solskjaer's insistence on implementing a press which starts from the front has transformed him into a lethal weapon who is used to squeeze opponents by pressing relentlessly.
A perfect example of Scott's enhanced style came against Liverpool under challenging circumstances - with United losing Ander Herrera, Juan Mata, and Jesse Lingard in the first 43 minutes. McTominay excelled in covering wide areas and provided a robust shield to the back-four, covering every blade of grass without breaking a sweat.
The Scotland international showed a wide range of pressing horizontally as well as vertically. He ensured that Liverpool's front three were deprived of regular supply from midfield, making life easier for United's back-four to handle the likes of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.
To underscore McTominay's excellent game, here are some telling stats from his outing against Liverpool:
- McTominay covered a distance of 11.79 km - most by a Man Utd player
- He managed 7 ball recoveries
- 3 clearances
- 2 blocks
- 2 interceptions
The Liverpool game was just a benchmark for Scott, which was followed by a series of dominating performances till the season ended.
#3 An elite mindset
Being an academy product, the Lancashire born lad understands the value of wearing the Manchester United shirt and what it means to play in front of a demanding Old Trafford crowd. His willingness to put his body on the line to succeed has won him many fans recently.
A glimpse of McTominay's supreme mentality was discernible in his comments after winning Man United's Player of the Month as well as the Goal of the Month for April. He said,
“It’s a nice award to get, especially at the end of the season and obviously I want to go on and win more next season and in the seasons after that. Obviously though the most important thing is for the team to be successful”
After a 1-1 draw against Huddersfield Town, Man United's chances of securing a top-four spot in the Premier League became remote. The cameras caught McTominay in a distraught frame of mind as he cut a lonely figure on the bench. Below is the video clip from that incident.
McTominay, with his grit and determination, has made a case to feature prominently for the Red and White army next season and his exponential progress will eventually push Nemanja Matic on the bench, should the Serbian fail to impress in pre-season.