An emotional Scott McTominay was the first visiting player to emerge from the dressing room after Arsenal beat Manchester United last month, to end their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League. McTominay’s interview was refreshingly honest.
McTominay questioned the desire of his teammates and admitted that United just had ‘pride’ to play across the last few remaining fixtures of the season. McTominay’s heart about him was in the right place but his comments about him were n’t strictly true. The players were also fighting to provide Erik ten Hag with a shred of evidence that would suggest they’re worthy of staying at United beyond the summer.
However, Ten Hag will make that assessment from the picture of the full season and that evidence will show the club’s gutless playing squad needs a major overhaul. There can’t possibly be enough departures this summer. United’s players have failed to save some face over the last few months and that includes McTominay. They haven’t even been close to being average.
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Although McTominay has been a divisive figure during his time at the club, fan opinion has recently seemed to go one way.
McTominay isn’t a defensive midfielder and fans’ patience with the player has grown increasingly thin. The Scot returned from injury to make the bench in the latest Liverpool debacle, but it might have been better if he had continued to be sidelined.
McTominay has started in each game since that defeat at Anfield — against Arsenal, Chelsea, Brentford and Brighton — and he’s been poor in each of those fixtures. McTominay was woeful against Chelsea and lucky to keep his starting place for the Brentford win.
The midfielder’s inability to receive a pass when facing his own goal is a particular weakness that opponents seek to exploit. McTominay is ineffective in such scenarios and it leads to United losing momentum in transition, or sometimes possession of the ball itself.
It seems likely Ten Hag will play 4-3-3 next season, as he does at Ajax. United will sign a defensive midfielder in the summer and that player cannot arrive soon enough. McTominay will be fortunate to make that trio on the basis of this season’s evidence. The same can be said of Bruno Fernandes, who has underperformed this term, but he has enough credit in the bank to keep his place from him next season.
It’s likely McTominay and Fred will contend for the final starting position, and you’d currently get short odds on the latter starting ahead of the former. His passing range from him has become problematic and it’s something Ten Hag will be more than aware of.
The statistics reaffirm the visual impression that McTominay’s performances leave behind. McTominay has averaged 38.2 successful passes and 0.79 successful long passes per 90 in the Premier League this season while Kalvin Phillips, for example, has averaged 42.9 successful passes and 2.10 successful long passes. That’s the kind of player United must sign this summer.
McTominay’s limitations have been apparent for some time now and he’s always been better going forward than when playing deep. Signing a defensive midfielder might mean he gets fewer minutes, but such a signing should actually help him when he does play.
Going forward, though, it’s clear McTominay shouldn’t play in defensive midfield or in any other deeper role unless Ten Hag’s hand is forced. He doesn’t have the skill set to play there and it would be a surprise it he does suddenly develop it, now aged 25.
United desperately need a specialist defensive midfielder, although they’ve known that for two years now.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.