In the Europa League final defeat, the 24-year-old Scot proved that he can be a trusted lieutenant for the team in midfield.
Manchester United were expected to end their trophy drought under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the Europa League final on 26th May, but things did not go as planned. The Red Devils were a shadow of their usual self as they were beaten by a less-fancied Villarreal side in a penalty shoot-out. There were not many positives to take from the game for Ole’s side. They lacked creativity in the final third, the build-up play was rather pedestrian and the big stars failed to turn up for arguably their biggest match of the season on that gloomy Thursday night.
But there was a major positive for Solskjaer in Gdansk – the coming of age of Scott McTominay. The midfielder was excellent in the middle of the park. He hardly put a foot wrong. Be it with the defensive side of the game or the attacking play, the 24-year-old Scot was always there to offer support to his teammates. He was the only silver lining in an otherwise disappointing night in Poland.
Manchester United – as expected – had the majority of the possession on that fateful night. But, Villarreal were not worried too much. The Yellow Submarine held a good defensive shape, preventing the Reds from creating much in the middle of the pitch, forcing them to rely on the flanks. It meant the likes of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw had to push forward to bombard crosses into the penalty box, which were easily dealt with by Raul Albiol and Pau Torres in Villarreal’s defence.
United’s creativity dried up as their star players Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes failed to have an impact on the game. Edinson Cavani found little room to penetrate through their defence, while Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood were kept quiet by the Spanish side. The Reds needed inspiration from someone and they got it in the form of a 24-year-old Scot.
McTominay was the all-action midfielder which the club was missing out for a while now in the central midfield. In Gdansk, he moved forward to support his teammates when United had the ball and swiftly tracked back to win the ball from the opponents when not in possession. Be it with his tackling or heading abilities, the midfielder was consistently able to win the ball back in 50-50 scenarios to break up Villarreal’s play.
Scott McTominay’s game by numbers vs. Villarreal:
15 ball recoveries
14 duels won
2 fouls won
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 26, 2021
The 24-year-old had 91 touches throughout the match. He had 15 ball recoveries and won 14 duels. The numbers are nothing short of impressive as the midfielder was effective while defending with his feet and head. He also managed four tackles, two clearances and won two fouls. This is just the defensive side of things.
In the attacking aspect, he managed six take-ons, showing his excellent dribbling ability. McTominay also produced three shots on the night. It is to be noted that the Scot played a crucial role in the goal United scored in Gdansk. He won the corner with a forceful bit of play in the penalty box, leading to the club’s equaliser through Cavani. As his teammates started to tire down, the 24-year-old continued to be a driving force in the middle of the park as the Villarreal defenders struggled to win the ball from him.
His tireless attitude drew praise from the manager after the match. Solskjaer told the club website, “Scott McTominay was absolutely outstanding out there. He was, for me, the best player on the pitch.” That performance was reminiscent of another former Scottish midfielder Darren Fletcher.
He was often Sir Alex Ferguson’s go-to player in a big match. Known for this driving force and tireless attitude in the middle, Fletcher was the then all-action midfielder. Now as the club’s technical director, he would have been proud of his fellow countryman’s performance in Gdansk.
At just 24, the midfielder has his best years ahead of him. If he is nurtured properly and is allowed to express himself in the pitch, McTominay can even surpass the heights reached by his countryman. He has shown his potential to thrive as a deep-lying midfielder and a box-to-box player. Now, it’s up to Solskjaer to get the best out of him.