Scott McTominay and Manchester United: The McSauce Dilemna
73,711 fans squeeze into Old Trafford. A stadium steeped with history. Pre-season may have tempered off by the end, yet anticipation is high for United fans. Never would United sink lower than the close of the 2021/22 season…
Pascal Groß completes his sucker punch brace in under ten minutes. Boos can be heard rattling around the fading, worn seats. Erik ten Hag wistfully looks to the heavens. The Megastore forced to shut due to anti-Glazer protests, as the cronies themselves watch the debacle on the pitch, motionless.
The modern classic Manchester United story.
There is a lot to nit-pick in Manchester United’s 2-1 home loss to Brighton. It is difficult to rate any of the players above a 5 rating, perhaps with the exception of Christian Eriksen. Whether it was Luke Shaw hitting the first man every time with a cross or Marcus Rashford ballooning countless chances into the crowd, the game stank out the joint in a manner that United fans are now accustomed to.
Somehow, in the putrid swamp of incompetence, one man towered above his peers. Scott McTominay. Lancaster-born, United-academy bred. The Scotsman has long been treading water as a regular starter, yet the time for reckoning has finally dawned.
Ralf Rangnick said it best after the 4-0 thumping to Liverpool in April, this is a squad requiring a rebuild on the scale of ten new players. Allowing the likes of Pogba and Lingard to leave in the summer was akin to ripping off the plaster. The truth is, wholescale chemotherapy is required to rid the dregs of the decaying squad.
The Short of It: McTominay and Erik ten Hag’s System
One-touch football occupies the heart of Ten Hag’s system. Summer signings of Lisandro Martinez and Christian Eriksen exhibit the Dutchman’s desire to immediately instil a fluid, short-passing game. To succeed with the ball played out from the back, United’s midfielders need to show a desire to move possession forwards.
Enter, McTominay. Against lesser sides who employ a low block, McTominay is afforded enough time and space to trundle forward. The Scotsman’s pedestrian pace was sorely exposed against a well-oiled Brighton press, however. Without a capable first touch, McTominay often found himself under pressure and forced to recycle sideways or backwards.
In a system that thrives off constant movement and interchanging positions to contort the opposition’s shape, McTominay’s negative distribution holds possession hostage. Worse yet is McSauce’s apprehension with driving the ball forward. Ten Hag is dependent upon his midfielders to draw opposing players towards the ball and out of position – creating pockets that allow United’s wide men to move inside and occupy.
Whether you watched the full match or not, McTominay’s 18 completed passes, from 27 attempted, highlight the need for a long-term replacement. Forgotten man, Donny Van de Beek, managed 9 of 10 successful passes in his brief 12-minute cameo. The Dutchman breathed life into the centre of the park, pinning Leandro Trossard and Solly March back, having spent the first half running riot behind United’s back four.
Confidence Reaps Rewards
McTominay featured in none of the build-ups to any of United’s 17 shots. For comparison, Fred, United’s CDM on the day, managed to register a shot. Meanwhile, Donny played a role in setting up shots from Christian Eriksen and CR7.
Although none of the above chances paid off for United, the dynamic of the game changed upon Van de Beek’s arrival. United’s tempo was pedestrian in the first half. The ball would enter the midfield, only for a simple pass and move to break down during the first transitions. While Donny injected pace into the previously lumbering system through progressive passes, McTominay inhibited his full-backs with negative ball distribution.
On the rare occasion that McTominay decided to shuffle into the final third, his technical deficiencies almost saw him taking an early shower. Losing control of the ball under no direct pressure, McTominay lunged in high on a 50/50 and very luckily didn’t put Moisés Caicedo into early retirement. Ander Herrera was a master of tactical shithousery, McTominay is a passionate yet ultimately reckless vibes merchant.
Fred is a flawed player and carries the weight of his bloated price tag, but the Brazilian provides more than enough tape to evidence his ability in driving the ball forward. It’s often a coin flip whether Fred sees the ball through to United’s primary creators in Bruno Fernandez or Jadon Sancho. Still, it’s better to take a 50/50 at this point, than suffer McTominay’s indecision and safety-first approach that stifles fluidity.
Defending the Indefensible
The Lancastrian often gets an easier ride from critics and fans off the back of the argument that he offers defensive grit. Surely United would miss the presence of their towering 6’3” figure in the centre?
Again, statistics cannot paint a full picture, but Scott’s numbers against Brighton are damning:
- 0 tackles
- 4 successful presses (13 attempts)
- 1 interception
Compare these statistics with Moisés Caicedo, the twenty-year-old midfielder who was turned down by United in 2021 before joining Brighton for just £4.5million:
- 4 tackles
- 7 successful presses (12 attempts)
- 2 interceptions
One could point at United holding 62% possession enabling Caicedo greater opportunity to showcase his defensive chops. Nonsense. McTominay simply settled into what is his greatest skill, hiding in plain sight.
Even as McTominay foolhardily gravitates towards the ball, it is only a matter of going through the motions. You’d have a greater chance of flipping a coin on its side than McTominay weighing up his position before making a decision. Against Brighton, a side which has a sixth sense of teammates’ movement, it was a slaughter.
Ah, I almost forgot the ‘height’ justification behind McTominay’s appearances. McTominay ranked second in United’s squad for total aerial duels won last season (73 successes, 67% win rate). Sure, Scotty ranks higher in percentages, towering over similar PL midfielders in Tomáš Souček (49.5%) and Wilfred Ndidi (62.2%) – yet the impact on the pitch is barely noticeable. Without offering other defensive assets on the ground, 1/10th of United’s outfield squad is reserved for a player who can impose themselves in the air.
S’auce la vie
Never forget the 40-yard lob over Ederson to seal United’s first league double over City for a decade. Nor the MOTM brace McTominay notched against Leeds in the 6-2 riot back in December 2020.
The experiment has been dragged on long enough, however. United are three managers deeper into despair since McTominay’s debut under Jose Mourinho – initially utilised as a bargaining chip against Paul Pogba.
5-10 solid performances a season against lesser opposition can no longer suffice. The McFred era ushered in United’s worst statistical season in the Premier League to date. For all of Ten Hag’s stubbornness in pursuing Frenkie de Jong, the rotting foundations of the current squad have to be tackled first.
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