Skip to content
Analysis

The evolution of Scott McTominay: Manchester United's midfield machine - and leading goalscorer

Sky Sports unpacks how the influence of Scott McTominay is powering Manchester United's midfield engine; McTominay is United's top scorer this season with six goals (five in the league), already his best Premier League scoring campaign

McTominay

Manchester United spent a substantial portion of the summer transfer window scrambling around for central midfielders - not for the first time.

The push was to find a combative No 4 stroke No 8 who could do everything Casemiro could - just with better, more consistent energy and vigour.

Besides, at 31, with a niggling injury record, and a limited repertoire in possession, Casemiro was hardly the profile of midfielder Erik ten Hag favoured to power his expansive style.

The Man Utd board hustled hard, and eventually settled on Sofyan Amrabat - another player, arguably, in the Casemiro mould. Solid defensive capabilities, tough tackler, but not exactly a typified baller. They also brought in Mason Mount, whose qualities as a bonafide No 8 are yet to be discovered.

Scott McTominay celebrates his goal with Man Utd team-mates
Image: Scott McTominay scored twice as Man Utd dominated Chelsea in a 2-1 win

Live Super Sunday

On the eve of the new campaign, with their Premier League opener against Wolves just eight days away, United hosted La Liga side Athletic Club in their final pre-season friendly, fielding a central midfield trio of 19-year-old Daniel Gore, Christian Eriksen and the stray Donny van de Beek.

The three players mentioned have 12 league appearances between them this term, and Eriksen is responsible for 11 of those. This clearly was not Ten Hag's first-choice midfield, merely a stop-gap until something more suited could be found.

Mason Mount
Image: Mason Mount is yet to reach the heights of his £55m price tag

The following week, as the August sunshine beckoned the start of a new, hopeful Premier League campaign, Casemiro was staged at the foot of the midfield, anchoring behind Bruno Fernandes and Mount - a more familiar threesome but again the composition lacked something. There was no connection, no link. A paucity all too easy to decipher.

Also See:

Both Fernandes and Mount jostled for the space ordinarily occupied by a traditional No 10, while Casemiro was left to mop up behind, needing a Raphael Varane header to earn an undeserving win. Everything was a struggle. Holes in the middle third were gaping, and Wolves let Ten Hag's side off the hook with a lot of wayward finishing.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of the Premier League match between Manchester United and Wolves.

What is the meaning of all of this, you ask? Well, perhaps the answer to United's midfield woes was staring them in the face all along: Monster McTominay.

Once maligned, Scott McTominay is showing Ten Hag the error of his ways. The Scotsman, who celebrated his 27th birthday on Friday, has morphed into the perfect No 8; a box-to-box midfielder, full of endeavour and industry, who takes care in possession and out of it, and embodies the kind of fire and passion for the game that fans adore.

graphic per 90

What's not to like?

He's giving big character energy, as if coming in from the cold has emboldened him, grabbing games by the scruff of the neck and accepting responsibility for being the guy tasked with settling them.

Against Chelsea the McTominay sauce was in full flow. He delivered the kind of all-action display that prompted similarities to be drawn between himself and one Frank Lampard - slightly indulgent, but includes some elements of substance. The Lampard-like burst into the box was certainly used to good effect.

"I admire the player," Ten Hag told reporters. "He plays a really important role."

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Manchester United and Chelsea.

Man Utd's midfield constitution is better when McTominay is in it, there is no denying that. And there is a certain curiosity about the way he has come to the fore in recent weeks, aided by Ten Hag's gamble to allow him greater freedom.

Playing alongside Fred last season, who was erratic and unreliable by nature, did McTominay's regard no favours, but operating with some stability in behind, in the shape of either Amrabat or Kobbie Mainoo, has offered the chance to play as a more advanced No 8. It's offered a shot at redemption.

GRAPHIC

The mindset has changed and similarly the mandate. Ten Hag is throwing McTominay into games with a different directive - score goals. Consider his match-winning contribution against Brentford back in early October, where he single-handedly transformed the gloomy Manchester mood into one of exultation.

Super sub McTominay entered the field in the 87th minute with United 1-0 down at Old Trafford, scoring twice in injury time to secure a sensational 2-1 comeback win. Since that day, only Arsenal (19) have won more points than United's tally of 18 - six of eight games have ended in victory and McTominay started seven of them.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester United's win against Brentford in the Premier League.

"Never give up, no matter what situation your life is in, never give up, never throw the towel in," he beamed post-match, and that sentiment rather sums up his impressive resurgence.

That 10-minute cameo, perhaps the springboard, has coincided with a string of memorable performances at international level during Scotland's successful Euro 2024 qualifying campaign, which was negotiated with two matches to spare, becoming almost indispensable for club and country.

TBILISI, GEORGIA - NOVEMBER 16: Scotland's Scott McTominay celebrates after scoring to make it 1-1 during a UEFA Euro 2024 Qualifier between Georgia and Scotland at the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena, on November 16, 2023, in Tbilisi, Georgia. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Image: Scott McTominay has scored 14 goals in his last 33 appearances for club and country

This is McTominay 2.0 - a player reborn, channelling his former striker's instinct, honed as a fledgling forward in United's Carrington Academy, to power perfectly timed runs into the box and catch defenders beautifully unaware. The secret weapon in the final third with late movement which causes chaos and confusion. The runner who only comes into sharp focus when it's already too late.

Ten Hag has had to second guess himself - McTominay was on United's 'sell list' in the summer - but you can't argue with the outcome. However we got there, however unorthodox the journey, we've arrived in a position where McTominay is now United's leading goalscorer this season.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag says it's not a surprise to see Scott McTominay finding the back of the net.

"From the first moment I saw Scott, he has a very good smell to get in the box and he's a very good finisher," Ten Hag said this week. "That's not a surprise. When we get the balls there, he will finish."

The conviction in the Dutchman's word exists now, but that was not the tune in early August.

Perhaps, among murmurs of unrest and discontent, amid a season which is only ever two games away from catastrophe crisis, the only real surprise is how Manchester United weren't utilising the best of marauding McTominay all along.

Watch Liverpool vs Manchester United live on Sky Sports Main Event on Sunday December 17; kick-off 4.30pm

Win £500,000 with Super 6!
Win £500,000 with Super 6!

The Super 6 Christmas Rollover hits £500,000! Play for free, entries by 3pm Saturday.

Analysis

Around Sky