Scott McTominay’s career has been on a steady upwards trajectory ever since Jose Mourinho named the relatively unknown, gangly young midfielder as a substitute in a Premier League match against Swansea back in April 2017. It was hard to tell from his first few appearances whether he was destined for regular first team football, although Mourinho insisted that he had all the tools and was almost certain to reach the top. Mourinho’s detractors suggested that McTominay was promoted beyond his ability simply to fend off the suggestion that the manager didn’t trust young players, which was a massive disservice to a young man who’d been with Manchester United since he was five years old and who had displayed tremendous mental fortitude by retraining as a midfielder after a lengthy growth spurt derailed his original career path as a striker.
Almost two and a half years have passed since his debut and now he’s the first name on the teamsheet, although he’s not yet the finished product. He may be on the way to becoming the kind of all action box to box midfield general who can dominate the opposition on his own, like a Keane or a Robson, but he’s not there yet, so he needs someone beside him to share the load. Paul Pogba has been perfect for McTominay’s development because the spotlight is magnetically drawn towards the French World Cup winner, leaving much needed breathing space in which the young Anglo-Scot can flourish. Unfortunately, Pogba has been struggling this season with a persistent injury that could see him out of action for another few weeks, while the obvious lack of creativity going forward may force Solskjaer to utilise him in an advanced role when he does make it back to full fitness. If it does turn out to be the case that Pogba won’t be able to partner McTominay in the centre for an extended period, who is best placed to fulfil that role? Let’s examine the options:
Frederico Rodrigues de Paula Santos (Fred)
When Matic first signed for United we all got excited. We’d seen his performances for Chelsea as the perfect defence-screening holding midfielder who allowed the creative players to operate with impunity, so we imagined how much better Pogba would be now that he would be released from any defensive duties. Somehow it didn’t quite work out, and now, two years later, Matic is operating in the same area of the pitch but at a markedly slower pace. This lack of pace prevents his midfield partner from going forward and supporting the attacking play because someone now has to cover the opposition runners from midfield. That someone would be McTominay, which makes me certain that Matic is not the partner he needs.