Scott McTominay's fearless display a highlight for Manchester United in defeat to Barcelona
Scotland midfielder was more than worthy of his place as the Premier League club looks to overturn a 1-0 deficit in this Uefa Champions League quarter-final tie
Scott McTominay went to see Jose Mourinho in his office after the Portuguese lost his job as Manchester United manager in December. A week after his 22nd birthday, the Scotland international wanted to say thanks to the man who had given him his first team debut, praised him so publicly and believed in him.
McTominay was viewed by some as Jose’s boy, the counter to be used against showier players who didn’t display the same standards of professionalism in Mourinho’s eyes.
Yet Mourinho was convinced that he looked like a top footballer even before he was one, that he had the physical stature to become a United first team regular. He loved his back story too: the young player who had been spotted aged nine and driven to training for years by his mother. He felt that embodied United’s spirit rather than more glamorous signings whom he felt pressured to play.
McTominay’s future appeared uncertain under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, yet he has impressed his new manager just as he impressed his old. He has continued to improve and, better still, has been one of his side’s best players in some of the biggest games they have played at Chelsea, against Liverpool and especially at Paris Saint-Germain when United defied expectations to win 3-1.
McTominay wouldn’t have started against Barcelona had United been at full strength, but while the club tried to get Nemanja Matic ready to play, it couldn’t be done. McTominay started only his second Uefa Champions League game of the season and alongside Fred too, another star of the Paris comeback.
Dominating the superior Barca midfield three of Arthur, Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets was never going to happen. United didn’t set out to do so, but they didn’t even manage a single shot on target on a night where they lost to a stellar Barcelona side who were completely on top ahead of Luis Suarez’s 13th minute opener. However, as Barca’s grip loosened, United crept back into the game against their far better foe.
McTominay, once again, was worthy of his start. He runs, he runs some more, then he presses, closes down space and tackles. Where others might buckle, he showed no fear or nerves against Barca.
McTominay brings energy and Fred, the man alongside him who has had a difficult first season in England, acquitted himself well and seems over the horror of conceding possession which led to Wolves scoring last week.
McTominay scored his first senior goal for United in the defeat to Wolves. While the future of other midfielders including Spaniards Ander Herrera and Juan Mata is in doubt at United, McTominay’s is not.
He has not been short of critics among United fans, but they have quietened of late. When he feinted past Arturo Vidal to bring the ball out of his own area while surrounded by Barcelona players he was assured and controlled.
United lost, yet could draw positives from the defeat ahead of the second leg.
“The PSG performances away gives us hope and belief that we can do it, but we know we are playing against the favourites in the tournament and going to Nou Camp will be a challenge," Solskjaer said.
"It will be a greater achievement winning that one, but we can do it. We can carry a goal threat with Romelu, Rashford, Marcus or Anthony, but we have to provide a bit more ammunition and chances for them.”
Winning against a Barcelona side who have won 27 and drawn three of their last 30 games and drawn the other three seems as implausible as United winning in Turin against Juventus or Paris against PSG, but they overturned the odds in both.
Five thousand fans will travel more in hope than expectation, but Solskjaer has given them optimism. And fans won’t complain if McTominay starts the match in Camp Nou. He deserves to.
“The boy is developing every time he plays,” said Solskjaer. “He comes into training every day with a fantastic attitude and that’s the way to improve. Every game he plays he grows and today he was the one to take the ball down and settle us.
"We had to slow the game down. We were too quick to give the ball away and after 15-20 minutes we settled a bit with Scott, Fred and Paul (Pogba) doing well.”
McTominay said after the game: “We’re Man United, you can never write us off! That’s the spirit the fans want to see."
Updated: April 11, 2019 11:40 AM