The latest instalment of the ‘Scott McTominay Centre-Back Project’ continued over the latest international break – with the Scotsman proving he should be given another chance to perform the same role at club level.
Scott McTominay Could Be Solution to Manchester United Defensive Crisis
Playing Position for Scotland
Let’s be clear – to say Manchester United have struggled defensively this season is an understatement.
Three goals conceded against Crystal Palace, two against Brighton & Hove Albion (when it could have been seven if not for the hosts’ poor finishing) and of course a spectacular six were allowed in against Tottenham Hotspur.
Fans have been crying out for reinforcements, particularly in the centre of defence.
Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly was a potential signing. However, the international transfer window has come and gone. There was no marquee centre-back signing arriving in the red half of Manchester to save the day, and possibly the season.
Luckily for those disgruntled fans, there is an option much closer to home which could be the answer to Manchester United’s sputtering season.
Enter Scott McTominay.
The midfielder has previously played in defence for his club, during Jose Mourinho’s reign. Despite McTominay’s initial struggle to adapt, Mourinho praised his ‘special character’, while drawing attention to the Scotsman’s quality at passing out from the back.
Mourinho’s replacement, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, is yet to use McTominay as a defender.
However, at international level, he is now being used as a right-sided centre-back in a three-man defence.
Scott McTominay Shows Drastic Improvement in New Role
The 23-year-old was trialled at centre-back during September’s international break. It wasn’t a stellar showing – McTominay was caught out in both Nations League games against Israel and the Czech Republic – but that was to be expected. How many players would be able to succeed in a new position at international level first time out?
It didn’t stop the critics coming out in force – The Times’ Paul Forsyth remarked that McTominay possessed the physique for the role, but lacked the tactical awareness.
Fast-forward to Scotland’s most recent games against Israel – this time in a European Championship qualifier – and Slovakia. Scotland kept two clean sheets in a row, and are now one match away from qualifying for next year’s Euros.
Not only were the stakes higher for McTominay in Scotland’s match against Israel, but he actually put in a more assured performance. Israel were only able to muster one shot on target in open play.
While that may be down to the lack of attacking quality on show more than anything else, it’s still a testament to the progress of McTominay’s displays at centre-back.
He’s shown he has the potential to be a defender at international level – so why not at club level too?
United in Desperate Need of Defensive Security After Woeful Start
Gary Neville was one of the first to publicly acknowledge Scott McTominay’s potential as a central defender.
The former United right-back – who knows a thing or two about defending – remarked that McTominay has the aggression and pace needed to succeed as a defender.
McTominay also stands at 6’4″. Physical strikers will struggle to bully him in the air.
United’s midfield is highly competitive. The defence has been awful this season. Using McTominay as a central defender would make sense for all parties.
It would naturally mean a change of shape and a move away from a four-man defence. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Harry Maguire looks incredibly out of sorts at the moment – he would welcome some extra defensive security next to him.
It would also allow United to do the ‘fashionable thing’ of building out from the back. McTominay is far more accomplished on the ball than any of the club’s defenders.
This would obviously mean changes further up the field too. A 5-3-2 formation is an option, with a midfield three of Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Bruno Fernandes supporting Marcus Rashford and one of Mason Greenwood or Anthony Martial up front.
Alternatively, a 5-2-2-1 could see Rashford and Martial as inside forwards, supporting either Greenwood or new signing Edinson Cavani.
Management Key to Solving United’s Defensive Issues
So far, United’s management hasn’t been good enough to make the Scott McTominay centre-back project work.
Solskjaer has so far shown little evidence that he can improve players, as well as a lack of tactical fluidity.
Former Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino is being touted as Solskjaer’s replacement. Pochettino’s Spurs were able to play both 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-2-1 with ease.
Perhaps a change of manager would get the best out of United and allow McTominay to flourish.