Manchester United’s laboured 1-0 victory over Bournemouth on Wednesday night may not have been the perfect response to last Sunday’s derby defeat, however, there were a number of positives to be taken from the slender defeat of the Cherries.
Romelu Lukaku’s headed winner in the first half will provide the Belgium international with a timely boost of confidence, having been on the end of criticism from some quarters over his recent form. At left-back, Luke Shaw put in a man of the match performance and appears to be in top physical condition at a time when the hectic festive period allows little chance for rest in a jam-packed fixture schedule.
The most pleasing aspect of United’s midweek win, though, was the accomplished performance of academy product Scott McTominay in the middle of the park. With Paul Pogba sitting out the second of his three-match ban, the 21-year-old was handed a place in the starting line-up alongside the experienced Nemanja Matic and hardly put a foot wrong all night.
Making his sixth appearance of the campaign, McTominay put in arguably his finest showing yet in a United shirt and comes at a time when the midfielder was being linked with a January loan move away from Old Trafford in search for regular first-team football. On the basis of Wednesday night’s performance, however, it is unlikely that manager Jose Mourinho will allow the academy product to leave United, even on a temporary basis.
McTominay covered practically every blade of grass against Eddie Howe’s men, running a staggering 12.18km over the course of the 90 minutes and looked just as sharp in the last few minutes of the match as he did in the opening stages. Speaking in his post-match press conference, Mourinho was quick to praise the 21-year-old and lauded the midfielder’s mature showing.
“Scott [McTominay] didn’t look like it was any different for him to play in another match and another competition,” the Portuguese told the club’s in-house television channel. “He is ready to play, he had 90 minutes today, he had 90 minutes against CSKA [Moscow] and he is ready to play. He played 90 [minutes] because, in every match, he was an adult. He was not a kid, he was an adult playing really, really well.”
However, it was not just the youngster’s physical attributes that compelled Mourinho to call the youngster ‘an adult’ on Wednesday night. Stationed in front of the back four, McTominay was a constant outlet for United’s defence and when handed possession of the ball, he regularly resisted the temptation of playing an ‘easy’ pass backwards or sideways and instead looked to release the likes of Lukaku, Anthony Martial and Antonio Valencia in the final third.
With Michael Carrick on the road to recovery following a heart procedure and Marouane Fellaini sidelined through injury, the 21-year-old has the perfect opportunity to further establish himself in the first-team, as United gear up for seven fixtures in all competitions within the space of the next four weeks. Coupled with Pogba’s unavailability for the Red Devils’ trip to the Hawthorns Stadium to take on West Bromwich Albion on Sunday, McTominay will battle it out with Spaniard Ander Herrera for a starting berth, although the youngster could also be rested in order to feature in next Wednesday’s Carabao Cup clash away to Bristol City.
Having done so well to break into the United first-team and impress Mourinho, it is now up to McTominay to keep up his current form and really cement his place as a valuable member of the senior squad. With the transfer window set to re-open next month, there is little doubt that Mourinho will be linked with a number of big-money moves for a host of players and midfielders from all over Europe are likely to be rumoured to be on their way to Old Trafford.
However, should McTominay maintain his performance levels and continue to catch the eye, then one can be hopeful that it will be enough to persuade Mourinho to keep his chequebook in his pocket and continue to give the academy product the chances he merits to play an integral role in any future United success.
For a club that prides itself on homegrown talent and giving youth a chance, McTominay is the latest in a long line of promising academy products, and at a time when big-money stars are arriving at Old Trafford with increased frequency, the 21-year-old’s growing reputation feels that little bit more special.