Manchester United‘s dull 1-1 draw against Leicester City highlighted a particular problem in Scott McTominay‘s game before his substitution on 55 minutes.
The first half of the game was played at a worryingly low tempo, with Gary Neville sympathising with ‘bored’ United fans afterwards. One of the main reasons for this is how United tried to build the play from deep.
A slow and sloppy first half for the hosts was not helped by the way McTominay was operating when his team were looking to progress the ball. His time on the pitch came to an end shortly after the start of the second half where he was lucky to receive a yellow card for a reckless challenge on James Maddison.
It’s no secret that the Scotsman has issues in this particular field, and it almost seems like the club are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole by using him as the deepest midfielder in their set-up, but there’s little other options for Ralf Rangnick at this moment in time.
There are too many occasions where the midfielder does not look for spaces to receive the ball from his deeper teammates. This was also the case throughout his time on the field at Old Trafford on Saturday.
The two examples below show McTominay operating in the ‘cover-shadow’ of his opponents, and he is unable to receive the ball because of where he is located. However, a simple movement into the space highlighted would’ve made him a viable passing option to progress the ball. This was a common theme during the first half.
When the midfielder is at his best, he is driving forward with the ball into the final third or making those off-ball runs from deep. Yet, as the deepest midfielder you should carefully pick your moments in these situations.
One instance in the first half suggested that McTominay’s tendency to look to drive forward into space, rather than pick up the ball and pass it on, is the exact opposite that United need from their ‘number six’.
Firstly, when Anthony Elanga receives the ball from deep on the right side, McTominay is not in an ideal position as he’s moving from the left side to right after the ball has been circulated.
He then moves into a great position, in the middle of four Leicester players, to receive the ball to feet from the young winger, who had cut inside with the ball. He would’ve then had different possible options on the ball, but perhaps the most helpful pass would’ve been to Paul Pogba on his left, who would’ve possibly had a 2v1 situation with Jadon Sancho on the left side.
Instead, he wants to run beyond. He wants the ball into the space behind from Elanga. It would’ve been a difficult pass to execute for the 19-year-old and also leaves a wide open gap in the middle of the field for the opposition to exploit on the transition. That’s what happened.
Elanga tried playing to his teammates feet, but McTominay had already ran past the ball as the pass was made. It was poor communication between the pair, but it was not a bad passing decision from the Swede.
It instead showed what McTomainy’s main tendency is, and while it is not a bad one in the right environment, that environment is certainly not when operating as the deepest midfielder in a team that aims to be competitive at the top of the Premier League.
This is a problem which more than likely came to the attention of Rangnick quickly, with United looking to progress through the flanks more often than not during his short tenure.
This is also why it has been widely reported that a midfielder is a priority target for the club in the coming transfer window.
McTomiany has shown that he could have his uses within this United squad going forward. He’s a leader on and off the pitch and his athleticism can cause certain oppositions serious problems at times.
However, if he does have a future at the club, whether that’s pushing for a place in the team or as a utility squad player, it should be in the role next to a real number six because, as we’ve seen, he is not that player.