This Looks Like a Job For…

by Unfrozen Caveman Law Writer

There has always been a lot of debate over how best to utilize Scott McTominay. Is he a holding midfielder? A center half? An attacking midfielder? An auxiliary forward? A guy who belongs on a team like West Ham or Everton instead of Manchester United?

After Sunday’s stirring 2-1 victory over Aston Villa, Erik ten Hag may have finally found the answer.

Unlike the last time these two clubs met, United actually came into Sunday’s match in slightly better form. Since that thrilling come-from-behind win on Boxing Day, United have won four of six in all competitions while Villa have been inconsistent, mixing a 5-0 win over Sheffield United with home losses to Newcastle and Chelsea.

A big reason for United’s uptick in form is Rasmus Højlund, who finally seems to be living up to his hefty price tag. Since getting the winner in that Boxing Day match, Højlund has scored in four straight league matches. He made it five on Sunday, scoring a poacher’s goal to give United a 1-0 lead. In doing so, he became the youngest player to score in five consecutive Premier League matches since Nicolas Anelka, then of Arsenal.

After United predictably gave up the equalizer, McTominay did what he’s done multiple times this season and saved the day. On Sunday, he came off the bench and scored the winner — a powerful header off a beautiful cross from Diogo Dalot.

In doing so, he may have solved a long standing problem that has bedeviled several United managers. McTominay lacks the requisite mobility, physicality and pressing ability to be a full-time holding midfielder or center half. He’s a decent attacking midfielder, but lacks the creativity and passing ability to be there full-time.

So what is he really good at? Well, he’s a phenomenal teammate who has long been seen as a leader in the dressing room. He’s devoted to United, willing to do anything and everything to help his team win.

And he’s pretty good at scoring goals — at least recently. With 8 goals in all competitions this season (including a team-high 7 in the Premier League), and 7 in his last 8 international matches for Scotland, McTominay has been a veritable scoring machine. His goals have also been important — according to The Athletic, his 7 league goals have earned United 12 points. The next highest person on the list is Tottenham Hotspur’s Heung-min Son, whose 12 goals have won his team 10 points.

With four of his seven league goals coming off the bench, is it possible that McTominay could be the next supersub à la Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Javier Hernandez or Marouane Fellaini?

Ten Hag thinks so. “He is a supersub but he can also start,” he said after Sunday’s match. “You have to credit a player like Scott. He is an example for many players these days. There are not many players anymore who are ready for every minute they can be on the pitch.”

Of course, being a supersub isn’t the most desirable job out there since most players want to start. Nevertheless, McTominay seems to have embraced his new role. For one thing, he probably doesn’t have much of a choice — with Kobbie Mainoo’s emergence and Casemiro’s return, he’s not going to start over either of them. Mason Mount should be ready to return soon, and ten Hag will want to see what he’s capable of.

“I don’t take it personally, I just want to come in and try and do the best I can for this club,” McTominay said about not starting. “I feel like as long as I’m fit and healthy, I can come onto the pitch and perform.”

In some ways, being a supersub is a perfect role for McTominay. Like most squad players, his flaws often become apparent when he plays long stretches of football. In shorter spurts — especially under the right circumstances — he can flourish while hiding his weaknesses. For instance if his team needs a goal, he can play as an auxiliary forward where his height (he and Fellaini are both 6’4”) and build makes him a great target for crosses into the box. Indeed, 4 of his 7 league goals this season have been on headers.

Conversely, if United are sitting on a late lead and need to see out the match, McTominay is a good enough defender who knows how to be careful and play smart.

Unlike Alejandro Garnacho, who was utilized in the supersub role at times last season but has gone on to become a starter, McTominay probably won’t get be able to parlay his success coming off the bench into a full-time role. Presumably, United will be in the market for a central midfielder in the summer — predictably, the Frenkie de Jong chatter has started up again because he’s our new Wesley Sneijder. So, if McTominay wants to stay at the club, then this might be the way forward for him.

Or maybe this is all a prelude to him finally joining West Ham this summer. Who knows? Either way, McTominay has already proven a lot of his detractors wrong and has made United thankful that they held onto him. Time will tell if McTominay decides to embrace the supersub role long-term or if he uses his scoring binge to get a move elsewhere. In the meantime, Erik ten Hag has a pretty nice weapon in his arsenal — one that he certainly wasn’t counting on before the season started.

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