Scott McTominay’s goal against City was a special moment for fans at Old Trafford and all the fans watching around the world.
After soaking up City’s pressure and holding onto a one goal lead for the entire second half, his injury time strike sealed a win and acted as a moment of release.
McTominay looked overjoyed too, scoring his first derby goal, and his fifth of the season.
Speaking to the club website after the victory, McTominay’s comments highlight what’s changed at United since he returned from injury.
The competition for places means McTominay is no longer assured of a starting spot. He came off the bench in the 77th minute against City.
Happy to be involved
McTominay said: “To come on today and help the team was a pleasure.
“I am fighting for my place, everybody is not guaranteed a starting spot and everybody has to keep working every week. That is one of the most important things – to keep your feet on the ground and keep pushing forwards.”
The midfielder started the three previous matches, but in two of those, against Club Brugge and Everton, McTominay lined up as part of a four-man midfield rather than three.
It feels like that for the first time in months, United have selection dilemmas in midfield, and McTominay’s comments underline that. He says that he feels like he has to fight for his place.
Cast your mind back to October and November, and McTominay and Fred were automatic starters on a weekly basis. Often twice a week.
Both players deserved their spots, but there was little to no competition, with Nemanja Matic out injured.
It didn’t do United much good, with McTominay often looking like he was carrying the hopes of the United support on his young shoulders.
Surrounded by top players
With Bruno Fernandes in the mix too, United’s midfield quality has gone up a notch. Andreas Pereira and Jesse Lingard did not even make the bench for the derby.
Extra competition for places means McTominay will play harder, get better, and have more rest time, physically and mentally.
Gary Neville agrees. He told Sky Sports: “I was thinking about United’s midfield and I think universally United fans would say that it has been pathetic for 18 months. But you look at McTominay, you look at Fred, you look at Nemanja Matic who looks a different player, and you look at Bruno, and all of a sudden United have a midfield when it had been non-existent.”
There is also the complication of Paul Pogba returning to the mix. He will make selection decisions even tougher when he is back from injury.
It’s across the team too. Anthony Martial has responded to competition from Odion Ighalo, and Mason Greenwood is just a third option.
There is a battle for places at both full-back positions, and now at centre-back too. Sergio Romero is even keeping David de Gea on his toes in goal.
A bit of fortune is finally going our way with injuries, and that’s making a real difference.
If McTominay wants to be an automatic starter, he has to earn the right, and that’s a challenge he is going to embrace, for the good of United.
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