A goalscoring threat
There are shrewd judges of football out there who believes Scott McTominay’s best position might actually be as an attacking midfielder, rather than the holder he has tended to be under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
He’s certainly proving he has an eye for goal recently. His extra-time winner against West Ham to send Manchester United into the FA Cup quarter-finals was his seventh of the season, but his sixth in his last 14 appearances. His perfectly timed runs into dangerous areas and ability to attack aerial balls have been features of that run.
It was the former that was crucial in his strike against the Hammers. As United countered he made his entrance into the penalty area at the perfect moment, meaning Marcus Rashford could lay the ball off to him with his first touch and McTominay’s strike from 12 yards was as pure as we’ve come to expect.
United have long needed more goals from midfield and it’s looking like McTominay could be the man to provide them. He’s been let off the leash a bit recently and his penalty box advances are becoming a major threat for this team.
He has more goals than Mason Greenwood this season and the same number as Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani. McTominay played as a centre forward coming through the ranks at the United academy and he’s showing he hasn’t lost those goalscoring instincts.
Given the way Solskjaer has continued to place his faith in David de Gea this season it’s probably unlikely that Dean Henderson will get a run of games after the Spaniard’s mistake at the weekend, but judging his credentials on games like this are impossible.
The 23-year-old’s biggest challenge against the Hammers in normal time was making sure his feet weren’t as cold as Alisson’s were at Anfield at the weekend. While the visitors showed a little more ambition in the second half they didn’t unduly test Henderson.
The academy graduate was assuringly competent, collecting high balls and bellowing orders at his teammates all night – an area where it feels De Gea is lacking at the moment. He was very assured in extra-time when West Ham chased an equaliser, coming for balls into the box at every opportunity and dealing with them with the minimum of fuss.
This was Henderson’s 10th start of the season but it still feels like we don’t know enough about him to know whether he can fulfil his dream of being United’s No.1. With time running out this season Solskjaer has to make a decision soon as to whether he gives him a run of games or backs De Gea to continue and accepts that probably means the end of Henderson’s time at Old Trafford.
It was a quirk of fate that Martial and Rashford both brought up their 250th appearance for Manchester United in this game and it was a night neither will remember with much fondness.
They were fortunate that it was Greenwood who made way for Cavani with five minutes to go, as the teenager had again been United’s liveliest forward.
The introduction of Cavani meant Martial moved from centre forward to the left but it feels like he’s reached 250 games without us knowing if he’s a convincing No.9 for United or better from the left, and if it’s the latter then is there room for Martial and Rashford in the same squad?
Last season felt like a breakthrough for Martial but he’s not been as good this term and he hasn’t risen to the challenge of Cavani’s arrival.
Playing 250 games for United is a milestone for any footballer to be proud of, but somehow we’ve arrived there with Martial with as many questions as answers and time is running out to answer them convincingly. There have been 78 goals in those 250 games and some memorable ones at that, but the case he’s made as a centre forward is still not a definitive one.
Since Luke Shaw took over corner duty for United they have looked considerably more dangerous and while he was absent against West Ham his replacement showed left-backs taking corners is a regular tactic for this side.
Telles might have struggled from open play but his delivery from corners was dangerous, although on at least a couple of occasions he opted to go short. West Ham might be a tall side but United have players who can attack set-pieces themselves.
When Telles did put a ball directly into the box he found the area that Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof were attacking, with the latter’s deflected header creeping in until Lukasz Fabianski clawed it onto the post.
Solskjaer’s rotation policy at United doesn’t end with the players on the pitch. His coaching staff regularly take their turns in the technical area as well, offering instructions and advice from a different voice.
While the Glaswegian tones of David Moyes echoed around Old Trafford, with the West Ham manager a constant presence in the Hammers technical area, it was his former midfielder at United Michael Carrick who was on touchline duty for the hosts.
It’s not unusual to see nobody in United’s technical area, or a mixture of faces coming down the dugout, but for 90 minutes Carrick never left the touchline. He was rarely animated, usually standing with his arms behind his back, aside from the odd instruction to United’s midfield to speed the play up, but his constant presence was certainly notable, with Solskjaer rarely seen out of his seat.