Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

It's hard for Scott McTominay to crash the box when he's 30 yards behind the play

Scott McTominay, one of Manchester United’s best box crashers, is currently playing as a box-to-box midfielder with increased responsibilities in the first phase. His position deep limits his impact in goal-scoring opportunities. He must always be positioned higher up the field.

Figure 1.1 - McTominay identifies a 1v3 situation, initiating a forward sprint.
Figure 1.2 - As the ball is played wide, McTominay angles his run to exploit space behind the left-back.
Figure 1.3 - A cross reaches McTominay, setting up his scoring opportunity.
Figure 1.4 - McTominay scores with a sliding shot.

His ability to read space and time his runs to reach dangerous areas is a rare skill, and it’s even rarer to have that skill and be somewhat quick, yet Manchester United underutilizes that ability when they position him behind ten or more yards behind the ball.

It’s hard to crash a box when you are 30 yards behind the play.

Figure 2.1 - McTominay positioned behind the ball.
Figure 2.2 - Ball in the box, McTominay sprints 20 yards to reach the top, out of play.

He has a great engine, athleticism, which allows him to run up and down the pitch at speed for 90 minutes. That’s great. But you want him higher up the pitch. It would be great if he could conserve all that energy for attack, rather than track back to the second line, act like like a traffic cone in defense, and then sprint the full length of the field to attempt to get involved in the attack only to be 30 yards behind the play.

He must be near the box at the start of Manchester United’s attack, not trailing behind the front line but on it. It’s a waste of his skillset in attack to have him this far behind the ball.

Figure 3.1 - McTominay's shot from outside the box narrowly misses.
Figure 3.2 - Ball circulates back to McTominay, attempting an outside-the-box shot.

His game isn’t about long shots or spotting passes on the far side. He excels as a poacher and goal-scorer in tight areas, because he can use his ability to find space to expand those tight areas.

Figure 4.1 - McTominay attacks space behind the left-back, seeking a pass into the box.
Figure 4.2 - McTominay waits on the edge of the box, anticipating a shot to attack the penalty area.
Figure 4.3 - McTominay exploits space left by Martial, receiving a ball over the top.

Get him into areas where he can run on to the ball into the box, anticipate a shot to try to clean up the scraps from a goalkeeper’s parry, or run on to a long ball to use his height, pace, and physicality to dash into the box or hold-up play. The deeper roles don’t align with his profile.

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