Scott McTominay pledged to repay Jose Mourinho’s faith after the Manchester United manager surprisingly selected the callow midfielder ahead of Paul Pogba for Wednesday’s Champions League clash at Sevilla.
Eyebrows were raised ahead of kick-off as it was confirmed that the Portuguese had chosen to leave the club-record signing on the bench in favour of a 21-year-old with just one Champions League start to his name.
United rode their luck as dominant Sevilla were thwarted thanks to David De Gea’s man-of-the-match display, with McTominay one of few others to impress during a goalless first leg of this last-16 encounter.
Mourinho lauded the home-grown midfielder after Saturday’s FA Cup fifth-round win at Huddersfield and again was quick to praise the player in Spain, where the Lancastrian vowed to keep improving.
“Obviously it’s so important for me to repay the manager whenever he puts trust in me in these games,” McTominay said.
“And I thought the whole team tonight put in a real shift for the manager and I think going back to Old Trafford we’re in a good position.
“I wouldn’t say the best position because we didn’t win, but we’re in a good position because we can go back and fight for every ball and hopefully we can progress to the quarter-finals.
“It’s all to play for – 0-0, anything can happen. We’re confident against any team we play. Hopefully we go back to Old Trafford and we can go through there.”
There is little doubt that the Red Devils need an improved second-leg performance, even if McTominay believes they put in a solid enough display at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.
The 21-year-old spoke to MUTV with an authority that belied his years and inexperience, with the Champions League knockout round quite the stage to make just your ninth first-team start.
“Big nights, big occasions,” McTominay said. “That’s what you want in your career.
“They’re the things that make or break you as a footballer and I feel like it’s how you deal with those situations that define you as a player and as a character on the pitch.
“Obviously nerves are only natural. It’s how you deal with those nerves and it’s how you put that on a football pitch.
“Once you’re out there, you just forget about it – it’s a game of football on a pitch that you’ve played on before, so, you just take it from there, want to play your game and that is it.”
United are hoping to wrap up Champions League progress at Old Trafford on March 13, when Sevilla will attempt to reach the quarter-finals for the first time in their history.
Last year they fell at the last-16 hurdle against Leicester, but Steven N’Zonzi says the first-leg display gives them belief for the return fixture at Old Trafford.
“It’s a pity that we did not score a goal,” the former Blackburn and Stoke midfielder said. “We had chances, but it could not be.
“It is a good result at home. Although we could not score, we are happy.
“We know that De Gea is a great goalkeeper, we will continue fighting the next game and we hope to win there.”